This time one year ago, our family took an incredible trip to Geneva, Switzerland to visit my husband’s aunt and uncle and to attend his cousin’s high school graduation. It was a huge family reunion, and our last chance to go before the Switzerland family moved and became Vietnamese family (amazing, isn’t it?)!
Of course, we were crazy excited about the trip, but we knew there would be some legwork on our part to ensure that our food allergy child would be safe and well-fed the week that we were abroad. We did a lot of research and found some great resources.
Here are our tips for preparing for international travel (shout-out to my husband for helping me remember everything that we did)! And I am sharing a few pics from the trip just for fun :)
FARE chef cards
On the plane
Have you traveled internationally with food allergies? What did you do to prepare? Share in the comments!
When it comes to food allergies, I have a pretty MAJOR pet peeve. And it's pretty serious...and it kind of makes me angry...
It's a phrase...two little words...
There are plenty of things that make my heart pound and my head spin when it comes to food allergies, but this one in particular just rubs me the wrong way. It bothers me when I hear friends and other acquaintances say it. But I am really upset by the people in the food allergy world, those who advocate for those with food allergies, that continually use this phrase.
Y'all...NO SUBSTANCE IN THIS WORLD IS ALLERGY FREE!!
There is a case of a girl that is literally allergic to water. WATER. I'll say it again. Nothing in this world is allergy free. You can react to ANYTHING!
Yes, 90% of the food allergy reactions in this world are caused by the top 8 foods. My son is allergic to 5 foods off of that list! Yet, it's three foods NOT on this list that have caused three separate anaphylaxis reactions - peas, lentils, and sesame. These three foods are arguably more dangerous to my child than any of the other 5 that appear on the top 8 list! Yet, time and time again I see recipes in recipes or by other food allergy bloggers that include one or more of those three. And, more often than not, these recipes come with the label "allergy free."
Now, I know that just because something is touted as "allergy free" doesn't make it so. I am firmly entrenched in this food allergy world, and I know the difference. But this phrase does nothing but increase the risk of anaphylaxis and exposure to allergens. It is irresponsible for anyone or any company to label a product as "allergy free."
We have to move away from using this phrase. We simply must. It is irresponsible for those of us in the food allergy community to aid in the assumption that a label of "allergy free" makes something safe! You will never see me label a recipe as such. I am comfortable with "allergy friendly" IF the recipe is free of the top 8 allergens. But that's it.
What is safe or allergy free for one is likely not for another. My son has a few obscure allergies, and they are life-threatening. He could very easily be exposed to a food he is allergic to by being told (or by a caregiver being told) it is "allergy free."
For the safety of my child...for the safety of your child...for your own personal safety: PLEASE help me spread the word that nothing in this world is "allergy free!!!"
Like all food preparation while accommodating food allergies, grilling requires careful attention to ingredients. However, the biggest challenge in grilling often comes from the potential for cross-contamination. Ideally, I would just maintain an allergen free section of grating in our grill. However, we live in an apartment complex with two large communal gas grills. There is no telling what allergens may have been in the marinades, sauces, or seasonings of the previous user of the grill. We have encountered similar issues grilling out at friends’ homes and at parks and other public spaces.
Grilling foil is the most simple and versatile tool for preventing exposure to allergens. It has a heavier thickness than standard aluminum foil and typically has a non-stick surface. For single servings for an individual with allergies, simply cut out an appropriately sized square and cook the protein directly on the foil (note that grill manufacturers strongly discourage covering entire grilling surfaces with foil, as this blocks air flow and can be dangerous). For fattier meats, like burgers, I find it best to poke a small hole in the center of the foil to allow liquids to drain. Obviously, it’s also easy to pack a square for a cookout and completely disposable (recyclable!). The foil can also be used as a physical buffer and visual identifier when food is served, saving the need to have a second serving dish and preventing someone inadvertently taking the safe serving for themselves.
While foil is great for single servings, dedicated grilling surfaces for safe foods are best when preparing larger batches. I use a large, low-walled grill basket with a detachable handle for these purposes. When shopping for one, make sure to measure the internal dimensions of your grill so that you can close the lid with the basket in place, making sure to account for the height of the basket and the curvature of the lid. Baskets are available in non-stick varieties, though those tend to not be dishwasher safe. Ours came from Williams-Sonoma (click here for information) and is dishwasher safe, and I brush it with canola oil each time I use it to prevent sticking.
It is also a wise precaution to have tools and utensils that are reserved for contact with foods free of your targeted allergens. I have also used grilling foil in a pinch when I didn’t have access to a second set of grilling tools, wrapping the end of tongs or a spatula with foil to avoid cross-contamination when cooking safe and unsafe foods at the same time. I use silicone brushes for all brush applications; I find the large bristles to be easier to clean than paintbrush style brushes which gives me greater confidence I am not leaving behind any potential allergens.
Dealing with Soy
Soy is one of the most pernicious allergens; it is everywhere. This is particularly true in grilling applications. Nearly all cooking sprays, even if they don’t use soybean oil as the primary ingredient, use soy lecithin (soy protein) as the propellant. There are, however, several brands of canola and olive oil sprays that do not use additional propellants, including Winona Pure and Bertolli. For grilling purposes, canola oil is better, as its smoke point (400 degrees Fahrenheit) is higher than olive oil (350 degrees). Alternatively, you can brush canola oil directly on the grilling surface.
Soybean oil is also a common emulsifier in many commercial seasoning mixes. In our first months of cooking with food allergies, we ruined more than one planned meal by seasoning meat with a mix that included soy. Equally common are seasoning blends that list “natural flavors” among the ingredients. Under current labeling guidelines, this term could be a catch-all for any number of potential allergens and represents a form of food allergy Russian roulette that we choose not to play. Kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and homemade spice mixes do the job just fine. Also, having had limited luck finding barbecue sauces that are free of soy or “natural flavors,” our go-to now is Pickapeppa Sauce, a versatile vinegar-based Jamaican sauce that is terrific brushed on almost any protein.
Hopefully, these tips will prove useful for others looking to accommodate food allergies in their grilling.
If you having any questions or your own solutions, please leave them in the comments below.
Christopher Dye is a university professor by day, but is also well-known and loved in our world for being an incredible food allergy dad He is a very important part of our Food Allergy Arsenal.
Welcome to my new home in the blogosphere! I am so excited to kick things off here and start sharing and exchanging information and ideas about living in our food allergy world. May is going to be an exciting month here, particularly as we celebrate Food Allergy Awareness Week beginning on May 8. FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) is leading the charge and has ideas and suggestions for making the month of May a big time to raise awareness.
I can’t think of a better time to launch Food Allergy Arsenal. I’ve spent innumerable hours the last three years educating myself, creating recipes, exploring resources, and working my tail off to make my little boy’s life better (learn about my little hero here!). I’ve never wanted the restrictions of his food allergies to get in the way of him enjoying a birthday party. I’ve never wanted my fear of what could happen to get in the way of his happiness and ability to enjoy his childhood. I feel like I’ve created quite the “arsenal” of recipes, ideas, and resources to achieve these goals, all while keeping him healthy, happy, and full!
My dream for Food Allergy Arsenal is that it can be a place where we can all share ideas and tricks for living a food allergy life. I by NO means claim to know it all. I did NOT figure all of this out on my own (I was scared to death for the first six months). I want this to be a place for constructive discussion, recipe exchanges, and cool ideas that could improve quality of life for my child – and yours - even more.
I also know that what works for me may not work for you – that’s the absolute crazy thing about this food allergy life we live…it’s rare for any two situations to be exactly the same. But let’s collaborate and empathize and work together to strengthen and grow our arsenals.
Food Allergy Arsenal is on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest– we are out there! Find me, introduce yourself, and let’s be friends!