I was planning to write something a bit more uplifting today after having a serious post just the other day, but I wanted to share a little bit in light of the latest food allergy fatality. I read about it first on The Nut-Free Mom, one of my favorite allergy blogs.
Food allergies are not a joke. They are not a game, or an excuse people use because they don’t like a food. They’re not a ploy for attention. People die from food allergies. Amarria Johnson was only 7 years old. This is why we need a cure– and a ton more awareness.
I’m fairly certain that most fatalities occur because a person has eaten the food they’re allergic to. But here’s a dirty little food allergy secret: Food allergies are not just about eating.
I have topical food allergies– so I’ll react to touching a food (or the table, the computer keyboard, or your hand– that’s just touched an allergenic food). A few Christmases ago, a topical reaction to peanuts almost sent me to the ER; the itching was over my entire body and cleaning off where it may have touched did not help. It was about a full hour until Benadryl took effect, at which point we were praying and getting ready to leave for the hospital.
Some people can react to airborne particles of a food.
The top 8 get a lot of attention (peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, soy, eggs, shellfish, fish). But these aren’t the only dangerous food allergies out there! These are just the most common. Mustard, sesame, corn, and sulfites are also topping the charts. My mother and I both get itchy throats from strawberries. My little niece’s eczema (an itchy, dry skin condition) acts up when she eats beef or certain meats because she’s allergic.
In addition to reading food ingredient labels, I read labels on makeup, lotions, soaps, and shampoos. There’s often fruit and nut extracts hiding here. If you have a liquid soap in your bathroom, I’m probably reading the label before I use it. And if I’m allergic, I’m probably sneaking off for the wet wipes I keep in my pocketbook before returning to the party.
According to recent research, hand sanitizer is not believed to be sufficient to clean off a surface (or your hands) of allergens. Howerver, most wet wipes are.
Cross-contamination is a huge issue. That means if you put your knife in the peanut butter and then in the jelly (even if you wiped it off on a napkin), I can’t use your jelly. That means if a peanut candy is produced on the same line as a non-nut-containing candy, I can’t eat either.
Companies in the U.S. are now required by law to state if a food contains one of the top 8 food allergens. There’s less of a standard on how potential cross-contamination is listed. Most companies have their own policies. Some list, some don’t, some will list for some items, but not others (ie, for peanuts, but not peanut oil– which contains less of the protein and is considered “less allergic”). And those lotions and cosmetics– they don’t have to list anything. They’re not regulated as food and therefore are not governed by the same law.
The food allergy law states that an ingredient label state if top 8 allergens are contained in a food. These ingredients must not only be listed, but must be listed in plain language, for instance, “peanut” or “milk.” These ingredients must not be listed using a scientific name or hidden under labels like “natural flavoring.”
I make a lot of phone calls and visit a lot of websites to clarify how different companies label their food and what their policies are.
I always carry an EpiPen and Benadryl. As a girl, this also means my purse must be large enough to hold the EpiPen, or I need to have a pocket to put it in– so it affects what I wear and how I accessorize at times.
Allergies affect where I go and who I let in my life. Asian restaurants are prime cross-contamination spots. Although I must bring my own food to all restaurants (my allergies are severe– and I have quite a few of them), I still avoid Asian restaurants for this reason.
If you can’t understand or respect my allergies, I probably won’t spend time with you. If you’re a guy and we’re out on a date, you need to be careful of what you order if you want to kiss me later.
If you know someone with food allergies, be supportive. And if you can do that much, you’ll be making the world a better, safer place. For 25-year-olds in NY, 7-year-olds in VA, and everyone, all ages, everywhere.