Tag Archives: tree nut allergy

Living Creatively with Food Allergies

I’ve spoken on here a lot about my food allergies, and the creative living that the food-allergic community must partake in.  One of those creative (read: out-of-the-norm) strategies is calling companies.  Often.

This week’s challenge for me is finding safe vitamins.  I’m taking January to try to get healthy and take control of my life.  I’m somewhat of a realist, so “eat better,” “go to the gym,” and “lose weight” really aren’t on my resolution list.  Instead, I’m trying to listen to my body and do more yoga this year.  I also want to choose foods more intentionally based on problems I’m having, to try to work with my body naturally.  So, January has me hitting up all my doctors for the proper check-ups.  (At 26, I have more than the norm of the “regular doctors”… for me this includes an eye doctor I see several times a year and a rheumatologist).  I’m also looking for vitamins.  I have a pretty healthy diet, but this goes back to trying to be intentional about solving some minor issues naturally.

I know that some vitamin manufacturers use facilities where peanuts and tree nuts are present.  And that this is complicated by the fact that the FDA considers coconut to be a tree nut (whereas FAAN and Canadian food authorities consider it to be a fruit).  I’ve found several threads online with discussions of nut-free kids’ vitamins.  But what about adults?

After an initial phone call to CVS, I found out that their vitamins are made in a facility without peanuts, but some may be processed with tree nuts.  I now have an inquiry in with them regarding 5 specific vitamin products, which they will be calling back about to see if these specific vitamins are produced in a facility with tree nuts, and if this means coconut or a “real” tree nut.

In part to find vitamins, in part out of frustration, outrage and curiosity– I made a list at night of Vitamin brand phone numbers and called them all the next day.  For whatever it’s worth, here’s what I found out.

1.  Walgreens- [Spoke to a very helpful woman who herself has severe peanut and tree nut allergies.]  Received email back that specific items are needed to get an answer.

2.  CVS- Facilities are peanut-free; not all facilities are tree nut free.  Awaiting call back regarding 5 specific products I inquired about.

3. Nature’s Bounty: Would not speak to me about general questions; requires specific product info.

4.  Nature Made: No peanut/tree nut derivatives.  No food products made in facility (vitamins only).  No eating/food allowed near product assembly lines.  [She was very confident, but something about her tone made me feel uneasy about this answer… perhaps she was just less-than-empathetic to my concerns.]

*A note about Nature Made: A quick Google search found a thread from 2001 where outraged customers found that Nature Made vitamins (including prenatals) contained peanut oil!  It seems one person was told that the company did understand the implications of this, and was changing their formula.  A 2011 thread confirmed that Nature Made products are all “nut free” based on a consumer’s call to the company.  I’m not sure if that includes facility as the comment did not specify if this was a “nut free facility” or just “nut free products.”

5.  Harmon- Still waiting for response.

6.  Windmill- Called me back.  Peanut and Tree Nut Free Facility.

7.  Twinlab- No peanut/tree nut in facility

8.  Sundown- Some products produced with tree nuts.  Differentiated by lot number, must call back with specific products.  (I believe they said no peanuts, but don’t fully remember).

9.  Target brand (Up & Up)- Target rep gave me phone number of vitamin manufacturer.  May have nuts in facility.  Customer rep was very nice.  I asked if I might get further info if I was calling about a specific product and she said that, honestly, I would probably get the same response.

10.  Freeda- Emailed them as an afterthought.  Received a quick reply that, “We manufacture our supplements in our own facility and there are no peanuts or tree nuts in our supplements.”

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Inside the nutty world of food allergies

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.

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