Chances are, we all know someone with a food allergy. Peanuts, dairy, eggs, wheat—the list of food allergens seems to grow along with our food supply. Even if your own family is untouched by food allergies, your kids are probably in school, daycare, or church groups with children who cannot tolerate certain foods. So, given the increasing prevalence of food allergies in our kids’ environments, how can we support others with these restrictions?
Our friend Shannon Yang is here to give us some helpful insight. Shannon’s son copes with several serious food allergies, including a potentially life-threatening airborne peanut allergy. We want to spread the word that by taking some simple steps, fellow moms and kids can help provide a safer, more accepting environment for friends with food allergies. Here’s how.
Intolerance vs. Allergy
First, it’s important to realize there is a difference between a food intolerance/sensitivity (i.e., gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance, etc.) and a food allergy.
A food intolerance or sensitivity may cause discomfort in the body such as GI issues, headaches, congestion, etc.; however, people with sensitivities can still consume the food either by eating it or touching it without suffering life-threatening harm. Think of how a seasonal allergy (grass, pollen, mold, dust) can cause itchy and watery eyes, congestion and sneezing, and so seasonal allergy sufferers take an over-the-counter allergy medication (Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra, Benadryl) or get allergy shots to address their symptoms. Without meds, they might be miserable, but not typically in serious danger.
A food allergy, however, is life-threatening, and coming in contact with the allergen may cause a severe anaphylactic immune response resulting in death. Coming in contact with the allergen can include:
- touching a surface that someone else touched when they ate/touched the allergen
- eating the allergen because it is contained in something the person with the allergy eats, not knowing it is in there
- breathing in the allergen because it’s in the air (this can occur for wheat/gluten allergy due to flour dust in the air, or peanut/tree nut allergy if cooking with peanut/sesame oil or serving snacks with peanuts or peanut butter in them)
What can you do?
You can help keep everyone safe by following some simple habits.
1) Have your child wash their hands with soap and water when eating something that they know playmates/classmates are allergic to.
2) If a friend with food allergies visits your home, clean any surfaces that may have come in contact with an allergen using Clorox wipes. Clorox wipes are the only wipes on the market proven to actually “kill” food allergen proteins.
3) Consider asking allergy parents if there are alternate snacks/treats for classroom birthday parties, or choose to hand out non-food items so that everyone in the class can be included. Allergy parents are often grateful when others are sensitive to their child’s food allergies and can offer safe ideas for snacks/treats that all kids will enjoy. Please also remember, that allergy parents will often provide their own safe snacks/treats for their child.
4) Parents can educate their own children about being sensitive to food allergies and how to advocate for their friends. The very first time my son had an allergic reaction in his classroom at school, his classmates noted the reaction and notified the teacher.
Here’s a list of helpful resources for more information and allergen-free products!
1. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) website, http://www.foodallergy.org/
2. Libre Naturals (Canada)
3. The Green Polka Dot Box (requires membership to take part)
4. Gimball’s candy online and seasonally at some local stores (Festival Foods, Walmart)
5. The Natural Candy Store online
6. Peanut Free Planet (Canada)
7. Vermont Nut Free online
9. Trader Joe’s
10. Whole Foods
Local stores for Fox Valley area friends:
Happy Bellies Bakery on Richmond Street in Appleton
The Free Market in Appleton
Red Radish in Neenah
Copps/Pick ‘n Save