Food Allergy News, the Katelyn Carlson tragedy.


So food allergy news seems to be all over the place the last few weeks.  There are good things happening, and there are bad things happening.  I’ll hit you with the bad news first, then we can move on to the good news with a perspective on why it’s good news & why it’s important.  (Looks like I’m so long-winded, that will need to be its own blog post.)

Sadly, Katelyn Carlson, a 13 year old girl passed away earlier this month due to an anaphylactic reaction to peanut oil or a peanut cross-contaminant in some Chinese food that was served at a school function.  Apparently parents and teachers “checked multiple times” with the restaurant to make sure there were no peanuts in the food, or peanut oil… I’m guessing there were cross-contaminants somewhere along the line.  My thoughts on the subject are summed up perfectly in a Nut-Free Mom blog post on the subject.  While I don’t want to appear as pointing the finger at anyone… this tragedy could have certainly been avoided if the parents, teachers, administrators, and/or restaurant employees were all better educated about food allergies and cross-contamination.  Unfortunately, all involved will certainly be more cautious about such issues in the future.

Mr. Yuk
Mr. Yuk

Being allergic to shellfish, Asian food is at the top of my “No!/Keep Away!/Do Not Touch!” list.  (Okay, maybe 2nd to Red Lobster, Joe’s Crab Shack, & Long John Silver’s.) Not only is shellfish a visible ingredient in Asian cuisine… crab can be in “vegetarian” egg rolls as something is lost in translation, and oysters and brine shrimp are commonly used to make a plethora of sauces.  Similarly, peanuts and peanut oil are an essential ingredient to a bunch of Chinese food.  Why would one even attempt to assume it was safe?  Obviously, it’s just not a good idea.  I have ended up becoming pretty good at making a few Chinese dishes at home that I know are safe where I can read all of the bottles.  It may not be as good as the place run by actual Chinese people a few blocks over, but it’s also not going to potentially kill me.

Obviously, this points to a need for better food allergy education across the board…

  • For Restaurants: The chefs, the owners, the waiters and waitresses, the host or hostesses… anyone who can be asked in any situation where there’s food involved needs to be educated about potential food allergy dangers ans especially about cross-contamination.  Also, they should be required to have an epi pen or two in their first aid kit, without question.
  • For manufacturers/processing plants: I call “shenanigans” on the whole labeling process that puts the CYA warnings like “This (whatever) processed in a facility that also processes peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, wheat, and belly button lint.”  The other day I saw packaged cheese that had the shellfish warning on it.  Where, why, and how would cheese ever need to or potentially come into contact with shellfish while it’s being made or processed?  Does Admiral Ackbar run your processing plant?  Is there lobster flavored cheese every few runs?  I would push for stricter rules for these companies where such allergens do not come into contact with other foods… it requires separation and sterilization.  Also… why not a “Mr. Yuk” type system with images or icons?  Everything else has been dumbed-down to icons over the years.  Why not make it easy with a rating-system for “contains”, “possibly contains”, and “processed in the same facility” with little pictographs of the scary deadly allergens?  Let’s differentiate between “allergy” and “intolerance” while we’re at it.
  • For schools: Food allergies are obviously a real issue.  Obviously there’s a comprehension problem when it comes to safety.  School nurse’s stations and cafeterias also ought to be required to be equipped with an epi pen.  This is one area where federal laws ought to trump state laws (as much as my inner political self is against this) and require them across the board, everywhere.  Teachers and administrators ought to be required to take food allergy classes or even tests just like first aid certification… or in with first aid certification.
  • For parents: Obviously, it’s a fine line between being over-protective and ridiculously worrisome and educating your child on food allergy and cross contamination issues.  They are serious and potentially life threatening.  Medical tags/bracelets and a personal epi pen are probably a good idea.  Your child needs to be equipped with the knowledge of potential allergy triggers, aware of what can happen, and the confidence to say “no, I’m not eating that” to other kids or ignorant adults.  In with being aware of what may happen… staying calm is necessary when an allergic reaction happens.  Knowledge of what happens, how, and how to stop it and get help can greatly increase the chances of remaining calm.
  • For people with food allergies: Obviously you’re (hopefully) on guard all the time.   Stay that way.  Read up on the subject, be informed, teach others.

So, there’s my humble and seemingly grumpy opinion.  My heart goes out to the family, friends, & classmates of Katelyn, I can’t imagine the greif that they’re going through.  I hope they can take some comfort in the fact that many others can use this tragedy to become more aware of and educate others on  food allergies, cross-contamination, and perhaps even funding for research for a cure.

18 responses to “Food Allergy News, the Katelyn Carlson tragedy.

  1. Very thoughtful post, Eric. Keep up the good work of food allergy awareness.

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    • Thanks! We all need to work together. I need to explore this allergy icon thing. I wonder if anything like that has been tried?

      I couldn’t help but feel sick to my stomach when I read about Katelyn. It’s all so senseless.

      Like

  2. Pingback: Food Allergy News, the good kind… | World (and Lunar) Domination

  3. Awesome post Eric. I shall retweet.

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  4. “Does Admiral Ackbar run your processing plant?” ASJFDAKSJDGLASLHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

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  5. Not disagreeing for once (exactly). That’s tragic and I find it ridiculous that there wasn’t some sort of treatment on hand because of all the stuff that has happened in schools and especially because it was a peanut allergy. As someone that gets most of their food allergy information from you, it seems that peanut allergies are the most frequent and the most talked about in general- so why wouldn’t the school be ready for an attack? My goodness, that’s outrageous.

    Now for my usual opinion: Why would you let your kid eat food brought in from a restaurant (a Chinese restaurant, yet to boot) if they had a food allergy? I live next to a family with food allergies (dad & 1 son) and every time there is a party at school when they order food in, mom goes to peanut free McDonald’s and brings him a Happy Meal so he still gets his treat and doesn’t have issues. Yes, I know she doesn’t work out of the house and not all parents have that luxury. Yes, I know that the school, parents, restaurant and everyone should have been more educated on the issue. But why would you take that for granted? My goodness, if you have a child with a peanut allergy, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure that the Chinese food is safe.

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    • Also important to note after speaking with her this afternoon over exchanging Christmas gifts that there is also an Epi-Pen at the school with his name on it given to them by her. I’m sorry for sounding unsympathetic, but I’d be interested to know what precautions this girls parents took against this sort of situation.

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      • Oh, I agree the parents should have been way more diligent here… but it doesn’t help them cope or bring their daughter back.

        All of the adults involved should have been more aware & informed. Laws are being pushed through right now that will hopefully make food allergy education more prevalent in schools.

        I don’t trust what anyone tells me about the source of any food. If there’s any doubt… I don’t eat it. A kid with deadly allergies ought to be instructed to do the same.

        Like I said above, it’s ridiculous for someone to expect Chinese food to be peanut free. That’s like letting a snake bite you and just hoping it’s not the poisonous kind.

        With an allergy that serious, you would have thought she’d have an epi pen on her… but the epi pen isn’t always a guarantee of safety. It’s a device to buy time to get you into an ambulance or to a hospital.

        I know our new Pastor’s little girls both have food allergies, and that family reads labels, always has a safe alternative snack ready to go… the girls also know not to take just any random food that they’re given.

        This girl was 13… old enough to be aware of the gravity of the situation… unless it was a newly diagnosed allergy.

        People don’t understand the seriousness. I have had reasonably intelligent adults tell me that there’s no such thing as food allergies, and all you need to do is “eat what you’re allergic to and you’ll build up a tolerance”. Yeah, you’ll fall off the edge of the earth if you go to far out into the ocean too.

        I can’t imagine the horror that the poor girl must have felt. I know once the itching in your throat and the throat-swelling shut starts… it’s a horrible feeling that sets you into a panic attack which is NOT what you need at that point. Suffocation scares the bejesus out of me.

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    • The original news article says…

      Matthew Akinrinade, whose daughter was a classmate and close friend of Katelyn’s since kindergarten, said his daughter also has a peanut allergy and assured him earlier last week that a teacher had called the restaurant several times to make sure peanuts would not be used in the food. Akinrinade said his daughter did not have a reaction to the food Friday, but she saw that Katelyn was having trouble breathing.

      …But I wouldn’t take 3rd party reassurance any more seriously than flipping a coin.

      This article is also excellent: http://nut-freemom.blogspot.com/2010/12/tragic-food-allergy-death-points-to.html

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  6. Pingback: School Board/Food Allergy Obsurdity in Illinois | World (and Lunar) Domination

  7. why do you guys have to be hating, dammit?
    do you know what the hell we’re going through?
    do you?
    yea i didnt think so
    so just shut up unless you actually have something nice to say
    and you might try being a bit more damn sympathetic

    Like

  8. Chinese food is banned from this house because of the peanut / tree nut concerns. They aren’t careful about cross contamination and, I hate to say it because it sounds racist, there is a language barrier that makes me incredibly uneasy.

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  9. Pingback: Another Food Allergy Tragedy: Ammaria Johnson | World (and Lunar) Domination

  10. Pingback: This is why we need epi-pens in schools! | World (and Lunar) Domination

  11. Katelyn and I had been in the same class since Kindergarten. We really appreciate you educating people better.

    But it wasn’t her parents’ fault, or the school’s. Her allergy was medically not enough to provide an epi pen, and when they realized they needed it, CPS has a policy against letting nurses administer epi pens without a prescription. (Of course, now we have overturned that policy). Anyway I’m not at all trying to attack you so I apologize if that’s what it seemed like. I just wanted to clear a couple things up. Like I said, we all really appreciate it.
    Katelyn was all for making the world a better place, and by writing this article, you’re helping her achieve this.

    love you Kache<3
    thanks for the awesome blog post about her!(:
    keep the memory alive!<3

    Like

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