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.
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.