Thank you to our #FoodAllergy allies!


I’d like to once again say thank you from the whole family to everyone who took the time to spread the word, and especially those who were able to make a donation to support us in the Pittsburgh FARE Walk for Food Allergy this year!

FARE Walk for Food Allergy 2016 - Pittsburgh, PA

FARE Walk for Food Allergy 2016 – Pittsburgh, PA

We had a great day with so many others affected in some way by a food allergy or multiple food allergies.  It’s really nice to know that we’re not alone, and that we all have the support of family and friends to enable us to get to the walk and work to make a difference in all of our lives.

Upon arrival, we did many things in a special event tent before the opening ceremony.  Several “top-8-free” food samples & small toys were handed out.  The kids colored some food allergy related pictures, decorated some foam teal pumpkins, made a beaded necklace & bracelet (Ian even threaded some beads all by himself!), danced with a DJ, played with masks in a photo booth, and just mingled with people who “get” it.

Molly also had an EMT help her wrap “Miss Daisy” (a stuffed bunny/dog/thing that was Bethany’s when she was little) in some gauze bandages, apply  a regular band-aid, and administer a practice EpiPen auto-injector with the Teddy Bear Clinic.  She did really good!  She may need to help me or any of her friends some day.

We listened to a speech by that very same brave young lady about her struggles she has had as someone with 15 allergies that can all lead to anaphylaxis.  More important than the struggles are the many things she has learned to overcome, the incredible friends she has made, and how well she has learned to adapt while moving away from home and going to school at Pitt.  She has used an EpiPen, and it has saved her life.  She leads a normal active life and is dedicating it to service to others by being an EMT!

Along our walk, there were many food allergy facts on signs throughout the zoo.  We used them to start conversations with the kids about how Molly has outgrown her allergy to eggs, how I will not outgrow mine, and how they will probably have a few friends in school with food allergies and that they need to be good friends to those kids and help them avoid their allergens and get the proper help quickly if needed!

It’s amazing that last year Molly knew at 2 years old to ask if a food item contained things like eggs, mayonnaise, or ranch dressing.  She understands now that daddy can’t eat shellfish.  She even pointed out the (incredibly creepy spiny) lobsters in the aquarium & said “You can’t eat that.”  I know Ian is a bit young to understand, but I don’t think it hurts to throw all the information out there and see what eventually sticks.

In the zoo, we had the incredible opportunity to get a photo with Victoria the elephant, pet (and get liked by) a deer, and pet some goats and sheep.  Ian loved the peacock roaming around, and I think he almost touched him.  Ha ha.  We also talked about how similar yet different Butterscotch is to all the big cats among many other animal facts that we have read  in books & on the signage there in the park.

You can check out more photos on my Facebook or Instagram, or Bethany’s Facebook.

AllergyEats | Defining allergy-friendly restaurant survey results


So, a while ago I posted asking for you to help out Paul from Allergy Eats with defining “allergy-friendly” as it pertains to a restaurant.  I also took the time to post my own thoughts before I sent them on to be tabulated.

Well, now Paul has posted his summary & survey results to the still mysterious government body.  I enjoyed reading the results, so I thought I’d share:

AllergyEats | Blog Logo

AllergyEats Blog

The AllergyEats Blog | How do we define an allergy-friendly restaurant? A look at the survey results

It’s great to see the results, and I can’t wait to see where & how they’re put to use.  It’s also great that all of our comments were passed along with the report, so rest assured that your voice has been heard thanks to Paul.  Hopefully it lays groundwork for more gub’ment organizations to follow by example!  (Although, we need to push from a consumer level too.)

My take on the results… it looks like we’re all looking for everyone in the restaurant from kitchen to wait staff to managers to be trained in food allergies and cross-contamination and possibly even certified… which seems like a no-brainer.  Even if that’s all we get, it’s a great start.

Employee answering phone needs to be knowledgeable: 1

Apparently, I’m the only one who wants the person answering the phone to know what they’re talking about.  Ha ha.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to define shellfish on the phone, or ask if they have any only to get there after being told no… and they totally do.  Perhaps it’s shame on me for not asking to talk to a manager…  but the person answering the phone ought to be knowledgeable enough to hand-off such questions, so I stand by my statement.

Cross contamination: (42 responses)

Understands and avoids cross-contamination:  21

Separate and cleaned prep areas and cookware:  20

Should wash hands:  1

Who said they should wash their hands?  Seriously?  I hope they’re doing that anyway… and that they don’t really need those signs in the restroom as a reminder.

Treats ALL allergies the same, not just the Big 8: 1

Apparently I’m the lone theorist there.  Really?  Well, I’m in the Top 8 category, so I guess… yo hell with the rest of you!  Ha ha.

No nuts strewn about the restaurant: 1

This one agitates me.  If it’s part of the restaurant’s shtick/ambiance/personality… then just give it up.  I like being able to walk into Five Guys and grab a tray of peanuts.  I don’t expect (or want) to dine at Long John Silvers or Red Lobster any time soon.

Specific allergen menus available in-house (not just online): 13

Allergen symbol list on menus: 12

Online food allergy menu: 4

All excellent points.  I’ve blogged about the need for menu symbols before.  Let’s get this done, people!

Ability to print out all ingredients for customer / show labels to customer if necessary: 11

Great idea.  A representative from Bob Evans once emailed me a chart detailing where everything was cooked in the kitchen & what surfaces would be safe with my shellfish allergy while they has a seasonal Shrimp stir-fry dish.  How cool is that?

At any rate, read the Blog at AllergyEats, and leave some feedback whether you participated in the original survey or not… it’s still valuable.  I’d also appreciate any comments here.  I’m sure the peanut thing will get some people riled up.  Ha ha.

 

Defining Allergy-Friendly


AllergyEats.com

AllergyEats.com

So, quite a task has been put to the food allergy community by Allergy Eats:  Define what it means to for a restaurant to be “allergy-friendly”.

You may have seen it in a recent re-posting by me, or on your own.  I urge you to form your own response and send it to contact@allergyeats.com.  I figured that I’d use this blog to sort out my thoughts before I sent them on to Paul at Allergy Eats.  I don’t exactly how I’ve morphed in to a food allergy advocate of sorts, but I feel that it’s important to help out any way that I can, and encourage others to keep up work that moves us all in the right direction.  There are already some great comments on the blog, and I’m sure he’s got an inbox full of suggestions already… but it’s important to keep them coming so this can be looked at from multiple angles.

AllergyEats T-shirtI like bulleted lists for some reason, so that’s how I’ll try to organize my thoughts:

  • The restaurant has to have a policy that reaches to ALL levels. Too many times restaurants claim to have god allergy practices, but it doesn’t trickle down to the wait staff, the cooks, or anyone past management.  Having a policy is great, but it needs to be understood and respected through all levels.  I feel comfort in a place when the waitress has the manager or even the chef come out to discuss allergy & cross-contamination issues with me.  Training, some sort of certification, and re-training annually or semi-annually would be excellent.
  • Changing current thinking. This is a good one…  Today at Boston Market, I noticed a sign on top of the cash register that read something to the effect of “If you have food allergies, please talk to the manager before placing your order.”  It’s great they’re recognizing the fact that there are food allergies out there, but… the cash register is at the end of the counter, and only reached well after you place your order.  Also, I’d hope that someone with food allergies would already have a heightened awareness when going anywhere to eat.  (If not, please read this.) More thought needs to be put into place, not just “CYA” measures.
  • They have to exude reassurance. A poster is great.  An “allergy-friendly” menu is great.  A sign at the cash register or on your table or on the salad bar is great… but not enough.  In with the training on all levels, the sever (or whoever answers the phone) must bee confident with the answers that you want to hear.  No “I don’t think” or “not really” or “I’m not sure so you’d just better not order that” will do.  Have the right answers.  Know why.  Understand the severity.  Knowledge of the kitchen and where everything is cooked should be a must for servers and managers.  Nuts can’t just be “picked off”.  There’s no such thing as “oh a little won’t hurt” with butter.  The fryer doesn’t “get hot enough to kill anything you’re allergic to”.  It’s unsettling fr someone with food allergies to dine out.  Making them feel safe is a must for “friendliness”.
    • On a related note… especially the person answering your phone.  When dining out of town, I try to call ahead (or get my wife to call ahead for me).  My favorite response ever was an Amish place in Ohio where I asked if they had shellfish (“like shrimp or crab or oysters” I said)… the girl went on to say “No, we have oysters, but they’re in soup, and there’s shrimp… but it’s not in a shell.”  Needless to say, we didn’t go there.
  • All allergies are equal. It’s great to see “nut free” options, or “gluten-free” menus, but let’s treat all allergies with the same respect to cross contamination.  The top 8 are; Milk, Egg, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Fish, Shellfish, Soy, & Wheat.  But, there are others too!  I know of people with severe allergies to peppers, and have heard of corn allergies.  These people need to feel safe too!  Current government regulations don’t regulate the labeling of any allergens other than the top 8, so that’s all that people seem to pay attention to.  Special attention needs to be given to all kinds of allergies, not just one allergen or group of singled-out allergens.
  • Know what you’re serving. Are their anchovies in the Italian dressing or Worcester sauce?  Is this fried in peanut oil?  The server shouldn’t necessarily need to know off hand, but this information should be able to be provided upon request. Having it in written form would be tremendous.  (We could go into other special dietary needs here too… not an allergy, but I have an aunt with Diverticulitus who needs to know if there are seeds or nuts that may be ground up and hidden in things like dressing or soups or bread.) Listing all this on a website would be excellent.
  • Separate locations & utensils for allergy-free meal preparation. Cross-contamination is huge.  I don’t worry about a mutant lobster crawling into my mouth by itself… but I do worry (immensely) that some scallop juice might be on the grill where my steak was cooked… or that someone who just made a shrimp cocktail didn’t wash their hands before making my salad.  I’d love to know that the place where I’m dining has a fish or shellfish only fryer, separate grill spaces for different kinds of meat (even a vegetarian/vegan section would be cool), even separate cutting boards, prep areas, knives, and other utensils.
    • Keep the nuts off the salad bar… near their own station.
    • Hey Subway, don’t put the “seafood” sub stuff right next to the other lunchmeat, and don’t cut those subs with the same knife you use for all the other subs!
  • Ability to accommodate the unusual. Say someone has an inhalation allergy to peanuts…  Can you seat them somewhere so that the people at the next table are able to order some peanut-encrusted dessert without throwing them into an anaphylactic fit?  Can you do this without rolling your eyes, sighing, and making it a big deal?
  • Special markers/identifiers. I saw a commenter note this in the comments on the Allergy Eats blog post, and it’s absolutely brilliant.  Something ought to be a literal red flag… in the system, on an order ticket, on the check, on even the plate itself.  Everyone knows that orange-rimmed coffee pots mean decaf.  Why not red for allergies?  Or get crazy & assign a color to each of the top 8 & one for “other” allergies?  Did I read that Legal Sea Foods does double-plating or something to that effect?  It’s genius.  I’d like to extend the symbols idea to the menu too… why not have some sort of system with easily recognized food allergy icons?

That’s my take for now, but there are already many other great suggestions in the comments section over at Allergy EatsPlease, take the time to send yours to contact@allergyeats.com before Feb. 2nd!

 

AllergyEats | Urgent request for support to help impact REAL, impending food allergy legislation!


This is an important one for my food allergy readers… please take the time to read this post from Allergy Eats and respond accordingly!  This is your chance to have some real input to actual legislation, not just another request to your state, federal, and local officials.

The entire post below is reposted with assumed permission… please re-post, re-blog, re-tweet, use your ham radio or the telegraph, and get the word out.

Urgent request for support to help impact REAL, impending food allergy legislation!

I am reaching out to the entire food allergy community with a great opportunity for us to have an impact on REAL, forthcoming food allergy legislation.

A few months ago, I was invited to work with a governmental body that is enacting a food allergy law pertaining to restaurants.  (For now, please respect my decision not to mention specifics.  I believe doing so could compromise my ability to effectively represent our food allergy constituency.)  I was, and remain, very excited about this opportunity to advocate for our community.

In the course of this group’s discussions, there seemed to be a lingering question – what is the definition of an allergy-friendly restaurant? While I was very comfortable responding to that question myself, I believed at the time that it would be more effective to have community comments, which I was (and am) very confident would support my position.  I suggested that I contact members of the food allergy community, via the thousands of AllergyEats members and social media followers, and solicit as many unprompted opinions as possible.

So here’s what I’m requesting.  Could you please take a moment to answer the following question:

How would you define an allergy-friendly restaurant?  (Please be as specific as possible.)

This is an absolutely critical opportunity to affect not only impending legislation, but legislation that could become a template for other states and municipalities across the nation!

I strongly urge you to take a few minutes to respond to this request.  I believe my effectiveness in advocating for the food allergy community will be directly impacted by how many supporters answer this call.  To that end, please also consider spreading this message as broadly as possible, using social media, blogs, or any other resource you have access to.  The more voices we have, the more effective we will be!

I assure you that I will continue to do my best in advocating for our community and I promise to share more about this particular legislation when appropriate.

Important Note: I need to collect responses by February 2, giving us just one week, so please consider responding as soon as possible.

Again, the question I am asking you to answer is:

How would you define an allergy-friendly restaurant?  (Please be as specific as possible)

Please submit your responses to me at contact@allergyeats.com or feel free to post your comments here on the blog by clicking Comments or Reply.  (Email is preferable, but either is greatly appreciated.)

Thank you for your support!

I’m going to say it even though I shouldn’t have to… comments on this blog are appreciated, but to get them to AllergyEats, please comment on the original blog post or email contact@allergyeats.com.

Sadly, this sums up my general attitude towards dining out with food allergies and “safe” menu options:

http://twitter.com/#!/FoodAllergyBuzz/status/30366826915434496