Food Allergy News, the good kind…


OK, so my last Food Allergy post was a little sad, disheartening, and rant-like.  Hopefully this one will be the Yang to the others Yin.  (Or is that Yin to the others Yang?)

I’d like to share some good news in the form of links, and a little commentary…

http://twitter.com/#!/AllergyEats/status/17239393752322048

http://twitter.com/#!/FoodAllergy/status/17567884217683969

  • FAAN | The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Management Act – Finally, the FAAMA bill has passed, and is expected to be signed into law.  This will hopefully prevent events like the ones surrounding Katelyn’s death from happening in the future by making sure schools are more educated on the subject, and more equipped to deal with similar situations.  Sadly, it’s a voluntary policy and not a mandatory one.

http://twitter.com/#!/AiXeLsyD13/status/17572685122895872

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.

AllergyEats | Massachusetts food allergy awareness law goes into effect… but is it enough?


So, this is a good discussion for those interested in food allergies & politics:

AllergyEats | Massachusetts food allergy awareness law goes into effect… but is it enough?

I like that the laws have begun the process, but we need to see how they’re enforced and if the spirit of the laws are followed, or just the letter.

On the other hand, I’m not really all about expanding the government’s control over the minutia of our everyday lives.  The food service industry itself ought to set some standards and adhere to them, driven by the consumers who have allergies themselves or friends & family with allergies.

Once it’s started, I just wonder where it will stop.  I mean the top 8 allergens are a big concern with cross-contamination, but what about stuff that’s prevalent  but not on the list like corn, chocolate, peppers, or something else?  Expand it to the top 11?  To the top 13?  To the top 203?  Eventually no foods will be able to touch each other, we’ll just eat single-ingredient dishes, all with their own dedicated cooks and kitchens.

I just don’t know where I fall here with a solution that’s practical yet makes most people (allergic and non-allergic alike) happy.

Episode II: Crapplebee’s Writes Back


Did you read my Crapplebee’s post, and the AllergyEats blog post that it referred you to?  (Really, check out all the comments, especially from AEPaul about the posts at aceliaconthemove.blogspot.com!) Okay, then you’re ready to read this.

Well, maybe read one more thing… the latest blog from AllergyEats with the response from Applebee’s.  It’s awesome to know that there are others out there that share my affinity for writing letters/emails to companies and getting stupid responses.  I encourage you to let AllergyEats know that you want to see it pursued further.  I want to encourage you to pursue it yourself.  Write emails, write letters, write blogs, make phone calls, blog, tweet,  Digg it, post on Facebook or to the 3 people left on MySpace that aren’t bands, Tumblr, re-blog, re-tweet, re-Tumblr this until it gets out an annoys everyone and not just Applebee’s.

While Paul at AllergyEats dissects the message in his own way, I would like to translate the response as I read it:

Dear AllergyEats Subscribers,

“Dear people that we could really care less about,”

We recognize the importance of making sure our food-allergic guests have safe options they can enjoy at their neighborhood Applebee’s.

“We’re saying that we recognize that the food-allergic need to have safe options, but we don’t feel the need to mention any specific allergies or options.  While we recognize the importance, we’re also not saying that we’re doing anything about it.”

Food allergies are a serious concern, and we are working to improve how we accommodate the needs of our FA-guests.

“We’re telling you that food allergies are a serious concern, even though they’re clearly not because it hasn’t yet affected our profits.  We’re also telling you we’re ‘working to improve’, and again failing to mention any specifics”

Depending on the food allergy, we do offer different menu items that are appropriate options, or that can be prepared without the allergic food.

“We obviously didn’t read your blog, because you were told something quite different by your server and manager, about how there was butter all over the grill & absolutely no way to accommodate you.”

We recommend that you talk with your server or restaurant manager about the allergy, and how your meal is prepared, to help ensure your dining experience is safe.

“This is another way of letting you know that we didn’t read or comprehend your blog… or don’t have all that great of a grasp on the English language, because you already tried what we just recommended, and it most certainly did not work out for you.”

Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention — we value the safety and enjoyment of all our guests.

“We’re not going to follow up with the server & manager from that store who are obviously unaware of our apparent policies, because we really really really don’t care.”

Sincerely,

Applebee’s

“Full of Shit, Applebee’s (The newly sentient restaurant chain, now capable of writing letters.)”  –  Seriously.  They couldn’t even sign their name or provide some contact information for a follow up?

I think I may just have to write to Applebee’s myself.

Crapplebee’s


So, I read an infuriating post yesterday on The AllergyEats Blog.  It was a post from someone who has an allergy quite unsuccessfully trying to find a meal that won’t kill them at Applebee’s.  The poster is much more adventurous than I am.  I do as much research as possible before setting foot into a place, even down to emailing or calling ahead to can see what I can eat that hasn’t touched any death-fish.  I wouldn’t even go into an Applebee’s because they cook shrimp on the grill & in the fryer in there.  A sample of the text…

I ordered a hamburger, but explained my dairy allergy and politely went through my usual requests – no butter on the bun, no cheese on the burger, make sure the burger is cooked with no dairy, etc.  The waitress immediately told me that they “couldn’t do that.”

What?  You can’t stop yourself from slathering butter on the roll?  All of the burgers come pre-packaged with cheese on top?

I was actually shocked because the staff had always cheerfully prepared my dairy-free food in the past.  Did they change their attitude along with their menu?

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then you may have seen this link.  I felt it was worth posting again, as my W(aL)D instincts took over and I ended up tweeting a link to the blog to the people at Applebee’s

@Applebees Wow – “#foodallergy F-you: http://bit.ly/9UeUvz (via @AiXeLsyD13)” –  What do you have to say for yourself?

&

@Applebees Check out @AllergyEats, they’re the ones who blogged the situation: http://twitter.com/AllergyEats/status/21397851915

Apparently I got their attention, and they’ve contacted Paul at the Allergy Eats blog. Hopefully they can offer up some sort of formal apology, but more importantly start the steps to put a process in place where they not only recognize people with food allergies (and their families) who might want to dine out and need a safe place to eat, but implement training and procedures to become that dining safe haven.

At any rate, the comments on their blog have blown up, and get more & more interesting with each posting.  (Apparently the AllergyEats Facebook page is kickin’ with comments too.) Some of the stories share are appalling (& remind me of my original Subway-related rant and the recent “dog turd” one).  Thankfully AEPaul doesn’t seem to mind me sticking my proverbial nose into this Applebee’s mess, but apparently I just can’t help myself.  The internet makes it so easy to be crazy and so easy to contact people.  But really, this kind of stuff can’t go unaddressed.  Applebee’s has a responsibility to make it right.

I keep pounding on this, but for next year’s Food Allergy Awareness Week, we need to concentrate less on legislation and government and more on the people who are in a better position to actually do something about it.  I really feel that better accommodations can be made to those with food allergies when it’s consumer driven, versus having to make those accommodations because of government regulations.  Regulations provide no incentive to exceed the guidelines passed along.  Beating the chain restaurant across the street is incentive.  Word of mouth (or free viral social media  advertising) from people with food allergies and their families would be a hell of a boon to any business, and would most certainly generate some positive press.

Please post, re-post, tweet, re-tweet, tumblr, or Vulcan-mind meld this blog or the original blog (or both) to everyone that you can.  Let Applebee’s and other chain restaurants know that this is not cool.

W_a_L_D

  1. @Applebees Check out @AllergyEats, they’re the ones who blogged the situation: http://twitter.com/AllergyEats/status/21397851915
  2. @Applebees Thanks, it wasn’t my experience. I just read about it here: http://bit.ly/9UeUvz
  3. @Applebees Wow – “#foodallergy F-you: http://bit.ly/9UeUvz (via @AiXeLsyD13)” – What do you have to say for yourself?
  4. @negative13 Tuesday is the day for war & law.
  5. @BrandiCarter @subway @subwayfreshbuzz… did the egg whites have any “seafood sub” filling splashed on them?
  6. Amusing McStory from “braincell” who commented about the West Liberty Ave. @McDonalds: http://bit.ly/bQuCWC #McDonalds @Kty_McD @Kim_McD
  7. What kind of sauce would you like to see bottled & sold? http://wp.me/pwqzc-k6 @Arbys @Wendys
  8. @ChickfilA Those little mini sandwiches drive me crazy. If I passed CFA on the way to work, I’d be a much fatter man.
  9. @FoodNetwork any taco without fish or shrimp in it…
  10. @kevinpollak Which one did you get? Cheese Steak, Cappacola, Corned Beef…?
  11. @Bathroom_Reader …are all the noses in the same place?
  12. @SSSUBWAY What do you think re #foodallergies, cross-contamination, & lack of good responses from your CS people? http://wp.me/pwqzc-gH
  13. What do you think re #foodallergies, cross-contamination, & lack of good responses from your CS people? http://wp.me/pwqzc-gH
  14. @FredSubwayCEO What do you think re #foodallergies, cross-contamination, & lack of good responses from your CS people? http://wp.me/pwqzc-gH
  15. )xxxxx[;;;;;;;;;>
  16. @subwaytechtweet @Subwaydeals What do you guys think about #foodallergies & cross-contamination? http://wp.me/pwqzc-gH #subway
  17. @TheRealSubman @springfieldsub What do you guys think about #foodallergies & cross-contamination? http://wp.me/pwqzc-gH #subway
  18. @JohnstownSubway What do you guys think about #foodallergies & cross-contamination? http://wp.me/pwqzc-gH #subway
  19. @SubwayEatFresh … so, do you Tweet at all, or what? http://wp.me/pwqzc-gH

Aller-G’s


…Saw some more cool tweets about allergies today, again from pnutfreeworld.  They all caught my eye, and put me in a slightly better mood.  I’m not allergic to peanuts, but a lot of other people out there are.  I’m allergic to shellfish, and all of us that suffer from severe allergies need to stick together… so I’ve been following allergy issues on the web more & more.  I thought I might share with the hopes that if you’re out there suffering form allergies, and you happen to stumble upon this blog… you’ll know that there’s a bunch of us out here… or if you have a friend or family member that suffers form allergies, this may offer you some insight into their world.

The first one that jumped out at me today, was this one…

Law Makes Allergies a Restaurant’s Responsibility, Too – A Massachusetts Regulation Requires Restaurants to Get Food Allergy Training

If you saw my blog the other day about the two thrilling tweets, this would be the conclusion.  Apparently it passed! I know… this is odd for me to celebrate.  Normally, I’m anti- anything that has to do with making more rules & regulations or expanding government.  But, this just hits too close for me on a personal level to not be behind it.  I just hope they go about it efficiently.

Basically, the law says that if you’re a customer, you need to speak up and inform the restaurant of your allergy, and if you’re a restaurant, it’s your responsibility to have all of your employees trained and certified on allergy safety and cross contamination issues.  I realize that this is not a fool-proof system, and that I don’t even live near Massachusetts, but it gives me hope that other states may one day follow suit.  I now have something concrete to write about to my local politicians… and say “hey, look… they’re doing something that makes sense”.

Sadly, the legislation doesn’t seem to point to chain restaurants… like Subway, where cross-contamination with the seafood sub is a major issue.  It does, however, give me hope that I will someday be able to dine in an upscale restaurant with no abnormal concern for my safety.

If you’ve read my trifecta of tirades on the food industry & cleanliness & allergy issues, (That’s 1, 2, & 3) then you know that there are others out there who think that implementing such training would not only be impractical, but it would be just not done at all or treated like a joke from all concerned parties.  I really, really hope that’s not the case once this is put into effect.  I would hope that this would be an issue that’s handled quite seriously… it is, after all, a life-or-death issue.

The second article’s title made me think, “damn right”…

Food on the road can be a minefield – Taking steps to minimize the risks from allergies

Now, this is from a Canadian publication, and they seem to have a lot more government regulation already… but I don’t really support banning things like they seem to want to do.  Education and training is what we need. This article is a nice list of websites and literature that you can look to for support in dining out while traveling abroad.

I’m going to have to look into these sites a little more, and see if there’s anything worth noting or sharing.

There are two not mentioned in the article that look promising… but they really need their databases updated if they’re going to be useful at all:  Can I Eat There? & Shellfish Free

I’m also hoping UrbanSpoon.com one day makes note of more than just gluten-allergy friendly restaurants… and picks up on the big 8.

This last one is cool on a geek front as well as an allergy front…

Peanut Allergy Blocker On The Way

The concept just blows my mind.  I’ve said before… even if I was given a cure tomorrow, I doubt I’d ever even want shellfish at this point… but at least I’d be able to eat food off of the same grill or out of the same fryer without hesitation or anaphylactic repercussions.

I’ve read a lot about the causes of allergies… and asked a lot of questions of doctors.  It’s amazing how much they don’t know… but this article is very enlightening, and it’s all broken down so it’s easy to understand:

Dr Suphioglu said that the work being done by his team also has potential benefits for all allergy sufferers. “Taking a step further back in how an allergic reaction occurs, we are also carrying out research into how we can prevent the allergen specific antibodies from being produced at all.

“In an allergic reaction, the body produces cell signalling molecules called cytokines to trigger the production of antibodies. If we can neutralise the cytokines involved with the allergic reaction, we can potentially block or reduce the production of the antibodies. In recent preliminary results we have successfully identified a substance that interacts with one of the key cytokines involved in the allergic reaction. We are now assessing the capacity of this substance to block or reduce antibody production in the allergic reaction.”

Dr Suphioglu is confident that his team’s allergy research work will result in better treatments for allergy sufferers. “I believe our research into understanding the molecular and allergenic properties of major peanut allergens together with our work on how to prevent or inhibit allergic reactions will contribute to the development of safer and more effective methods for peanut allergy diagnosis, prevention and treatment as well as benefit sufferers of other allergies.”

I’ve read a bunch of articles pertaining to the links between asthma and dust mite allergies and their relation to the severe shellfish allergies.  It’s really interesting stuff.  I hope all of these studies merge in the near future, and perhaps there will be an end to all my allergy-related rants!