Why is “May Contain” food labeling voluntary?

Why is “May Contain” food labeling voluntary?

In 2006, “top eight” allergen labeling became mandated by the United States Food and Drug Administration in all packaged foods manufactured and marketed in the US.  The top eight food allergens are milk, egg, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.  At that time it became easier for consumers to identify what packaged foods contained their allergens.

The ingredients must be listed on the packaging and also identified at the end of the ingredient list as a “Contains” statement, i.e. “Contains: Milk, Egg.”

Many packages also include a “May Contain” statement.  This statement is placed on the package to alert consumers that the product may contain food allergens by cross contamination, though it may not be an ingredient in the product.  This cross contamination occurs when production lines and equipment are shared with other products made at the same facility.  They may produce a product such as a cookie that does not contain peanuts in it’s ingredients, but earlier have produced a peanut butter cracker on the same equipment, thereby creating cross contamination.

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The utterly terrifying aspect of “May Contain” statements is that they are completely VOLUNTARY.   While I am thankful to the companies that include these alerts, I’m frightened by the products of companies that do not include these cautionary statements.  It only takes one tiny peanut protein to incite anaphylaxis in my son.  A word of caution to those with food allergies (and the parents of children with food allergies): call the company that produces the products to ensure there is no chance of cross contamination if they do not label with “may contain” statements.

While the US has come a long way in product labeling, we still have more work to do in full disclosure regarding packaged food products.  My prayer is that “May Contain” labeling becomes mandatory very soon.  Be aware and be safe.

The Holidays: Be Merry & Safe

The Holidays: Be Merry & Safe

Holidays can take a food allergy sufferer and their family to a whole new level of anxiety.  A time that is meant to be joyous and festive is wrapped in fear, trepidation and discomfort for food allergy families.  For us, food centered gatherings are no time to relax and enjoy the company of friends and loved ones.  Our focus must always be on safety, protection and prevention.  Children, teenagers and adults lose their lives at gatherings such as these, even when they do absolutely everything right.  There are too many moving parts to a family food-centered gathering, too many variables, too many figurative and actual hands in the pot, too much for us to monitor and ensure safety.

What defines many people’s ideas of the perfect holiday may not center around food such as pecan pie, peanut butter cookies, pumpkin pie with whipped topping, candied pecans, cheese balls rolled in nuts, and green beans with sliced & roasted almonds, but it is certainly a major part of their idea of the perfect holiday.  We are still fighting to show that one child’s favorite lunch food, a PB&J sandwich, is not worth losing the life of another child.  Holidays are a whole new ballgame.

If I could embody food allergy sufferers and their families with one trait, it would be perseverance.  We keep going, keep advocating, keep protecting, and yes, even keep loving despite all the hurtful, harmful and hateful opposition.  Despite all the negative comments, the abandoned friendships, the shunning of family members that just don’t get it, we keep going.  We persevere.

Keep in mind at this years’ family gatherings that we don’t want to be a pain or offensive by asking millions of questions about food prep, ingredients, labels, what you ate before you came and other weird-seeming questions to non-food allergy folks.  We want to be protected.  We want to leave the party in the same car we arrived in, not an ambulance.

For some families, possible exposure is too big a risk to take, especially when the allergy is severe.  Please know that we want more than anything to be there.  We sacrifice our desires & preferences to keep our children, or ourselves, safe.  We ask for no judgement on this decision.  I promise it is a painful decision for us to make.

Be careful, my dear food allergy friends.  It’s a minefield out there.  My prayer for you is discernment on what is a safe situation and what is not safe, and of course to always be safe.

My prayer for all non-food allergy friends & families is for understanding, respect and love towards food allergy sufferers.  That’s the best holiday gift you could ever give us.

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The Isolation of Food Allergies

The Isolation of Food Allergies

Food allergies isolate children and their families.  That’s the truth.  It’s painful, difficult and defeating all in the same moment.  Those are pretty powerful emotions for a child or adult to feel in one concentrated burst, often daily.  Children with food allergies have a difficult time participating in all the activities that other children take for granted.  Fun childhood experiences like trick or treating, birthday parties, summer camps, Easter egg hunts, Vacation Bible School, and pizza parties at school are not carefree fun for children with food allergies.

They always have to be on alert, keeping their guard up for whatever their poison is: peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, egg, soy, fish, shellfish, wheat and a myriad of other foods.

Be aware that what is an American classic treat, ice cream, could be death for some.  We consider our allergens poison because we know they can kill us.  It’s hard to get excited about an ice cream party when ice cream is your worst nightmare.  Seeing your siblings get excited to have the food that could kill you is a lonely place to be.

And it’s not just the person with food allergies that feels isolated.  It’s the entire family.  It’s the Mom or Dad of a food allergy child that has to be persistent and aggressive to keep her/his child safe, often to the point of losing friends or being shunned because we are a little “crazy about food allergies.”  It’s also the brother or sister of a food allergy child that unfortunately has to skip events, sacrificially, because it’s not safe for the entire family.  Who wants to leave their sibling behind, sad and left out, while you go enjoy the party?  It’s also the grandparents that have to constantly be alert when their food allergic grandchild is around, upsetting some because of the restrictions that must be in place for the child.  Traditions sometimes have to be broken: “Sorry, can’t have boiled peanuts this year at our gathering!”

There is a constant, underlying level of anxiety present when you have food allergies.  Social norms are not the norm for us. We are different.  We are mocked.  We are bullied.  We are talked about.  How could you not have anxiety when the same food that the world is in love with could kill you?  The same food that parties are planned around causes a violent reaction in your body with just a trace.  You give up so much that others take for granted.  There’s no denying the loneliness of food allergies.  So many people just don’t understand and don’t even care to.

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But don’t give up hope just yet!  There are people that care, that want to help.  Cherish them, thank them, return their kindness every chance you get.  There are angels that were once bound by food allergies that are now free from that pain and are watching over us.  Food allergy kids and adults are resilient.  They live through tough days and still smile.  They appreciate small acts of kindness with more depth than many.  When so many people ignore their plight, the one that shows concern erases away the ones that don’t.  It’s the kind of “special” one feels when Jesus leaves the 99 to recover you, the one lost sheep.

Loved, important, wanted.

 

“What do you think?  If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?  And if he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.  So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”  Matthew 18:12-14

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Navigating Minefields

Navigating Minefields

Imagine you walk into a room at one of your favorite places, maybe a restaurant in which you’ve enjoyed many meals or a park at which you’ve spent many afternoons daydreaming.  You notice that this time your favorite place is different.  Something feels off…it feels dangerous.  You look around trying to identify what is different.  You can’t tell at first but soon you start to see it…a minefield of explosives.

Most people would run in the other direction.  You’d have to be crazy to walk into a minefield, right?

Yet, this is exactly what those with food allergies face every time they go to a public place.  A minefield.

Now, imagine that it’s not you walking into your favorite place that is now so extremely dangerous…but it’s your child.  Your sweet, innocent child that is not prepared to identify dangerous situations as an adult would.

Think of this place as a park with a playground.  What was once a place to have fun and “be a kid” is now filled with explosives for your food allergic child.  Innocent, unaware children are walking around eating a PB&J sandwich, wiping it off their face and then touching the slide that your child is about to go down.  Never-mind that there is a picnic table nearby, the parent isn’t paying attention and the child is roaming around eating.  Another child is running around with their sippy cup of milk, dripping it on the playground equipment.  Your child has a life-threatening allergy to all of these foods that are now all over the playground.  This place is no longer fun.  It is dangerous.

Do you steal your child’s experiences of “being a kid” to keep them safe?  Do you take them to the minefield and hope for the best?  How do you handle this situation?  It’s one that food allergy families face daily.

Until you come face to face with the fact that the same food that is considered healthy for some will in fact kill your child, you might not be able to imagine the dangers present in everyday life.

Until you’ve had to witness your child struggle to breath, scratch their tongue vigorously with both hands, look into your eyes with a primal fear, vomit and go limp….all from one bite or drink of the wrong food, you might not understand why it’s so important to prevent exposure.  Until you’ve feared that one epi-pen jr isn’t enough to stop the anaphylactic response in your child, you might not understand why it’s so important to prevent exposure.  Until the hospital nurse has told you they have called the chaplain to come speak to you, you might not understand why it’s so important to prevent exposure.

Let me explain this clearly: it is CRUCIAL to prevent exposure.

Each anaphylactic response can become more rapid and deadly with each occurrence.  It’s as if the body’s response gets stronger each time.  The best way to prevent quicker, stronger anaphylaxis is to avoid exposure altogether.  It’s not as simple as just giving an epi-pen.  Sometimes they don’t work.  Sometimes it’s too late to stop the anaphylactic shock.  Sometimes the child does not see the other side of anaphylaxis.  It is a sobering truth that many need to hear.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39

Food allergies have become a punchline to some, a weapon to bullies and death to it’s victims.  More concern, love and sympathy for each other would make all of our burdens easier to bear.  And maybe just a little safer for those who need to be loved and protected.