I was just minding my own business Friday, working through my many goals for the day.
A few conference calls and some data-geek excel work in the morning when I look up at the clock and realize I didn’t have much time left before having to get my son from school.
Better get that workout in and take a quick shower.
As I was getting changed, the phone rang. I glance at the caller I.D.
My heart does a little leap. It’s after lunch.
I don’t like calls from the school around lunch time.
Most of you probably wouldn’t be spooked by this. But if you have a kid with a food allergy, this isn’t what you want to see.
It is Mandy, the school nurse and she immediately says Brett is fine. She thinks. But she explained he had started coughing and wheezing, to the point where it was definitely not normal. His teacher brought him down to see her immediately.
He’s allergic to nuts, could this be a reaction?
Most parents would think, so what? He’s coughing, right? Maybe it’s seasonal allergies, or dust in the air or from the heaters. Wheezing? Ok, he does that every once in a while but not often. We talk about what he had for lunch: basically all foods we eat every day at home, hummus, homemade tortilla, apple, and a few chips. I packed the lunch.
Were the chips a new bag?
Could any of it have been contaminated with nuts?
Not that we know of, but honestly, who knows?
Those Kettle Brand chips. The website says there are no nuts in the facility. But there’s no allergen information on the package.
The Pita Crisps say Contains Wheat. But there isn’t any more information about production on the label. On the website, it says under the FAQ’s there are no nuts in the facility.
I have been using King Arthur Flour and contacted them a few years back and they said their facility was free of peanuts. But their package and website? I can’t find any information.
He’s eaten these foods hundreds of times.
I spend sometimes hours of each week reading food nutrition labels to ensure I only purchase safe foods, with no possibility of cross-contamination to nuts.
Sometimes the foods are labelled. Sometimes they aren’t.
When the information is not clearly on the label, I check the company website, or send an email to customer service and hope the person at the receiving end of my inquiry has accurate information about the possibly of cross-contamination of the allergen in question.
And you hope the second after you call the company, they don’t move production facilities.
Or have some guy in the warehouse decide to move the product to a new facility with nuts flying around everywhere.
You have to trust what they tell you is the truth.
That day I highly doubted he ate any nuts.
Brett usually sneezes when he smells nuts, he doesn’t cough. Then again, one of the most annoying aspects of a nut allergy is that you can’t predict the same results from one reaction to another–they always change.
But when it’s not in writing, on the back of the box or bag, I start to second guess myself:
When was the last time I checked the
Where is that email I received, I know I sent it awhile back…
What if something changed and I didn’t know about it?
What if I poisoned my son?
But if you are wrong and you do nothing, not administering an epi-pen can be a life-threatening decision.
We ultimately decided I’d bring in his inhaler, ASAP.
I hang up the phone, drop my workout gear, grab his inhaler, and drive straight to the school.
By the time I arrive about 10 minutes later, he was calm.
Oh, hey mom!
In the time it took for me to drive to the school, Mandy said she and Brett talked through what would happen if he wasn’t feeling better in the next minute or two. How she would use the epi-pen, and how he would have to sit calmly for 10 seconds with the needle in his leg.
She said he was calm, and understood what he needed to do.
And it was kind of like an emergency dry run.
So maybe some good came of the situation?
We were pretty sure at that point he was ok, so he left and went back to the class a few minutes later.
While we sat staring at each other for a moment, in relief.
This whole food allergy thing, it’s frustrating.
Sometimes you have to make judgement calls. It’s not a black and white situation.
As I think about Friday’s events in hindsight, I wonder how to minimize confusion for the next time this happens.
And the answer lies right there on the Food Labels.
Wouldn’t it have been great if I could have said to Mandy, there is absolutely ZERO chance there was cross-contamination in the food he was eating? If he indeed was in a room with no nuts and other kids who weren’t eating nuts, we would know this was indeed Asthma and an inhaler would do the trick.
The worry over an epi-pen would never have come to question.
I’m sure some other food allergy parents might say, well, you should just err on the side of caution and administer it anyway. But here’s the thing: if you administer it, you need to get an ambulance and bring him to the hospital to be monitored. If we know food allergy is not in question 100%, that sounds traumatizing to everyone: for Brett, for me, for Mandy, for the other teachers and students. And it’s also not necessary.
So let’s talk about the food label.
Did you know it’s not mandatory to put “made in a facility with xxxxx (top allergens)” on the label? It’s voluntary.
And it’s not mandatory to include “made on the same equipment as xxx (allergen)” either . It’s voluntary.
But when foods have been tested for allergens, they found a definite cross contamination risk in foods that do not list the allergen in the ingredients, but are produced alongside or on the same lines as the allergen in question.
Why is this wording not mandatory?
I’m guessing you all heard about Michelle Obama unveiling proposed changes to packaged food labels. It has been in the news everywhere over the last few weeks.
I actually love what she is doing.
I really appreciate that calories are going to be emphasized.
That serving sizes are going to be right-sized.
And that sugar/added sugar is being highlighted, because I do look at that.
I also think adding a line listing the amount of Vitamin D will be helpful because where I live, everyone needs to maximize Vitamin D.
But what disappointed me when I read about the proposed changes?
There was no mention of fixing the allergen labeling.
I wonder, after reading last fall about Malia Obama’s peanut allergy, who gets this fun job at the White House of having to read labels, check websites, and determine what is safe for Malia.
Knowing first-hand how tough this is, you just wonder why they didn’t take this opportunity to make changes.
What is their protocol?
Certain brands, usually the more expensive, all natural brands, include these warning labels. And I’m so thankful to them (yes you, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Enjoy Life, Lucy’s, Dr. Kracker). But most of what you see in the grocery store is not clearly labelled. It may tell part of the story, but not typically the full one. So it involves a call from a parent or the allergic-person to learn the full story of the products production cycle.
And when you have to rely on a person at the end of the customer service phone for life and death information, it’s not very reassuring.
And as I mentioned earlier, what if their current practices change tomorrow?
Why is clear allergen labeling not a priority?
As I was reading about the proposed new nutrition labels, an article in the Atlantic states, according to FDA’s Health and Diet Surveys,
The number of people who “often” read the nutrition label the first time they buy food increased from 44 percent in 2002 to 54 percent in 2008.
And that’s awesome–I’m glad more people are getting smart about reading the nutrition labels, but who knows if those reading it will actually change their behavior because of it. If someone picks up a box of twinkies do you really think they care how much sugar is in it? As much as you hope so, I think these changes will just be preaching to the choir, great for people like me who are used to reading them and who are already health conscious.
And perhaps those who hear about the proposed changes to the label in the media recently will be curious to take a look.
But when chain restaurants started putting calorie counts on their menus, it sounds like not too many people really paid attention to them. If you walk into McDonald’s in the first place, do you care about calorie counts and nutrition? At least for that particular meal, probably not. At other chain restaurants, effectiveness will vary because people have varying degrees of concern over the foods they eat, or how much they will listen to advice.
But here’s the thing. If you are highly-allergic to something,
100% of the people will be reading the label; their life depends on it.
So how about making it mandatory to add clear allergen information on the labels?
So there isn’t so much uncertainty.
This will help ease the anxiety of 100% of food allergic folks, and food allergy parents.
And school nurses and teachers and caregivers and friends and relatives.
When a person with a food allergy coughs, we don’t have to worry about traumatizing kids and parents and teachers with unnecessary talk of needles and ambulances. or life or death decisions.
Because we know for a fact, by looking at the label, there is no worry of cross-contamination.
We will know, a cough is just a cough.
A few puffs of an inhaler will do the trick.
Let’s have a Nutrition label that keeps all of us safe.
From added sugar.
From too many calories.
From unrealistic portion sizes.
It’s all important.
But how about keeping us safe from allergens too.
By enforcing companies to put it all in writing on the label.
What do you think of the Food Nutrition Label. Does it suit your needs? Is there anything you feel is missing? Would love to hear your thoughts.