Food Allergies at Weddings

a wedding pic

I get so excited when I receive a wedding invitation in the mail. I love hearing that my friends or families have found that special someone and I love joining in on the celebration!

However, there is usually one slip of paper that comes along with the invitation that brings my thoughts away from the ceremony, the speeches and the party. I’m talking about that slip that asks you to indicate your food selection for the reception.

I love seeing a few options on this slip, as there are usually a couple options I can cross off right away. I am allergic to seafood, and fish is usually one of those options. That typically leaves me analyzing the meat and vegetarian dishes. More information is always better, but sometimes it just says meat with a special sauce, or vegetables with certain fixings. What’s in that special sauce? What on earth is a fixing? With my long list of multiple allergies, I like details!

I have had experiences where this slip says “Please indicate any allergies or intolerances”, which gives me a little bit of comfort knowing this information should make it to the catering staff. The bride and groom to-be have a lot on their plate in the months ahead, but it is acceptable to bring up the food situation in conversation prior to the big day. Bring it up casually by saying “I love that there was a tick box for allergens with the wedding invitations”. Or “I didn’t see any mention of meals for special diets, should I get in touch with the catering company in advance”. Make it easy for them and offer to be a part of the solution if you foresee a problem.

Fast forward to the wedding itself which is usually half a year away. The wedding goes well and you are overjoyed for the happy couple! Then…you start racking your brain trying to remember what food you ordered for the reception. Did you mention your allergens on the food order form?

At this point, it’s always a great idea to connect with the catering staff directly. In my experience, they go out of their way to answer your questions and make sure you have a safe meal. After all, weddings are a big business and they want all of the guests satisfied. Hopefully they can confirm for you that you have a special plated meal, or that the regular meal will be okay.

I have gone to weddings where the catering staff found ME before I could find THEM! They wanted to let me know that I would be having a special meal free of my allergens. I love that!

Magically Allergy Free

At the end of the day, you are there to celebrate love and marriage. If you are uncomfortable with the food or have other issues with the catering, try to solve it with the caterer’s supervisor or the wedding planner – try to keep the newlyweds out of it so they can stay focused on celebrating. If all else fails, you can always make a toast at the end of the night…in your toaster at home. J

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Avoiding Allergic Reactions While Eating Out on Vacation

My name is Mathew and I am allergic to all tree nuts and peanuts. I recently travelled to Cuba with my family and had a wonderful trip! The trip was a great opportunity to write a blog post as I encountered a buffet on a number of occasions and noticed many dangers that could occur for someone with food allergies when eating at a buffet. One interesting observation I made that I have noted throughout this post is that buffets are problematic, not only for people with allergies, but also for people who do not suffer from allergies.

cuba

This was my fourth time traveling to Cuba and I would most definitely consider myself a seasoned Cuba traveler. I know the ins and outs of staying safe and healthy while at a resort in the country. I often hear patrons complain about becoming ill, but I can proudly say I felt great from the moment I arrived until the moment I left as I played it safe with my food allergies. As I ate my safe meals, I couldn’t help but notice other customers visiting a buffet and noted some of the unique risks.

  1. Individual sets of tongs were used for different vessels containing different foods. These were then used to place food on a plate that already had food on it, and to push around various food items on patrons’ This poses a risk to allergy sufferers due to potential cross-contamination.
  1. Patrons used their hands to pick up food from vessels. Not only is this a serious health hazard, but the hands could have been in contact with an allergen prior to reaching into the container.
  1. Children laid both hands directly on top of plate piles and then reached for an entirely different plate. This is the same issue as in number 2.
  1. People would place food items that were on their plate back into vessels. This poses a risk of cross-contamination.
  1. People would use their plates multiple times rather than using a new plate for each new helping of food. This can be a health hazard and there is a risk of cross-contamination because the plate is potentially contaminated with allergens.

chinese food

There was no shortage of opportunity for me to be at risk of suffering from an allergic reaction.

For myself, I worked with the restaurant staff and felt comfortable with a few food stations and can share these tips:

  • I avoided all deserts. Nuts are commonly found in desserts and in the dessert section.
  • I avoided unidentifiable foods. If it is not clear what ingredients are in a dish than consuming it would be an unnecessary risk.
  • I selected food that was being cooked in front of me. If the food is cooked in front of me and it is a relatively simple dish such as grilled salmon, I consider it to be relatively safe. I can see what ingredients are included in the dish and how it is prepared. There is relatively less risk that patrons touched the food with either their hands or random tongs. I am weary of things that are cooked off site that do not have proper labelling.

At the end of the day, it’s important to ask yourself whether it’s worth trying to find safe food at a risky buffet, or whether choosing a more traditional restaurant is a better option for you.

For more information on observing at a restaurant to stay safe please refer to my post at https://whyriskit.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/asking-and-observing-when-dining-out/.

The One Time I Did Not Ask About Nuts In a Restaurant

My name is Mathew and I am allergic to all tree nuts and peanuts. Recently I was hosting an event that I was planning on presenting at, but my time to speak was preceded by a trip to the emergency room.

I have never had an anaphylactic reaction but I do know my allergy to nuts is severe enough that ingesting small amounts of the allergen may trigger a life-threatening reaction. The event I hosted included a variety of food options that at first glance contained no nuts of any sort. On the tables there were vegetarian and non-vegetarian pizzas as well as meat and cheese trays.

Leading up to the presentation, I was somewhat nervous and wasvery focused on what I was going to say. I was somewhat hungry but I avoided food, not because of the risk of allergens, because I was very focused on my presentation. One of the people working with me handed me a slice of vegetarian pizza. I would normally ask a server, manager or owner about nuts but instead I quickly ate it and continued to work on the points I wanted to hit in my presentation. This may have been the first time I have ever forgot to ask about nuts because I was so focused on something else. Pizza, especially in a restaurant compared to a fast food chain, is a dish that one must always be careful with because of the potential for there to be nuts in pesto.

NewYorkSlice

Within a minute of finishing the pizza I felt tingling in the sides of my mouth, throat and lips. The feeling was very similar to what one would feel when they are getting their mouth frozen at the dentist. The cause quickly dawned on me. There must have been pesto on the pizza. I quickly told one of my fellow organizers that I was sure I was having a reaction and would likely have to leave for the hospital. I then found theowner to ask about nuts. The owner confirmed that therewere nuts in the pesto that was on the pizza I ate but a very minute amount. Although the reaction was not progressing very fast, I quickly had one of my co-workers drive me to the hospital emergency room because this is an experience that I have never had and did not want to take any chances.

Emergency

On my way I called my family to tell them where I was going and they said they would meet me there. Once I arrived at the hospital, I told the emergency staff of the situation and they assessed my status. I did not need immediate assistance but it was important that if I did, I was in a place that would be able to handle the reaction quickly. I had my auto-injector with me and I was ready to use it, but luckily it was not needed. The reaction did not progress any further than the minor swelling which eventually subsided after being given an antihistamine. I was grateful of my co-worker for getting me there quickly, as well as my family for coming to make sure that I was okay.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: it is critical to always ask the staff about the food you are eating at their restaurant. This is a priority above all else.

Going to Summer Camp with Allergies

Camp is a very fun way to enjoy summer, but for those of us with food allergies it may at first seem a little intimidating. If you manage it correctly however, it can definitely be a lot easier. Today more and more camps are becoming peanut and nut free. This is a great step to solve nut allergy issues, but there is still concern for all the other allergies. 800px-Canoagemcanada

Most kids start off attending day camp. With allergies this can be a bit tricky, but with simple communication, things should work out okay. Some camps ask all the kids to bring their lunch. If that is the case, then treat it like you would school. Sometimes however, the camp provides lunch. To prepare for this before camp starts, talk to the kitchen staff and ask for a menu or meal plan. Talk about what is in each dish, and if you or your child can have it or what else they can make for you or your child. If you cannot come up with anything to eat then maybe consider bringing your own lunch. In terms of the snacks that the camp may provide, talk to the camp just like you did for lunch to try and find a solution.

Sleep away camp can be scary for any child, but especially children with food allergies. Unlike day camp, you cannot pack every single meal, so you will have to do some real planning before camp. Talk to the camp, and maybe have the head of the kitchen come over. Talk about what type of food is usually safe for you, and what type of food is not. Also talk about what simple dishes you like to eat. Although you can’t bring up all of your meals, you can bring up some homemade food. Often, sleep away camps will have a rough menu of what meals they will serve. Talk about what type of food you could have as alternatives for the dishes you can’t eat. When you go up to camp, make sure there is somebody you can talk to as well as make sure you know where to get your food. Most camps will have a salad bar, so you can always go and take some salad, if this is a safe option. Camps will also usually serve plain pasta, which you can eat if that is also safe for you. Once at camp you will better understand what

there is for you to safely eat. . 792px-Camp_fire

Both day and sleep away camp are so much fun, and there is no reason that you should miss out just because of your allergies. Remember the most important part of camp is to have fun and remember your auto-injector! Have a great summer everyone!

Blog perspective from a Yapper’s PARENT about fears of having children taking control over allergies 

Letting go of the “parental reigns” is hard enough at the best of times. But when you have a child with allergies, the task is monumental. That’s because the stakes are so much higher if you misjudge your child’s ability to take responsibility for their well-being.

As the parent of a now 23-year-old allergic child, I freely and unabashedly admit that I hung onto those proverbial reigns as long as I could. Was it longer than needed? I don’t think so. When you have a “healthy” child, you can encourage independence by letting them suffer the consequences of their mistakes, since as we all know, life’s lessons are best learned through personal experience. But that approach certainly doesn’t work here, because the potential consequences of not being prepared in the event of an emergency are dire. So how do we reconcile letting our children take control of their allergies and keeping them safe at the same time?parent

The first step is to know your child. Because of their condition, you cannot “push” them to be responsible. Your child needs to understand the implications of their allergies, but remember that it is typically not before age 7 (and as late as 10) that they can fully grasp the concept of death. This knowledge is a game-changer for an al
lergic child, and how they respond is anyone’s guess. Some may mature overnight. Others may be unable to deal with this overwhelming new realization and pretend it’s not real. Let their response be your guide and respond accordingly.

As they get older, they will notice what steps you take to keep them safe, for example, calling ahead before an outing to see what food will be served. If your child is an extrovert, you can ask them if they would like to make the call. But bear in mind that these calls mean talking to adults, and most children are not comfortable doing that until well into their teens.

Never lose sight of the fact that you are a parent and that this is not a popularity contest. They may roll their eyes on the way out when you ask (again!) if they have their auto-injector and asthma medication with them.
As teens, they may not want to divulge where they’re going, and although they won’t make the necessary calls, they won’t want you to either. Stand firm.

When you have an allergic child, it’s hard not to be a helicopter parent. Using that metaphor, then I was a 737 jet. I make no excuses, and I have no regrets. Until this day I am making sure my daughter follows up with her pulmonary specialist and allergist. There is nothing I would like better than to shed this responsibility, but until I am 100% sure that she can fully assume the load, I will be there, because it’s my job and because I love her.

Babysitting Allergy Dilemma

Babysitting is something a lot of teens do to make a few dollars but have you ever thought about the precautions you must take when you have allergies? The worst thing to happen is to have an allergic reaction when babysitting, as you are supposed to be taking care of other people.

Here’s a few allergy safe babysitting tips. First of all, if it is your first time babysitting for a family, make sure to tell them about your allergies. That way if you are feeding the kids, the food that you are giving them can be prepared to not have any of your allergens in it.

Second, when you babysit, parents sometimes tell you that you can eat one of their snacks. If you don’t feel comfortable eating their food, it is completely reasonable to bring your own snacks.  When you get to the babysitting house, make sure that there is none of your allergens lying around. If there is, politely ask the parents to store it out of sight, and not to take it out while you are there.  

 
Here is a little story that happened to me. I always thought that babysitting wasn’t something that was affected by my allergies. When I got to this one house, the parents asked me if I could make the kids dinner and feed them one hour from then. I said okay and asked what I should make. They said I should feed them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I told her I couldn’t because I was allergic to peanuts and they said they didn’t have any other food so I was going to have to make them that.

They left and I was in a panic because I did not know what to do. I called my mom who quickly brought over soy butter. I made them soy butter and jelly sandwiches. I told the kids that it was peanut butter and jelly and they seemed to have no idea that it was really soy butter. When the parents got home I told them that I didn’t feel comfortable feeding their kids if they were going to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the next time I went over, the parents luckily had something else for me to make them for dinner.

Here’s what I want you to remember from this story: it is always best to let the parents you are babysitting for know about your allergies before heading over for the first time to avoid awkward situations like this one.

Allergens and Language Barriers

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            So you have food allergies and you’re thinking about going on vacation to a foreign country…but the only hiccup in your plans is the language barrier! Well you’ve come to the right place.

A few summers ago I went on a trip to an island in Mexico named Cozumel. I was taking a summer course there so I was surrounded by my peers (aka: no parents!!) This meant that I had to take the necessary precautions before leaving so that my parents felt confident enough to let me travel on my own. Since my Spanish fluency encompassed not much more than “hello, goodbye, and thank you,” I was going to have to do some research on how to communicate to the locals about my food allergies to peanuts and tree nuts.

I decided to purchase a handheld Spanish-English digital translator. You can find them online for less than $30 so it is not a huge investment. Or there is always the good old translation dictionary if you like taking your time. Another option is to bring along your phone and download a translation app before you go. That said, you have to be 100% sure that the Internet will work on your phone in another country, and that you are prepared to pay for international data charges. I most definitely wasn’t prepared to do that!

The only problem with translation devices is that they often don’t include many allergen words. And you can’t always rely on a computer to get your point across with something that is potentially life threatening. I did some research on google was able to find a company that actually makes allergy translation cards that can fit in your pocket! I was lucky enough to have a close family friend who was fluent in Spanish. I sent her a few sentences explaining my condition and she translated them for me. Next I found a “nut-free” symbol on the web and pasted it beside the text. I printed out a bunch of copies and laminated them at my local office supplies store. I am not going to lie, they looked pretty snazzy! So whether it be a website or a relative, there are plenty of ways to get a comprehensive translation that you can rely on. Just a word of caution though, don’t use a translation website because the final product often won’t make sense. For something as serious as food allergies, I would always invest a little bit more time and money.

My parents turned out to be thrilled with my idea and luckily they agreed to let me travel. While in Cozumel, I carried my auto-injector and translation cards everywhere I went.  Whenever at a restaurant, I would hand the server a card and tell him to show it to the chef as well. Best of all, I didn’t have a single reaction while away!


Drinking with Allergies

*This article is meant for those who are legally allowed to drink alcohol, and as a “heads up” for teens of things to consider when they are of legal drinking age.

 

When I was 18, I took a bartending course and learned all about the different types of alcohols and cocktails. I was surprised to see how many drinks contained common allergens. According to Health Canada, any alcohol (except beer) that contains a priority allergen, gluten, or added sulfites, has to state that somewhere on the bottle. In my experience, companies are still catching up to that regulation, so you might have to do a little searching on the label or on the Internet to really find out what’s in a drink. Here is a short list of some cocktails and drinks that include common allergens:

Nuts

  • Certain
  • Certain liquors
  • Certain gins
  • Cocktails: Godfather, Alabama Slammer, Amaretto Sour, Blueberry Tea

Fish

  • Pretty much any cocktail that contains the words Bloody, Red, Mary or Caesar: Bloody Mary, Bloody Caesar, Red Zombie (contain Worcestershire sauce)

Egg

  • Eggnog, Tom and Jerry, Golden Fizz

Milk

  • Brown Cow, Blind Russian, White Russian, Brandy Alexander, Coco Cognac, Sombrero, Grasshopper, Pina Colada

I’ve worked at clubs, hotels, and restaurants, and these are a few things I think every person with allergies should know about most bartenders:

  • From my experience, when we don’t know how to make a specific cocktail and are too busy to look it up, we tend to wing it. Or, if we’re feeling creative, we might modify the recipe. This means that even if you know a certain cocktail is usually safe for you, there’s always a chance it’s not.
  • If it’s a really busy night and we’re making a lot of drinks using a cocktail shaker, the shaker is usually only rinsed under water for a few seconds before being used for the next drink. This means that residue from the last drink might still be present on the shaker or on the cap. If you’re at a bar and can see that the bartender is super busy, I recommend sticking with drinks that don’t require a shaker, like a simple vodka soda.
  • If you’re allergic to any kind of fruit, never drink anything that includes “punch”. Most of the time, punch is just a mixture of a bunch of different fruit juices, like apple, pineapple, orange, strawberry-kiwi, grapefruit, etc.
  • Tip well! If a bartender remembers you as a good tipper, they’re more likely to be amenable to your requests. For example, if you know you can’t have Beefeater and request Tanqueray instead, a bartender that likes you will be more likely to help you out. It is still important however to ensure bartenders are aware of your allergies when ordering!

To sum it all up, be vigilant and be safe! Communicating with a bartender in a loud and busy setting can be tricky, so when in doubt, stick with simple drinks. Don’t let yourself get peer-pressured into trying your friend’s drink, or taking shots of an unknown drink because the whole group is doing it. You can still drink and have a great time while keeping yourself safe. Be sure that the friends you go out with know about your allergies and where you keep your epinephrine. Most importantly, have fun!