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!

Taking Control of Your Own Allergies

As a teenager or a young adult, taking control of your allergies can be tough. You have to do all the things your parents did for you when you were younger. This ranges from calling a restaurant in advance to booking your own doctor appointments. Inevitably, this involves a lot of talking to people, sometimes arguing with them, inconveniencing them, and standing up for yourself.

One of the hardest parts of taking control is communicating with other people. These people can be your friends, a restaurant waiter, or a flight stewardess, and they all need to be informed of your allergies. If you’re shy or introverted, this can be especially difficult. It’s scary to wonder if that person will judge you, roll their eyes, laugh at you, etc. It’s really best to get used to this anxiety while you’re young, because you’ll have to deal with people’s reactions for the rest of your life. I tried a bunch of different communication strategies before finding one that worked for me. Scaring people by telling them they could kill you tends to freak them out, but down-playing the severity of your allergies can lead to situations which put you in danger.

Asking for accommodations can be scary as well. It sucks to have to ask a group of people to rearrange their plans so you can go to a restaurant with them, but if they’re really your friends they probably want you to join them and be safe. Personally, I find talking to waiters to be the hardest. Most waiters are accommodating, but sometimes if they’re really busy they might brush you off or dismiss you. If you don’t feel like they’re taking you seriously, ask for another waiter. There’s nothing more important than your safety. You’re the only one who is responsible for your health, so if you feel like the waiters are wishy-washy, ask to speak to a manager or the chef.

One of the more uncomfortable conversations you’ll have to have will be with your girlfriend/boyfriend. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time with this person and probably kissing them, it’s important that they know all about your allergies and how to handle them. They might have to watch what they eat if they’ll be seeing you that day, or brush their teeth and waiting an extended period of time before coming over. The unfortunate truth is that some people are not willing to do this. These are not the people you want to date, no matter how cute they are. Stand up for yourself, and if they don’t care about your health, move on.

Finally, be okay with messing up sometimes. You might forget your auto-injector at home one day and have to run back and get it, or forget to renew a prescription and have to run to the pharmacy at midnight. These things happen, and they’re part of the process of growing up and taking control. The important thing is to learn from these mistakes so you don’t make them again.

A Life-Saving Gut Feeling

My name is Mathew and I am allergic to all nuts. I recently experienced a close call where a gut feeling played a major role in stopping me from consuming pine nuts in an Asian cuisine restaurant.

A few weeks ago I went for lunch to what most Canadian’s would consider to be an authentic Asian restaurant with my parents and a friend of mine from overseas. The restaurant was lavished in gold colour decor, the service was quick and friendly, although somewhat rushed, the food was very fresh and, unfortunately for me, English was the second language of every staff member with whom I spoke.

The facts that I was trying out a new type of food, that English was the second language of all of the staff who I spoke with, and that the staff were in a rush made this situation notably risky since I am allergic to nuts.Roastporkpastries

Fortunately, I have been in this situation in the past and my friend was fluent in the language of the staff so I instructed him to inform the staff of my concerns. I watched the conversation and the staff’s non-vocal cues to try and identify the staff’s understanding of the situation. I read the English on the menu to try and make sensible selections. Unfortunately, this was not enough. We ordered a pork filled pastry but I had a random gut feeling to carefully cut it open and ask my mom, an expert in identifying allergens, to look at the filling. The pastry was, although not clear to the untrained eye, filled with pine nuts and eating it would have caused me to have an allergic reaction. Below I summarize the main issues I encountered with this incident and some safety measures for similar cases in the future.

Issues

  • English was the second language of the staff which means that there was a risk that the staff would have trouble understanding my concerns.
  • The staff were rushed which means that there was a risk that the staff would not take note of my concerns in an attempt to make the service quicker.
  • I am not accustomed to eating this particular culture’s food and I am therefore not familiar with what ingredients and preparation methods are typically utilized.
  • The staff were not accustomed to dealing with food allergies.

Although I was careful, I skipped a couple of safety measures that I could have taken, and will take in the future. These include:

  • Asking to speak with a staff member who is fluent in English
  • Be as serious as possible when telling the staff that this is a life-threatening allergy
  • Avoid anything that includes filling and focus on ordering simpler foods such as grilled meats and steamed vegetables. This will also include a more thorough explanation of cross-contamination safety precautions to ensure the simpler foods remain simple and safe.

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.

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!

Double Checking with Wait Staff

Originally when I was planning to write this blog, I thought that I would write some tips on how to keep safe with allergies when going out. However, since then I have gone out and had my own close call. Luckily, it didn’t end in a reaction, but it could have very well happened.

I was coming home from a skiing trip and we were staying in a hotel in Ottawa for the night. We were all very hungry and had no food to eat, so we decided to go out. We asked the front desk about restaurants in the area, and like always, being the only one with food allergies in my family, I got to choose the restaurant. I decided to go to a restaurant chain that I had eaten at before, although I had never been to this current location.

When we got to the restaurant the first thing I did was tell the waitress about my allergies, and that they were life-threatening. She didn’t seem to do much but nod her head. To be safe, as I am allergic to mustard, I usually go with pizza or pasta, but I always check just in case. This time I ordered plain pasta with rosé sauce. I asked her if she could check with the kitchen to make sure the food was safe and she said that she was sure it was okay. I didn’t feel comfortable with that since waiters and waitresses wouldn’t always know every ingredient in every dish in the restaurant. I also ordered a side dish for my meal and the waitress did the same thing so I really didn’t feel safe.

Waitress

After my salad came with a dressing that I couldn’t eat on the side (which ended up spilling!), my parents told me I should ask to speak to the manager. I said that I didn’t want to make a fuss, but my parents told me that if I didn’t ask and had a reaction, I would be making more of a fuss. You should never be worried to ask to speak to the manager, you are not making a fuss. Remember it is your life on the line. After the manager came over he went into the kitchen, got me a new salad, and checked to make sure all my dishes were okay. Luckily, they were all safe and my meal was good.

After we finished our meal the waitress asked us if we wanted dessert. Since I’m allergic to peanuts, I usually don’t get dessert. I said I don’t think I’m going to have any, and she responded by saying that none of the desserts have peanuts or nuts in it. I told her that I would look at the menu if she could come back. Sure enough, when I opened the dessert menu, the first item was peanut butter layered chocolate cake. The desserts definitely didn’t have any peanuts in them. LOL. 😉

I was lucky that I didn’t end up having a reaction. The key is to always make sure you feel safe, even if you have an inexperienced waiter. You shouldn’t, however, let your allergies stop you from going out!

Avoiding Cross-Contamination

Cross-Contamination

“This dish has none of your allergens in it, it’s safe for you to eat.” That is a familiar phrase that many of us with allergies hear, but unfortunately it’s not always true. Sometimes there is a risk of cross-contamination. As allergies are seemingly becoming more common and more people are becoming aware of allergies, it seems as though many still have trouble understanding cross-contamination.

I find it really frustrating to think you can eat something, to only find out that it was prepared in an unsafe environment. It is very important that you clearly tell the people who are preparing your food what needs to be done to avoid cross-contamination. People might have trouble understanding, so it is important that you give them details on how your food can’t come into contact with any of your allergens. Below is a list of a few things that you should tell the person who is making your food to help avoid cross-contamination.

1. Your food can’t come into contact with your allergen (i.e. it can’t just be picked off the top of your food.)

2. All the kitchen equipment (e.g. pans or cutting boards) that will be used for your dish needs to be cleaned thoroughly before preparing your food.

3. Allergens can stay on sponges or towels so it’s best to clean surfaces with disposable paper towels or wipes.

Buying packaged food can pose different challenges in terms of cross-contamination. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to talk to the people who manufacture the food about their process as it is in a restaurant. That’s why it’s important to call or email the company directly and ask if you are ever unsure. Sometimes a product will say it “may contain” an allergen. It’s important that you never take a chance with these products, as they are potentially risky.

My trick is to stick with companies that I know and trust. I don’t buy things I’m unsure about. For example, if a brand has one type of cookies that seems okay for me, but they also manufacture another cookie with peanut butter, I would stay away. However, some companies may have different factories for different products. That’s why it’s important to get in touch with them directly to find out the risk.

Remember, more precautions you take the less likely it is that there will be cross-contamination.

For more information on cross-contamination, visit Anaphylaxis Canada’s website at: http://www.allergysupportcentre.ca/cross-contamination.html