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

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!

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.

A Pricey Checkout: Grocery Shopping with Allergies

food and notepad

I recently read an article reporting on healthy diet costs. The findings showed that in order to eat a healthy diet, families would spend approximately $2,000 more annually compared to those who do not follow a healthy diet.  I then thought about this compared to those who have food allergies and if they wish to buy certified ‘allergen-free’ food (i.e. gluten free, dairy free, etc.). They have no choice but to grin and bear a hefty checkout bill or resort to making their own food replacements, or simply go without.  I personally can say that being a university student living on my own, I simply refuse to buy items such as gluten free/egg free bread or granola bars based on what I can afford on my budget.  I do make up for some of the items I’m not buying at the grocery store by making my own breakfast granola or cookies to treat myself. However, even allergy friendly baking can add to costs with the added price of specialty flours, dairy free alternatives etc. Added prices can also be seen when eating out, although some restaurants are offering new alternatives such as gluten free options, these can come at an additional cost for the product, adding to your bill at the end of the night.

That being said, while facing the reality of having to pay more for allergy safe foods, I personally always try to stay mindful of how things are greatly improving in terms of allergy friendly food options that are available.  I remember when I was younger (we’re talking around 15 years ago!!) my parents would struggle to find safe foods for me to eat and would actually have to order allergen free foods that would be MAILED to our house. Even more unfortunate is that although this food was delivered right to our house, it wasn’t exactly the most ‘tasty’ and I wouldn’t even want to eat some of it.  Today however, it seems that more grocery stores than not have at least a small health food section offering food alternatives for those with allergies.  It seems as the number of people who have allergies and other food restriction increases; the number of products available and the quality of these items continue to increase.

So while it may be premature to hope that the price tag of allergy safe foods will become closer to regular food items, it’s still worthwhile noting all the improvements made allowing allergen free foods to be more accessible and even more tasty!!

Feel free to comment with what your favourite ‘allergy friendly’ foods.  Or how do you avoid purchasing these pricey items and find different alternatives to enjoy the foods you love safely (i.e. baking or doing your own cooking) 🙂

Food Allergies and Potlucks – Should I stay or should I go?

With allergies, comes decision-making; should I eat this, should I go there, should I risk it? You need to remember to always do what is right for you! You know what situations may be dangerous for you and need to do what is best for your health and safety.

With the holidays quickly approaching, potlucks are upon us. Trusting other people with food allergies can often be a tricky thing to do. Last year I had a negative experience with a school potluck that is making me reconsider my decision to attend this year. Everyone was informed of the allergens that were not to be brought to the potluck, but people forgot and they were present. I was not comfortable eating any of the food and left the room, as there was food on most surfaces.

Pot lucks can be a tricky situation at any holiday event

Pot lucks can be a tricky situation at any holiday event.

It was upsetting as I had been looking forward to the Christmas party and all my friends were able to participate. With this year’s potluck being this Friday, I am in the decision process of trying to decide whether or not I am comfortable in attending. Having food allergies can make it difficult to trust others with something as simple as food.

Best Practice - Write out all of the ingredients on the dish you bring.

Best Practice – Write out all of the ingredients on the dish you bring.

With situations like this, don’t worry about what anyone will think and do what is right for you. My teacher has posted the allergens on all the invitations and sign up sheets so I might attend. I have till Friday to decide, but in the end I will only do what I am truly comfortable with. That is just something that comes with food allergies! Have you ever had a tricky situation where you have had to decide whether you would participate or not?

Food Allergies – Finding Self-Control to Give Up Something you Love

Cake TemptationBack in October I decided to take on a new challenge. I wanted to improve my self-control by giving something up. Being hooked on coffee all summer, I was averaging three cups a day. I figured this would be an easy thing to give up for the month. I was very wrong! Within the first week, I caved and had a single cup but luckily it tasted terrible, which helped get me back on track.

After finishing the rest of the month without coffee, I began to think of how similar this experience had been to the year I was diagnosed with a peanut and tree nut allergy. I was diagnosed later than most receiving positive allergy tests at age nine. At that time my self-control with junk food was, well, non-existent. Try telling a nine year old, who had been eating donuts, cookies, chocolate, ice cream, etc. that he can’t eat those foods anymore. I did realize there were still many foods that were nut-free and safe to eat, but now the infamous “May Contain” label taunted me in every grocery store! At the time, I felt like I couldn’t eat anything! However, as time went on I began to find bakeries that produced nut-free pastries; I discovered nut-free chocolates that tasted even better than any I previously ate; my mom found recipes that were more delicious than anything I could buy at a store; simply put, life got easier.

I know it seems like I don’t have a point and my message may be slightly stretched so let me try to break it down. A new allergy isn’t the end of the world. It’s a new challenge! There is a learning curve and a few life adjustments needed with a new allergy diagnosis, just as my self-control experiment had its own challenges to overcome. But once you learn to adapt to life without that food, or without coffee, you will learn to appreciate the small things that you can still enjoy safely!

Visit www.whyriskit.ca for more tips on living safely with food allergies.