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!


My Summer in Whistler

When I first started to write this blog entry, I just wanted to share with you how I have spent my summer. Ironically, since that evening a few days ago, I experienced an allergic reaction. So, now, I have a slightly different story to tell.

First off, my name is Karen, and I’m allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. I am currently working in Whistler, British Columbia this summer at a hotel. This is the first time I’ve worked away from home for a longer period of time. Whistler is an amazing place, especially during the summer. You can hike, zipline, bungee jump, canoe, go white water rafting, ski and snowboard, or go swimming at the lake. I have been here for just over 2 months, enjoying every minute of it.

I live with a roommate, and we have our own kitchen, where I cook a lot of meals, instead of going out. She arrived a few days earlier than I did, and so, did her own grocery shopping ahead of time. The first night I got here, I found a jar of peanut butter sitting in our cupboard. I quickly explained my allergies to her, and now the jar, plate, and knife that she used are sitting in a separate corner of the kitchen, and has not been touched for the past couple months.

Since I am still in Canada, communicating with others about my allergies at new restaurants is not very difficult, considering there is no language barrier, and that many people are familiar with food allergies. So, luckily for me, I’ve been able to try new foods, and enjoy new restaurants, with the help of friendly waiters and chefs.

At work, I have met some of the most incredible and friendliest people who I never want to leave behind, as I go back to school in September. Everyone is really kind and open, so sharing with them that I have allergies was really easy.

In the hotel, as staff, we have our own kitchen where we receive a hot meal every day. The very first day of work, I spoke with the head chef about my food allergies, and was assured that they did not cook with nuts in the kitchen. I decided to stay away from the baked goods though, because they came from a different bakery.

So, as of a few days ago, I had been reaction-free for at least a year, maybe two. Unfortunately, I had a reaction while at work. I had just eaten lunch, and I didn’t think about asking questions because I trusted that everything was allergen free, considering I had been eating the same meals every week. As I was upstairs in the hotel, doing my job, I started feeling nauseous, blaming the fact that my food just was not settling well. Several minutes went by, and I noticed that my hands were getting tingly and turning very red. That was when I started to question what was happening.

I proceeded downstairs to the manager’s office, and explained that I may be having an allergic reaction, but was unsure yet because nothing else had progressed. I grabbed both of my auto-injectors, and took a seat, cautious of what may be happening. People came in and out of the office, concerned about me, because I apparently looked worse than I felt. I had not noticed how red my face had gotten, but when I finally took a look in the mirror, clearly my reaction had escalated. Minutes later, I was wheezing and had a few hives, so I used my auto-injector and was driven to the emergency clinic (in the hotel’s valet car, which was so cool!). I know I should have used my auto-injector right away, but I did not feel  the way I looked, if that makes sense. I was admitted immediately, and then placed under observation.

Throughout this whole ordeal, I learned that my being outspoken about my allergies has been in my favour. My co-workers were all supportive, and concerned, and thankfully, understood what was going on. Those that were with me knew what to do in the event of a bigger emergency, they were trained on how to use an auto-injector, and they remained calm, which really helped me out.

While I was sitting in the office, I learned about other co-workers allergies, and their experiences of having work-related reactions. I also spoke to a hotel guest, who thought I was just holding my auto-injector for no reason, who offered some information about it because he had one too. Additionally, I learned that people really do understand that carrying epinephrine is so important for someone with anaphylaxis.

In case you are wondering, my supervisor and I followed up with the chef, but we are still in the process of pinpointing what may have triggered my reaction. I am more cautious now when I eat at work, but that paranoia will likely disappear, especially now that I am asking more questions. I am grateful for all the people who I was surrounded by, and as I spend my last month here in BC, I am confident that I can enjoy the rest of my summer, regardless of this allergic reaction.ziplining photo

TRAVELLING TO TANZANIA WITH FOOD ALLERGIES (Part 2)

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Hello my name is Caitlyn and I am allergic to wheat, eggs and nuts.  A little over a month ago I wrote a blog about my preparations to make sure I stayed safe with my allergies while travelling to Tanzania for three weeks and then touring Germany and Amsterdam for a week afterwards.  Now that I have returned to good old Canada, I’m happy to report that I stayed free of any allergy reactions over my 4 weeks of travelling!  That’s not to say that there weren’t risks and precautions that I needed to be diligent about, but by doing so I was able to stay safe for the entirety of my journey.

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In terms of travelling on the plane, I was able to pre-order gluten free meals and could be assured they also would contain no nuts.  Even though I was given assurance that I would have food that I could eat, I still brought extra food to be safe.  This paid off on two of the total four flights I had. One of the flights I was on,  one of my meals was accidently given to another women who had ordered a vegetarian meal.  This mistake was not realized until  it was too late leaving me without a meal.  Another flight there was an error made and the airplane ended up not having any gluten free meals on board at all.  Both times the staff on the airplane tried to accommodate for the mistakes and created make shift meals for me out of extra salads, fruit and cheeses, even sneaking food from first class for me!  On top of this, having extra food in my bag allowed me to last the flight without having to feel hungry.

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Staying safe while eating in Tanzania proved not to be too difficult since I was living at a house with 25 other students and we had a cook who worked for us providing our meals.  I met our cook Witness on the first day I arrived and was instantly put at ease as she explained to me how everything would be ‘Hakuna Matata’ (no worries!) about food and she would always make sure there would be lots for me to eat…and there always was!   There were times when I would eat out in restaurants but found the wait staff would always be able to speak English.  To further make sure they fully understand what I meant when I said I had food allergies, I used my little food allergy pocket cards that were printed in Swahili and said I would have reactions to eating wheat, eggs and nuts.  I would even get the staff to bring one of the cards with them to show the cook to make sure communication was accurately passed down.  One of the biggest events when I needed to really ensure I stayed safe with my allergies was when I went on a four-day safari.  This was because for four days I would be in the middle of a safari park, hours away from any remote medical centre.  Again, I was fortunate because the safari company I planned my trip with provided our safari group with a personal cook for our journey and I was able to inform them when booking our trip what I was allergic to and the severity of my allergies.  All in all I was so thankful for the wonderful experience I was able to have in Tanzania, and on top of this to stay safe with my allergies.

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After leaving Tanzania I travelled for a week in Europe visiting western Germany for a few days and then departing for Amsterdam to finish off the week.  Staying safe here while eating involved mainly just being smart eating out at restaurants.  I personally found that since I travelled to popular tourist area, any of the wait staff I encountered were able to speak English.  That being said, I still had my allergy pocket travel cards also printed in German and Dutch to aid in communication to make sure nothing was lost in translation.  The biggest challenge I always found was initially picking a restaurant that looked safe to eat.  It was common practice for restaurants to post their menus in their windows, however most times this would just be in their native language and  I would have no idea what food was actually offered.  Restaurants who posted menus featuring an additional English translation definitely had the upper hand in getting my business, but I found often you could ask the restaurant staff and they would have an extra copy of their menu in English to make things easier.

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Overall, I found by staying smart and using common sense along with practicing open communication to compensate for a communication barrier, there was no reason not to stay safe with allergies while travelling abroad.  Most importantly there was never a reason to let allergies stop you from enjoying all the incredible experiences travelling allows for!

Reaction-free in cottage country!

Summer vacation is all about relaxing and having fun with friends and family! During the summer, I visit my friends’ cottages and always have a great time. Spending all day on the lake, fishing, tubing, and having campfires, is what summer is all about. Of course, having allergies does involve some planning, but it’s totally worth it!

Two friends standing on the pier at the lake.

Here are some tips to have a reaction-free visit to a friend’s cottage:

  1. Always bring at least two epinephrine auto-injectors! When you’re away from home, it is always best to be prepared.
  2. Make sure you let your friend and their parents know about your allergies.  Before going away to a friend’s cottage, my parents and I always discuss my allergies with my friend and their parents. Informing them of my allergies and letting them know about my auto-injector really helps them feel more confident about me staying with them.
  3. Learn where the nearest hospital is, just to be safe.
  4. Leave your parents with the cottage phone number and directions to the cottage so they can find their way in an emergency.
  5. Talk with your friend about what you will be eating and if they have any questions on how to prepare safe meals for you.
  6. Bring some allergy-safe snacks, just in case.
  7. Don’t leave your auto-injector in the direct sunlight and heat.
  8. Bring your auto-injector with you everywhere. It may feel silly to bring it with you tubing or kayaking, but anaphylaxis can occur at anytime.
  9. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy yourself!

By following these tips, you can have a reaction-free trip to a friend’s cottage. Some of my best summer memories are with my friends. My friends are so understanding about my allergies and have no problem accommodating me. Be safe and have fun! 🙂

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Travelling to Tanzania with Food Allergies

My name is Caitlyn and I am allergic to wheat, eggs and nuts.  One of my biggest interests is travelling.  I personally caught the travel bug in high school when I travelled for a week and a half to England and France on a school trip.  My first solo trip happened right after I graduated high school when I travelled to Costa Rica for two weeks, where I volunteered to work at a sea turtle conservation site. Currently, after finishing my second year of nursing school, I am combining two of my passions—travelling and nursing by volunteering for three weeks in Tanzania working in a hospital with the organization Work the World.  With any kind of travelling there is a lot of planning and organization involved, especially if your travels are for an extended period of time.  On top of this, having allergies adds a lot of responsibility and things that need to be accounted for.

Though this isn’t my first time travelling abroad, to organize this trip there were still a lot of measures and precautions I had to take to make sure I stay safe with my allergies.  Precautions that I took included making sure I will be able to safely eat when I am in Tanzania.  To do this, I informed the organization I am working with about my allergies very early on.  This allowed them to take steps to ensure there is food for me. I will be staying at a house through the organization that has a cook who can make sure all meals will be allergy friendly.  When it comes to eating out, language barrier is a huge issue and something that always concerns me a great deal when travelling.  To help with this, I was able to find a company that provides wallet size pocket cards that state all my allergy information in Swahili.  I will still have to be vigilant when eating food, always carry my medicine with me and make sure I know where local medical facilities are located just in case.

Other preparations I have taken to make sure I stay safe during my trip with my allergies include making sure all my medications are up to date (something that should be done anyways!) and making sure I have multiples of my medications as well.  I will be packing these medications in different bags reducing my chances of losing any medications for reasons such as loss or misplaced luggage.  In order to make sure I am safe in flight, I contacted the airlines I will be travelling with and made sure all snacks provided are nut free—I have a nut allergy and some airlines apparently will still distribute peanuts as snacks, luckily my airline does not.  I did have trouble finding a meal that is offered by the airline which is egg, nut and wheat free since my airlines were unfortunately not that accommodating.  Since I am aware of this I am able to plan ahead and make sure I bring enough food to last me for the long flight.

There’s no question there is a lot of extra planning needed for travelling when you have food allergies but your allergies should never be a limitation from exploring the world.  Stay tuned and I will post a follow up blog in June talking about how my trip went and how I was able to manage my allergies while travelling.

What are some of your travel experiences, and how did you accommodate your allergies?

Travel

Magically Allergen-Free

Magically Allergy SafeMy name is Sydney and I am sixteen. I am allergic to strawberry, pineapple, coconut and cashew. This past March break I travelled to Disney World in Florida with my family and had an amazing vacation. This was my first time travelling to Disney since I developed my allergies, but it was a very stress-free trip because I found Disney to be quite accommodating for my allergies. Vacations with allergies are always more enjoyable when you know that you’ve thoroughly planned ahead so you can feel safe. Here are some of my tips for travelling to Disney with your allergies:

Magically Allergy Free

1. Book your dinner reservations online ahead of time. This way you know what to expect and have some peace of mind in advance.

2. When booking online, Disney restaurants should have an allergy option. Choose this so that when you arrive, the restaurant staff members will already be aware and ready to accommodate.

3. When your waiter/ waitress arrives at your table they should tell you that the chef will be out as soon as possible to help you pick your meal (if not, be sure to ask!). The chef will make sure he/she prepares your meal so that it is as safe as possible. Be sure to tell the chef ALL of your allergies.

4. When your meal is served it will most likely have a toothpick in it that has the word “allergy” written on it. This is to reassure you that your meal was specially prepared and that the chef cooked it in an as safe as possible environment.

5. Florida can get pretty hot so remember to keep your auto-injector out of the sun!

6. Remember to enjoy yourself and relax!


I hope these tips help you on any future trips to the most magical place in the world!

Taking a Bite out of the Big Apple

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Recently, I had the opportunity to fulfill a long time dream. I travelled down  I-87 towards the bright lights of New York City. Since the first time I saw FRIENDS or watched the movie The Seven Year Itch with Marilyn Monroe I have been fascinated with the city.  It may have taken awhile but I finally reached NYC at age 23.

My only fear: finding places to eat that could accommodate my peanut and nut allergies.

So before I left, I did my research. I looked into several restaurants in the city (many including my favourite chefs from the food network). I knew I had to plan at least five dinners (some I made at the house I was staying at) and others were on the fly. However I discovered three restaurants that went above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to food allergies.

5 Napkin Burger: Located in Union Square on 14th street.

Delicious gourmet burgers are their specialty, but don’t let that fool you. They have dozens of menu items ranging from Tuna Tataki, to grilled shrimp. The pride themselves on homemade, handmade food.

When inquiring about my food allergies the server was more then willing to accommodate me. He brought me an allergen list, and asked if I wished to speak with the  chef. He then assured me that they could guarantee me a complete safe meal for my peanut and nut allergies.


Mesa Grill
: Located on fifth avenue

Iron Chef Bobby Flay brings his grill specialty to NYC and definitely does not disappoint. My favorite of all the meals I had while in the city by far. Since his expertise is grilled food, I enjoyed a steak that literally melted in my mouth.

I previously called the restaurant to make sure they could cater to my allergies, they assured me it would be fine. When arriving at the restaurant, I informed our server of my allergies who then proceeded to go over the menu with me to assure my safety.

I was able to enjoy everything offered even dessert. Tied together in an amazing atmosphere, I felt great knowing that I had made the right decision to go there.

Trump Grill: Located in Trump Tower on fifth Avenue

Trump Tower, home to Donald Trump himself hosts one of the most elegant restaurant/bar I’ve had the pleasure of stumbling on. While walking down 5th avenue I ventured into Trump Tower to see what all the hype was about. Letting hunger get the best of us, we saw they had a bar/grill. I immediately talk to the host about my allergies, who then let me talk to a chef and discovered that this would be a safe option for my food allergies.
I was fortunate to find restaurants that accommodated my allergies, but felt great that my research and ability to speak up to staff really paid off.  I would advise others with allergies to follow a similar strategy of doing research, calling ahead, and talking to the wait staff/chef no matter which city you vist.

New York City is really for anyone. There is something there for everyone and it truly is the city that never sleeps. Don’t let your food allergies hold you back, from the Rockefeller center, NBC Tour, to the eerily real wax figures of Madame Tussauds. Words can’t explain how amazing it is! I ❤ NY!

A Timely Food Allergy Safety Innovation

My name is Arianne and I have severe peanut and nut allergies. Within the realm of inventions regarding quality of life and allergies, the sky is the limit! But with the stressful holiday season approaching, and large meals in our sights, a simple voice saving idea might be helpful.

Given the holiday season, it’s always a good idea to talk about staying safe at events where there will be food served. Potlucks, family dinners, holiday parties, and gift exchanges almost always include food. All of these activities add up and it can become tiring explaining, and re-explaining your allergies to numerous people. So what should you do? Stop attending holiday outings with friends and families? Regretfully decline on receiving presents? Of course not! Just because you have food allergies doesn’t mean you can’t partake in festive joy! Say hello to your new best friend.

We’ve all heard of business cards, well, here is an Allergy Information Card.

The Allergy Information Card will act as your voice when you can’t be reached. It would be a reference card to help people support your allergies when preparing foods, or purchasing presents that may include food. So how does it work? Simple. Design your card any way you like, as long as it has five key points:

1)  Your name

2)  Your allergens

3)  Reminder about cross-contamination

4)  Your information

5)  A thank-you!

Just like your MedicAlert bracelet, your Allergy Information Card will act as a reference.

So before, you head out to that potluck, go home to see your family, or exchange gifts in the classroom/office, hand out these simple cards to the people you want to spend the holiday with to ensure a fun filled and safe holiday season.

Season Greetings,

Arianne

School Trip

Hi, my name is Davis, and I am allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish.

A girl ziplining over a forestLast spring, I graduated from elementary school. When I went on my grad trip, I ran into a problem while trying to find something safe to eat. One morning, I had to buy lunch in advance at a local market, because we were going zip-lining around noon and there was going to be no place to buy food. We had an hour to find something to purchase for lunch, which meant one thing: I had 60 minutes to find something that was safe to eat.

So I started walking around the market, checking with people at different food places to see if I could have anything. Since it was around 9 o’clock in the morning, not many shops were open, narrowing down my choices a lot. After 50 minutes of looking around and walking, I came to this conclusion: of all of the available shops, none of them were safe, due to the fact that their food contained most of my allergens and I did not want to risk cross-contamination.

StrawberriesWith 10 minutes left, I was scrambling to find something safe to eat. All of a sudden, I saw one of my friends walking with a tray of strawberries. I asked him where he got it, and he directed me over to a fruit stand. I then decided that I would have fruit for lunch. It was some of the best fruit that I have ever had, and I am proud to say that even though there were not many choices, I found a safe way to make things work. So if can’t find a safe meal to eat, have a healthy snack instead!

Keep safe,

Davis

Conquering Europe – With Allergies!

The Amazing Race – 4 countries, 2 weeks

My name is Stephanie. I’m 22 years old, and I am allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. My family embarked on our first European adventure together in May. It was truly an unforgettable and memorable experience. My brother also has a peanut allergy, so we were anxious about traveling with two allergic people – but we went equipped with epinephrine auto-injectors and antihistamines, and we took steps to avoid a reaction!

We flew with British Airways, because they have a peanut-free policy. However, we didn’t realize that several of their entrees contained nuts or had “may contain traces of nuts” written on them. It was great that these were clearly labeled, but I was happy to have brought my own food for the plane, and I would recommend flying with your own safe food rather than eating what is being served.

Since we flew British Airways, we had a short layover in London, England (our first of four countries). Although all we saw in London was the inside of London-Heathrow Airport, we were hungry by the time we got there and had to eat somewhere! I was surprised that many of the sandwiches had almonds in them. Whatever country you are in, make sure you read ingredient labels and ask questions! We were able to find some safe foods, but it did take some extra time.

Chocolate croisant on a plate

We then traveled to Paris, France (country #2) – a place known for decadent French pastries! Although many of the pastries I found contained nuts, I was able to enjoy a freshly baked croissant every morning! French baguettes were also fantastic. I was pleased that menus at many restaurants had each dish written in French and then translated into English with a description of the ingredients in the foods. If we were unsure what was in the dishes, we chose to eat at another cafe or restaurant, since there was plenty of selection!  I was surprised at how popular Nutella was in France (I didn’t see much peanut butter), so I would be on the look-out for that if you are allergic to nuts.

Selection of gelatosWe left Paris and went to Rome, Italy (country #3). The food in Rome was AMAZING, and there was delicious fresh pizza on every street corner! We went to some excellent restaurants for dinner, where you order each course separately, and we never ended a day hungry! We also found a market around the corner from where we were staying, and we were able to pack our own fresh lunches. I will certainly miss the amazing gelato (Italian ice cream) that we had nightly. Each flavour had its own scoop, so there was a smaller risk of cross-contamination, and the fruit-based flavours were usually in a different area than those with nuts.

From Paris, we traveled to Krakow, Poland (country #4).  We also traveled Building in Warsaw, Polandto Zakopane, Bochnia, Oswiecim, Czestochowa, and Warsaw, Poland. We were very fortunate to be able to stay with our family in Poland. Before we arrived, they asked for a list of our allergies and which foods we were able to eat. My great aunt prepared wonderful meals and was very careful that the meals she prepared were allergy safe and that there was plenty of selection. If you are staying with family while traveling, I would highly suggest that you clearly communicate your allergies to them in advance so there are no problems when you arrive. We left Warsaw for London, England once again, and flew home.

We conquered Europe without having allergic reactions and left with many wonderful memories instead!


Some general advice from our travels:

  • I wrote out a sentence explaining my allergies in French, Italian, and Polish before I left home. I carried this with me in my purse, learned how to say it, and showed it to people at bakeries or restaurants.
  • Don’t forget to take your epinephrine auto-injectors!
  • We stayed at apartments, so we could still buy authentic food while cooking our own meals. This was great, since we always had a fridge on hand to store fresh produce.
  • Pack food for airplanes – it is not worth risking an allergic reaction on a trans-Atlantic flight – and be sure to research airline policies in advance. Inform the airline and flight staff of allergies.

Have fun, take lots of pictures, and know that traveling through Europe is possible, despite your allergies!!
For more information about travelling with allergies, check out these youth resources: