2009-01-19

Walk a Mile with Me

Right now, parents are scanning ingredient labels on familiar foods, squinting at the astoundingly long list in miniscule script, trying to determine if a dangerous peanut product is contained within.
And their children aren't even allergic to peanuts.
Saturday, the FDA issued a warning that the recent salmonella outbreak had been traced to Peanut Corporation, a supplier of peanut paste and peanut butter to institutions and manufacturers. The federal agency recommends that consumers "avoid eating cookies, cakes, ice cream and other foods that contain peanut butter" until the whole mess is sorted out.
That's a scary and overwhelming prescription. It's also an opportunity for those of us in the allergy community to reach out and both share our expertise and create more understanding of the daily obstacles we face in trying to keep our children safe. So to those of you who have never dealt with food allergies and are on peanut watch for the first time, let me give you an introduction:
  • First, this really is manageable.
  • Fortunately, the ingredient in question is one of the "big eight," the foods most likely to cause an allergic reaction, and which are required to be highlighted on the label. Consider for a moment those of us who deal with food allergies not on that list, which are often obscured with words like "spices" and "flavors." If the salmonella had been sourced to a tomato processor, it could easily be hiding in tomato paste listed as "natural flavors."
  • You must read every label every time. It's both that hard and that simple. If you see peanuts listed, put that product aside until the FDA determines what's safe and what isn't. When in doubt, don't eat it.
  • This is the point when you get to tell your child that s/he may not have the cookie or snack they want. If you have the time to do so, it's much easier if you involve your child in the label reading, even if you still need to read it for them. (I skip the chemicals.) It's sort of a reverse treasure hunt.
  • Another constant source of worry for parents of children with food allergies, is their safety when we are not present to supervise. Will their daycare or school be responsible for reading labels? How do we teach our children never to accept food from someone else that we haven't approved? You may wish to have a talk with your child and your child's school.
It's just a glimpse into our world, but maybe this can help you navigate through the salmonella scare. Hopefully, my son will outgrow his food allergies, or even better, researchers may find a cure, and this lifestyle can become a thing of the past. Until then, I'll keep squinting at labels.

1 comment:

My Buddy Mimi said...

The whole "big eight" thing really confuses me sometimes though. They are requried to be highlighted, but sometimes they are not. Why do some manufacturers get away with not having it on the label?