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January 22, 2008

Reaction to the New York Times story "Mom takes on Big Food over kids’ food allergies"

I’m sure many of you have already read the New York Times story from earlier this month about Robyn O’Brien, the mom who “Takes on Big Food over kids’ food allergies,” O’Brien was the kind of mom who rolled her eyes at kids with peanut allergies. Then, about two years ago, she had a personal run in with food allergies. Just like in most of our stories, she fed her child a food that would forever change their lives. She found out the hard way that her daughter was allergic to eggs.

Here are some excerpts from the New York Times article:

“Sitting at the table in her suburban kitchen, with her four young children tumbling in and out, O’Brien, 36, seems an unlikely candidate to be food’s Erin Brockovich (who, by the way, has taken O’Brien under her wing).

Her theory — that the food supply is being manipulated with additives, genetic modification, hormones and herbicides, causing increases in allergies, autism and other disorders in children — is not supported by leading researchers or the largest allergy advocacy groups.

O’Brien encourages people to do what she did: Throw out as much nonorganic processed food as you can afford to. Avoid anything genetically modified, artificially created or raised with hormones. Don’t eat food with ingredients you can’t pronounce.

Could it be that a toxic food environment has made children’s immune systems go haywire? It’s hard to find an expert in the field who supports O’Brien’s theory.

She asserts that the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), the nation’s leading food allergy advocacy group, is tainted by the money it receives from food manufacturers and peanut growers.

Although Kraft did help the organization (FAAN) start its Web site and other food manufacturing companies and trade groups sponsor some of its programs, that support has amounted to about $100,000. Munoz-Furlong said that she and doctors on her medical board do not believe that genetically modified foods cause food allergies because most children with allergies react to specific foods, such as eggs or milk. And, she said, communicating regularly with industry can help get the word to parents about potential allergens in products, and supporting research to identify causes of allergies helps consumers more than companies.

She also cautioned against taking the advice of people who have no medical training or run Web sites not certified to have reliable medical information. “She’s a dot-com,” Munoz-Furlong said of O’Brien. “It’s completely different than a dot-org. From the very beginning our intent was education.”

It’s great that there is yet another parent rallying for the safety of her child. I’m a bit cautious about O’Brien though, especially the part where she dings the Food Allergy Network. Come on, it is a solid foundation with many reputable allergists! And it’s one of the best voices we have in the fight for research, education and awareness nation-wide. I’m all for sticking together for our cause of food safety. But let’s keep our feet grounded, so we don’t get the reputation of being overly-protective nut jobs!

It's people like O’Brien that make it difficult for the majority of us other parents who simply want to create a safe environment for our children. This novice food allergy parent's use of scare tactics, criticism and personal recommendations not supported by research actually causes those of us who have made progress to take two steps back! Ugh!!

Posted by Ann Marie at 2:03 PM | Comments (0)

January 17, 2008

Kudos to Sara Lee

When I wrote the last entry on food allergies and labeling, it got me thinking again. I really need to give kudos to Sara Lee. They have completely won over my heart!! They are one of the only brands of bread that I buy anymore. They have not yet added traces of tree nuts or peanuts or eggs to their bread products. It makes it much easier for me to buy hamburger and hot dog buns for our picnics and even just sandwich bread for school lunches.

Thank you Sara Lee!! I wish you were a person, because I’d invite you over for an allergy-free dinner so you could see the smiles on our faces first hand! There are so many foods being added to the “can’t have” list, that I think we should start appreciating those companies who keep the allergens and cross contamination to a minimum.

Posted by Ann Marie at 1:38 PM | Comments (0)

Frustration with Food Labels

Grocery shopping for children with food allergies can at times be quite taxing. Remember a couple of years ago when the law changed and companies had to list the top 8 allergens on their packages? And remember how it seemed that “may contain traces of …” labels were popping up everywhere you looked? It added a huge stress to an already dreaded chore.

According to FAAN, the food labeling law effective January 2006 mandates that foods containing the top eight allergens (milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy) must declare the food in plain language on the package. This was put into place to help food allergic consumers. Besides listing the top allergens, some companies also voluntarily include allergy advisory labeling, such as the statements “may contain traces of…” or “processed in the same plant as…”.

“Since these statements are voluntary, every company has its own guidelines for when to use them and what words to use. As a result, consumers do not know which statements are accurate or how to interpret their meaning.”

To me, it seemed that companies were just covering themselves to avoid potential law suits. I started wondering if I should believe that this product I’ve used for years was really off limits. Or was it only the label that changed and not really the food itself? I wanted to just ignore those labels, but the neurotic side of me asked how could I take a chance with my child’s life?

FAAN recently published an article in their newsletter (Food Allergy News, Vol. 16, No 6) that made me rethink how I looked at those labels:

To see whether or not consumers paid attention to the advisory statements, FAAN developed a structured questionnaire and gave them to persons attending the 2003 and 2006 FAAN Food Allergy Conferences. The majority of the respondents were parents of a child with food allergy. The findings were concerning. In 2003, 85 percent responded that they would “never” purchase a product with an advisory label. This decreased to 75 percent in 2006.

“To determine the risk of eating foods with advisory labeling, scientists at the University of Nebraska analyzed 200 types of packaged foods for the presence of peanut. Samples included 179 products with advisory statements for peanuts and 21 products with peanuts listed as the last ingredient or near the end of the ingredient statement. The analysis showed that, of the products that included peanut as the last or close-to-last ingredient, only one-third contained detectable levels of peanut. Some food categories (bakery products/mixes, snack foods, frozen desserts, instant/quick meals) did not have detectable levels of peanut.”

The results of this study show that an increasing number of people are ignoring allergy advisory statements. According again to the FAAN article, “This may be due to a number of reasons, including the increased number of products bearing allergen statements that had safely been eaten before a new warning was added, or the belief that advisory labels are for a company’s legal protection rather than because of a real risk that allergens are present. Since there is no way for individuals to know if a product with advisory labeling does or doesn’t contain the allergen, the authors recommended that products with these labeling messages, and those that list peanuts at the end of the ingredient statement, should be avoided.”

Now even though my child’s food selection is still limited, I don’t feel as frustrated knowing that these statements might really mean what they say!!

Posted by Ann Marie at 1:27 PM | Comments (0)

January 15, 2008

School projects for siblings without food allergies

You know how we parents of kids with food allergies are always trying to be a step ahead of the game? Anticipating every imaginable scenario in which we need to keep our kids safe? Well, here is a situation I never thought of. My child without food allergies needed to do a project and speech during their studies of Native Americans. I try to encourage my children to be independent, so I wasn’t too involved with her picking her topic. And of all things, she wanted to demonstrate acorn mashing. Innocent enough, until we got into it.

She prepared her poster boards and planned her speech. And then she asked if I could help with one thing: the mashing part. Since I couldn’t find any acorn trees in the area, I looked at the store. No luck. I guess people don’t eat acorns anymore! So I bought walnuts, thinking that they are easy to crack and would make a fine substitution.

I was at the grocery store buying bulk walnuts. As I was putting them in the plastic bag, I felt so mischievous; almost as if I was stealing something! I don’t think I’ve ever purchased nuts in my adult life! I brought the nuts home and left the clear plastic bag on the counter. I showed my daughters to be certain that they understood it was a tree nut. Because other than at grocery stores or other peoples’ houses, where do they get to see actual nuts? I didn’t want their curious hands exploring. I explained that they were for a project and as long as they didn’t lick the bag, it was fine (we use humor quite a bit in our family).

Even though the daughter doing the project doesn’t have food allergies, she has never cracked a nut open. To her, this was a fun assignment and she couldn’t wait to get started. She even went door to door looking for a neighbor who had a nut cracker. We cleaned off a spot at the kitchen table. She prepared her plate (I wanted to be able to put everything in the dishwasher when we finished). I showed her how to crack a walnut. Then it was her turn. As she squeezed the nut cracker together, the walnut cracked and sent pieces flying everywhere!! Ugh. This I had not anticipated. I determined the food at the other end of the table which caught much shrapnel was contaminated and must be thrown out (yeah, I am still neurotic!).

The next day she practiced her speech and nut cracking outside, smashing the nuts between rocks like the Native Americans did. Except that it was cold outside and she kept putting her “walnut infested” hands inside her sweatshirt pocket. When she finished (and I couldn’t take the cold anymore), we came in the house and washed our hands in the bathroom, because I reasoned my other daughters wouldn’t be eating in there and it would decrease the likelihood of a reaction. Then, as much I as I was trying to be relaxed about it, I made my daughter take off her sweatshirt and put it right into the laundry. I try to live like the rest of the world. But the truth is, when we’re dealing with food allergies, we can’t. Not completely.

Posted by Ann Marie at 1:43 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2008

Thoughts on our children with food allergies

As we parents of children with food allergies know, it’s easy to get in a rut of feeling sorry for ourselves. Thoughts of “Why me?” and “Why my child?” occasionally linger in the back of our minds. We all agree that it definitely takes extra effort to keep our children with food allergies safe. For example, going to the movies and out for lunch is easy enough, but it still takes some planning ahead. With the recent holidays and all of the activities, I guess I was beginning to feel overloaded with food allergy issues. What will be at the party? Should I try to bring similar foods for my daughters, something that makes them feel special instead of left out? Do I bake just one cake and say, “Sorry, you can’t have it” or bake an extra cake so she can eat what everyone else is eating? Do we just skip the party completely because it feels easier than figuring out the food?

I had kind of an eye opener today. I took my children and one of their friends to the movies and then out for lunch. I made sure I had the Epi-Pens in tow. We didn’t have anything to eat at the movies, which isn’t entirely out of the norm. (although we occasionally bring in our own snacks hidden in my backpack - which is another whole discussion!!). When the movie finished, we headed over to a nearby restaurant. Here’s the catch, my daughter’s friend, Elisa, has Juvenile Diabetes (the insulin dependent kind). We’ve known her for years and I am familiar with her eating/insulin regimen. So, as the rest of the families at the restaurant were thinking about what sounded good to eat, I was thinking about how many carbs Elisa needed and how quickly our food would be served. Yes, I still asked about the ingredients and possible nut and egg contamination, but somehow food allergies didn’t seem so overwhelming anymore. A possible hypoglycemic event seemed a bit more urgent.

It’s true, you can always find someone else whose life seems easier. But can’t you also find those who have more difficult crosses to bear? I’m glad my perspective changed a bit. It’s refreshing! And it reminds me to be thankful for the life I have, even if it does mean I that I need to plan ahead a bit.

Posted by Ann Marie at 1:19 PM | Comments (0)

January 8, 2008

New Policy Statement for Infants and Children at Risk for Food Allergies

“A new report by a leading group of US pediatricians suggests that food allergies, asthma, eczema, and other atopic diseases may be delayed or prevented in high risk babies if they are breastfed for at least four months…The report comprises a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and is published in the January 2008 issue of the journal Pediatrics.”

One of the authors is Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, associate professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York. He is also on the board of FAAN http://www.foodallergy.org and highly respected in the allergy community.

“The report suggests…there is insufficient evidence to support delaying the introduction of allergy related foods from the diets of high risk children. And there is insufficient evidence to support pregnant or nursing mothers restricting their diets in order to prevent their high risk child from getting an atopic disease. Both of these practices were recommended in the old policy statement of the AAP.”

When my third child was born, we had already lived the allergy life for a couple of years with my first born. Heck, I even had a second child that didn't have a single food allergy! I thought we were so on top of things and somehow in control of our child's destiny! I was determined to do everything in my power to make sure this new baby didn’t develop food allergies either. I exclusively breastfed her for 14 months and delayed the introduction of the typical allergens (cow’s milk, eggs, soy, NO nuts ever!) even longer than the allergist suggested. Since I was nursing, I personally avoided all dairy, nuts, eggs, etc. I was such a good mom!! Yeah, right. I'm sure you can guess the outcome. She has more allergies and worse eczema than any of my other children!! I took the same precautions with my fourth child, and she has NO food allergies.

Interestingly, the report also suggests that “after the first 4 to 6 months, if the high risk child was going to be allergic, it didn't seem to matter when he or she was first introduced to the peanuts or the eggs.” Many years ago, a wise pediatrician told me that if my little girl was genetically atopic, then she would develop allergies regardless of what I did or didn’t do. Yes, he suggested that we still hold off on the introduction to allergy-prone foods, which we did.

I strongly believe that my third child was destined to be atopic and have allergies. I’m glad I took precautions and delayed foods, which helps relieve the guilt factor for me. Although some people still occasionally allude to the fact that their child doesn’t have allergies because they avoided peanut butter until their child was 3. Ugh!! Does this somehow make them feel better? Like they had any control over the matter to begin with!! For all of us parents of children with food allergies out there, we DID NOT CAUSE our child’s allergies! (aside from giving them their genetic make up, of course).

I’ll end with one more thought from the article, “Parents who feel guilty that they caused their children's eczema or food allergy because they fed them milk or eggs too soon can relax. There is no evidence to support this, said Scott H. Sicherer, M.D.”


To reference the article, please click http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/93253.php

Posted by Ann Marie at 1:55 PM | Comments (0)

January 7, 2008

Going to Sixth Grade Camp with Food Allergies

It is amazing for me think that I am the same parent who sent my daughter to both preschool and sixth grade camp. Times have certainly changed for the better. Dealing with her allergies (including the potential of anaphylaxis from peanuts) ten years ago meant having to explain that a peanut allergy is more than a stuffy nose and a rash. Now, at least more people are aware that a peanut allergy means, “Oh, I better listen because I know this is important somehow.” We have always tended to err on the safer side of things, because it is what we felt comfortable with.

For years now I’ve been listening to stories of sixth grade camp. Most parents respond with worries of will their child pack the right things, or how will their child do sleeping over in an unfamiliar place, or how will their sixth grader make it through a whole week without any contact from home? “Can they please take their cell phone in case they need to call home?” But, for those of you also dealing with your child’s food allergies, you know what was going through my mind: how will my daughter make it through the week without an allergic reaction? Will she get enough to eat, or will she be scared and just not eat at all?

Sending her off into an unfamiliar environment was challenging. I wanted so much to foster her independence and not be the overbearing parent. I figured this was one of those landmark moments of how well we did as parents raising our child with the right balance of understanding and comfort with food allergy management. She’s been reading ingredients for as long as she knew that letters formed words. I think peanut and egg ranked in the top five of first words she learned read. She was ready for the challenge, even though I wasn’t quite ready to let go.

I can say with a great deal of confidence that the week was an absolute success!! I felt comfortable with the food allergy management plan we established before she left. The camp nurse conveyed confidence with our plan, enough to put me at ease. But most importantly, my sixth grader was confident enough with the plan we laid out, that she was able to worry about things like which clothes to pack and if she could be quick enough to make the time-limit of the two minute shower!!

I have learned a lot over the past ten years. I know how important it is to be level headed and open-minded when developing a food allergy management plan. It is crucial to convey concern without using "life threatening allergy" language or other alarm ringers. Yes, it is life threatening, I know that as much as anyone. But it’s all in the way you approach it. And the more aware the public becomes of food allergies, the easier it is for us to safely manage them.

Posted by Ann Marie at 1:14 PM | Comments (0)

January 3, 2008

Great allergy-free cookie recipe

With or without food allergies, ‘tis the season to be jolly and eat cookies. I’ve been adapting recipes for my children with food allergies now for many, many years. Some turn out OK while others can be mistaken for rocks! I have adapted a family favorite and I share it with all of you. This recipe is free of nuts, peanuts and eggs. It does however, contain milk and wheat. I tried substituting the wheat, but have yet to be successful with it. I hope that I can save at least one family from throwing away precious ingredients and hours in the kitchen!

Grandma Martha’s Sour Cream Cookies (egg and nut free)

1 c. sour cream
1 tsp. baking soda

1 c. margarine
1 ½ c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. water + 2 tsp. baking powder + 3 Tbsp. oil (this replaces the 3 eggs)

4 c. flour (possibly a bit more to make a good cookie dough consistency)
1 tsp. salt

Mix together 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 Tbsp. milk (cow's, soy, rice, whatever is allergy-free). Stir in milk, 1 tsp. at a time, to make a drizzling consistency icing.

In a small bowl, combine sour cream and baking soda. Set aside. This mixture will begin to rise after a few minutes.

Beat together margarine and sugar until creamy. Add vanilla and “egg” mixture. Beat with a mixer on highest speed for 3-4 minutes. This adds air to the dough and makes the cookies fluffier. Add sour cream mixture alternately with flour and salt. If necessary, add enough extra flour to obtain a cookie dough consistency.

Drop by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 7-8 minutes, just until golden. Cool cookies on a rack.

When completely cooled, drizzle on icing and sprinkle on colored sugar (sprinkles), if desired. You can also add food coloring when mixing the icing for a festive look!

These cookies freeze well; which means you can make them ahead of time and bring either a plateful or just a couple of cookies to your party!!

Posted by Ann Marie at 7:13 AM

January 2, 2008

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! My husband moved onto a new venture and put me in the driver’s seat. So here I am, a mother of children with food allergies, actually 2 with food allergies and 2 without. I’ve been dealing with food allergies for a long time now (upwards of over 10 years) and I am eager to share with you what I’ve learned.

Like the rest of you, I continue to learn as life goes along. My oldest will be heading off to Jr. High next year, which will bring a whole new set of rules. Right now, I have a fairly good handle on the preschool and elementary school worlds. And I figure by the end of 2008, as I start navigating the Jr. High thing, I’ll have lots of new things to share. I am even hoping that my 12 year old will share some of her thoughts with you!

I look forward to sharing in your allergy-friendly world.

Ann Marie

Posted by Ann Marie at 7:34 AM