Cooks Beware: Food Allergies are Deadly!

Here in Minnesota a young man recently died from the peanut allergy.  His death has reminded me of what it was like for me as a severely asthmatic food allergic child.  I, too, have severe allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, shell fish, several drugs and other allergens.  I always carry and Epi-pen in my purse.

So much has changed in the treatment of allergies and asthma since I was young. At that time many people and doctors thought the asthma attacks and many allergic reactions were psychosomatic. Many times I would be suffocating from an asthma attack in some hospital emergency room only to have a doctor or nurse pat me on the head, as they were shooting Adrenalin into me and putting an oxygen mask on me, and say, “oh, did you need a little attention tonight?”

It was terrifying not being able to breathe and lying there knowing that the people who were supposed to help me were not taking it seriously and were in fact mocking me. To calm myself down I would count my breaths. When I would get to ten, I would start over again. As long as a could count I figured I would live.

My asthma by age ten was so severe that my heart had started to enlarge. I had the lung capacity equivalent to one lung. Dr. Schnell told me I would not live until I was twenty. He sent me to a specialist in the cities. I feared death all the time.

From the time I was ten, I used to get two allergy shots every week . This went on for years. One in each arm. My little arms would swell up until I had hot sore grapefruit half sized lump hanging from the bottom of my arms. The soreness and swelling lasted for days. I wore sleeves to cover the lumps up.

Then, too, the bullying in school was ever present.  I also had powerful anti-asthma drugs that made me hyper-active and I talked a lot. Also from the time that I visited the specialist, I had to carry a purse with me every where I went.  He insisted upon it!  What very few people in my school knew, and no other students knew, was that in that purse was a fully loaded Adrenalin syringe.  I was trained to shoot myself with it in my leg to prevent death. I was made fun of a lot by the other kids for carrying those purses to every class and everywhere I went. Then there were the kids that pretended they could not breathe and would dance around me to mocking my lack of air.  I still think of those bullies once in awhile to this day.

Not only did medical folks think asthma was in your head, so did many teachers and coaches. One male teacher decided he was going to toughen me up by making me run extra and do more push ups outside. He would push my face right into the grass. It always gave me a severe attack of asthma. By the end of class I would be counting my steps the couple of blocks back to school where my purse had to stay during physical education. If you can take ten steps…then another ten…I figured I was not going to die. Once back in class I would sneak to a bathroom to take medication….which would then make me hyper.

Of all of the things I did when I was employed by the state legislature at the Minnesota Capitol, and there was a lot and more than anyone will ever know, I am most proud of the Epi-pen law. No child with asthma or food allergies should have had to go through what I had. I wanted to make their experience better, and to save them all by making sure their life-saving medication could be carried with them at all times.

When I was the legislative assistant for State Senator Mady Reiter she carried a bill for me that allowed school students to carry Epi-pens with them in school at all times. Before that bill became law the lifesaving medication had to be locked up in the school nurse’s office. Some school nurses only came in to schools a couple of days a week. The medication would be locked up away from students when seconds make a big difference in a life or death reaction. The school nurses association actually testified against the bill. Again in the political arena we all witnessed a personal power trip overriding common sense, medical experts and child safety. After all these years it still makes me angry.

I know that many cooks read this blog.  As a person who has nut and sea food allergies I ask all of you to be aware of your guests and take food allergies very seriously. They are life-threatening and it does not take much of an allergen exposure to start a reaction. Shaking hands with people who have just eaten shrimp, or have a nut oil on their hands can do it.  Using the same spatula when baking cookies or not washing off the counter top really well can be all it takes. Even smelling brewing hazelnut coffee or kissing someone that has just eaten peanuts can be deadly.

Waiters, waitresses and chefs need to ask if their customers have any allergies to food. Pay attention and take it seriously. I once ordered a chicken tortilla at an upscale restaurant, and it came with dipping sauce that I asked the waiter about several times. As it had a tan colored tint I decided not to try it. The waiter eventually came running back to my table yelling not to eat it as it contained peanuts.  

A person with a nut allergy is not even safe when getting their hair done. I once had a bad reaction and ended up in an emergency room just getting my haircut. Aveda hairspray at that time had nuts in it. When they put it on my hair, well I breathed some in and things got bad quick.

To those who have a food allergies or live with a family member who does it is so important to read those labels!  If it says that the product was made in a facility that handles nuts it is off limits for you. Also remember that there are nut oils in some all natural lotions and soaps.  Even some frozen pizzas contain nuts.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the young man who lost his life to a peanut allergy.  I hope he is the last person to lose their life to a peanut or food allergy.

Twenty-Two Year Old Twin Dies From Peanut Allergy In Minnesota.  A link to the news article about this tragedy if posted below:



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