Food allergies can be and are sometimes fatal. They are a life-threatening health problem for millions of people and must be taken seriously.
As a person with severe allergies myself including a peanut and nut allergy, I always read labels. When I began my Christmas cookie baking this morning, to my surprise, many of the decorative cookie sprinkles, some brands I have used for years, now carry a nut warning. Yes, a “tiny” exposure to nut-contaminated sprinkles could be life-threatening to the severely allergic! This includes multi-colored round beads and all of the sugar sprinkles made by Wilton and several off-brands.
As you bake and decorate goodies this holiday season remember the 1,2, 3’s of food allergy safety:
1. For a food to be in fact “safe”, it cannot contain, been manufactured, prepared with or come in contact with other foods that contain the allergen. That, would include a person distributing treats having their hands touching candy or cookies containing the allergen, then providing an allergen-free treat without first thoroughly washing their hands. This includes just touching the candy wrappers.
2. A treat is not “safe” if it is packaged with “unsafe” treats. Safe treats cannot be in the same package or combined in the same bowl with unsafe treats. For example, if you purchased a bag of miniature candy bars and separated them into bowls of those with nuts and those without nuts, you have failed in your mission to provide a safe treat. They were potentially contaminated when packaged and are unsafe for the allergic person.
3. Read labels! Excellent label reading skills have prevented many a trip to an emergency room or worse. When purchasing or baking a treat, if the label says , “Made in a factory with nuts,” even if the food item itself does not appear to contain nuts, it cannot be safely consumed by anyone with a nut allergy, and that includes peanuts. Never be offended if a guest, family member, friend, child or parent asks to see a label or recipe. They know what they are looking for and are only interested in enjoying their time with you and avoiding a health emergency.
4. Know what is in the treats you are distributing and any foods you are serving. This rule applies to both home and professional cooks. Many baking ingredients, such as chocolate chips, are made in factories that also process nuts. Even some frozen pizzas come with a warning that they may have been contaminated with nuts. Also, check out what types of hygiene products you provide for your guests or customers. There are nut oils in many lotions, shampoos, hair sprays and soaps.
5. Ask! Waiters, waitresses, chefs, hosts and hostesses need to ask if their guests have any allergies to food. Pay attention and take it seriously. Remember that not only are they allergic to the food itself, but anything that food has touched…your hands, pots, pans, utensils and counter tops. Dishes and silverware used for someone with food allergies should be washed separately from those that for example have peanut butter residue on them.
6. Your best friend…is your Epi-pen! Anyone that has a severe food or bee sting allergy needs to keep their Epi-pen with them at all times! It does absolutely no good, to leave it at home.
7. When in doubt….do not eat it! There is not food product on this earth that is so delicious that it is worth risking your life for it. If you do not KNOW that a food item is safe, DO NOT eat it.
Nobody wants to kill or be killed by Christmas cookie. Well, maybe if they are of a murderous intent to begin with, or have no self-control and take overindulgence to an entirely new level, but definitely not from Anaphylaxis. I hope that everyone has a happy, safe and food allergy reaction free holiday season!
For a more detailed blog on food allergy reaction prevention read:
Cooks Take Food Allergies Seriously!