your home is your safe space - invisibly allergic blog - food allergy blog

Your Home Is Your Safe Space

Ways To Make Your Home Your Safe Space

Cleaning and Keeping Certain Items Out

Making my house a peanut-free space, wherever it was, an apartment or a home, has always been key to managing my food allergy. At home, I don’t have to worry as much about food allergies, and it’s important to be able to have a designated space where you don’t have to be in a state of constant worry and you can let your food allergy related anxiety relax a bit.

Personally, I consider the safest space in my house to be my bedroom, since due to our layout, it is furthest away from our main living space and is the least used by other people. Our dining room, kitchen, living room and basement are all areas that experience heavy foot traffic, which unintentionally allows in contaminants. Do an assessment of your home if you haven’t already, and see if there are rooms where you are bringing in a lot of items from the outside in. Things like shopping bags, grocery bags, purses, jackets, to give some examples. These main living spaces are probably where friends & family are most often coming in and out of. I know from our experience, this is also where our dog Colby tends to first track things in, and in general, those are the spaces I still am careful to not touch my face while in without washing my hands if I can help it.

I also try to clean these high-traffic areas more often! Ideally I would wipe everything coming in our home from outside, even if just with a rag and water, but I haven’t taken it to that level yet. That’s not to say I don’t wipe many things already! I used to be in a band and whenever we would move our equipment around between vehicles and venues, I would make sure to clean my mic as well as my drum sticks, drums, and our many cords. I also wipe down grocery store items, since I’ve noticed how contaminated the grocery store can be, especially if you go through a check-out line and it’s on the conveyor belt. I’ll wipe cereal boxes, chip bags, ice cream containers, my bunch of bananas, basically any surface of the item with a damp paper towel, damp rag, or even a wet wipe, to try to get any obvious allergens off of it so my hands and other surfaces don’t continue to get contaminated and contaminate other spaces such as my kitchen cabinets, handles, our fridge, etc.

I recognize that my car is a place where lots of potential allergen particles are, it really becomes a haven for contaminants, since it’s constantly being used and exposed to various environments I’m coming in and out of like the doctors office, work, the grocery, the library, the park, and so on. Particularly my steering wheel I try to wipe often, and I am aware to try to not touch my face in my car without wiping or washing my hands first. I will always wipe things I get from public places, like library books. I also wipe things that are prone to being highly exposed to public places, such as my purse, my phone, and areas of my home where I tend sit those items down, like my coffee table.

I vacuum the rug in our entry way often, because believe it or not, peanut traces could be on the bottoms of our shoes or our friends & families shoes! I say this because I see peanut shells in bird feeders and on the sidewalks in our neighborhood often, and know places like grocery stores or restaurants have peanut products all over the place. Another place I try to wipe regularly is our couch, since our clothing, and friends and families clothing, or Colby’s fur coat, can track in these allergen-particles from shared spaces during our day. In another post I cover pet-related cross-contact, and so if you host other friends or families pets in your living space, I’d recommend going back and reading how to keep yourself safe when doing so. I also have blog posts more specific to cross-contact.

I view the dining room table is a hot spot for potential cross-contact, because it is where we put our mail, grocery bags, where we sit our bags after work, if someone comes over that’s where they often sit, and in general things tend to just collect there. We keep a tablecloth on it so that it is easier to clean and won’t scratch or get water stained, and so that it’s easy to throw into the wash regularly. I make sure that our dining room tablecloth and couch pillow cases, or any rag rugs in our house are always machine washable and can be washed regularly. All this to say, I take these precautions, and so does my husband, so that my home can better serve as my safe space, with less allergens.

I’ve mentioned before in previous posts that we don’t keep any type of peanut products in our home, meaning no dog treats made in a shared facility with peanut products, no face/shampoo products with possible peanut ingredients, no peanuts in any food that people bring over, etc. and we take special care to keep all food options that in the house safe for me to eat. This piece is crucial to make life easier for someone living with a food allergy, because I like being able to look in the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator and not have to check all the labels of what I can have or can’t have. I do still read them before consuming them, but it’s just a measure I take to be safe, it isn’t to make sure it’s an item that I can eat versus one my husband can eat only, due to it being something that ‘may contain’ peanuts. I’m not having to do a hard check like that in my own home, everything is safe for me already if it’s inside.

My Home Compost, Vegetable and Herb Garden

I feel really lucky to be able to have a small backyard where we can have some raised beds and a compost bin. My husband sat in on a class about composting so we could learn the basics for ourselves at home, and then we got a black composting bin. If you aren’t too familiar with the concept, composting is a wonderful way to cut down on trash, have a less stinky trash can, and use leftover kitchen scraps to create healthy soil we can use in our garden!

During the applicable months, I try to grow items I typically buy at the grocery store, because it allows me some control over what equipment and surfaces the herbs and food have come into contact with. Being able to grow my own cilantro and wash it at home, for example, gives me less anxiety than buying fresh cilantro from the store and having to wash each little strand really, really well. I overheard a terrifying conversation at a farmer’s market where a vendor was talking about how peanut shells are great to compost with and how they compost a lot of them, and this was a major red flag for me to hear. I never thought about that aspect of gardening and how ALL compost could potentially contain peanut ingredients that aren’t fully broken down! I don’t know if it can be life-threatening, but I know if I saw decomposing peanut shells spread on/around my food I would avoid it and not want to touch it! This is something to keep in mind, things can be contaminated at the source, and while I’m unsure if I would react to it, it is something I am aware of.

invisibly allergic blog - compost bin
Colby in our garden when we were setting up our compost bin!

I just dried some sage from our garden this past week with my dehydrator that I’m putting into an old spice jar, and I’m pretty proud of it! I wanted to — plant this seed — for readers of my blog. It could be worth beginning to compost and/or garden if you have the space and ability to, or if you have potential access to a community garden plot. I’ve found I’ve really enjoyed growing some of my own produce to help lessen the trail before it gets to my plate, and in turn, eliminating some anxiety. I do scrub all my vegetables and fruit and produce from the store & highly suggest if you have an allergy to do the same to limit cross-contact from allergens.

Garden Contamination

One thing I believe I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, is that squirrels have contaminated my garden, front and back yard, porch, and sidewalk in the past and unfortunately, will likely always continue to! This is because people in my neighborhood feed squirrels peanuts or put bird seed with peanuts in it in their yards. It is one of those things out of my control, that I have to be mindful of and avoid as much as possible. I have typed up and printed letters to my neighbors on my street, and the two surrounding streets around my home letting them know simply, “Hello, I live nearby in the neighborhood and have a life-threatening peanut allergy. I’ve come across peanuts in our yard, and on sidewalks on our walks, from bird feeders or people feeding squirrels. If you don’t mind, please feed the birds and animals something else, I would appreciate it for my own safety. Thank you!”. If I can pinpoint which homes are doing this, I will give them an additional letter if I want to, but the hard part is they don’t have to listen or do anything.

It is a struggle that is build into every day of my life. All I can do is put the request out there and if people don’t want to respect it after they’ve been told, I have to accept that and act accordingly and do what’s best for me. I do have a mat I wipe my shoes on outside of both our front and back doors, and I do wipe them each time I come into the house to try to not track in allergens from outside. I’ve even found peanuts planted in our hanging planters on our back deck, planted by squirrels, so it’s good to always be aware and on the lookout!

A Word on Store Bought Soil

Unfortunately, products that aren’t meant for human consumption such as bagged potting soil are not required to label for ingredients the same way our food products are required to. When planting a new plant to put in my house, I started feeling itchy and reactive to the soil. I started looking online into bagged potting soils and mulch, and was led into a black-hole of vague information where I got no response or helpful information about it or from the company, and found out that the soil likely contains peanut ingredients in it so I should avoid it. The companies I reached out to who got back to me confirmed the soil was packaged on shared equipment as animal feed, bird seed, and likely peanuts and nuts.

At the compost class my husband attended when we got our bin, he learned that in our city (Louisville, KY) there is a pilot program that collects compostable wet trash from the downtown business district. They bring it all to a giant compost yard, to then allow it to break down and re-distribute it to companies selling it as “compost”, and this is what ends up often in store-bought bagged soil. Since there is so much trash there, and it is so large, it can decompose more than an at-home bin, so even things like meat that you can’t compost in an at-home set up, would be able to be composted there due to the amount of heat being generated. I know it is all breaking down, but how are we certain it’s all breaking down at the same speed or fully broken down? We can’t be. Even if it won’t contaminate the actual food in our garden when I use it, if I’m handling it, then it could still potentially contaminate me, and that is enough to make me wary. I can feel myself sounding a little over-reactive about this as I type this, but I do think it is another reason to be careful and cautious when handling soil and compost, even if it’s at your own home.

Keeping Your Home a Safe Space Summarized

I hope this helps people feel more safe in their own homes, and gives some insightful food for thought! I’ve listed what I feel the most important takeaways are out of this post below:

  • It’s important to be able to have a designated space where you don’t have to be in a state of worry, and can let your guard down a bit
  • We don’t keep any type of peanut products or ‘may contain peanut’ products in our home (food or non-food products)
  • Scrub and wash your fresh food thoroughly before eating it
  • Wipe down and clean high-traffic areas of your home frequently, and any items coming in from highly contaminated areas, such as groceries
  • Always be on the lookout for peanuts around your house in outdoor areas, as peanuts are commonly fed to squirrels and are in bird feeders, and allergens can be ingredients in bagged soil and compost

I’d be interested to learn how other people keep their homes allergen-free! We do use a HEPA air filter sometimes at home as well when it’s allergy season, and of course, just try to stay on top of cleaning in general, but it is hard in a world that’s so contaminated! Good luck, everybody, take care until next time!

XO

Zoë

One comment

  1. Well done! You would also be good in forensic science! Great research and investigative reporting! Be aware and be happy!

    Like

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