Author: Zoë

In the Heart of Downtown Louisville

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My current employer of 300+ people is located in a large building in the center of downtown Louisville. We occupy 2 of the 6 floors, but right now are the only ones in the building in a very desirable area. I often remind myself to be thankful because it is an entirely peanut-free company for me. It does comes with some challenges to keep it this way, such as new employees not knowing and possibly forgetting, employees not realizing peanuts or peanut butter are in something they brought in (butterfingers often people don’t realize have peanut butter). But overall, it’s truly inspiring to me that they are willing to accommodate and continue to enforce a peanut-free environment for an employee. I used to lose sleep worried that no one would want to hire me because of the extra accommodating I require, and my company has put that fear to rest. They even pointed out that severe nut allergies are becoming more common, so it’s not unreasonable to require and enforce the building to be peanut-free.

Like I’ve written about before, I was able to have my college experience be able to be basically peanut-free, by going to a smaller university where people were more caring, and it could be more easily enforced in the classrooms. My very first employer in High School was Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, where peanut butter was served on one pancake on the menu but that was it. My allergy was more manageable at the time and I avoided the pancake, but never had a problem- it helped that it wasn’t a popular item people often ordered. My second employer I worked at for many years, and they kept my department and area of the building peanut free, but I would avoid eating in the break room which wasn’t kept safe. At the company, keeping it “peanut-free” just meant they asked people to not eat peanuts around me once, and I reminded people over e-mail every so often and informed any new employees.

It was around this time that I knew I was having airborne reactions. Since then, all my jobs have been able to accommodate in one way or another, but my current job has really impressed me by taking it very seriously. The florist I previously worked at actually did the exact same thing as my job now, making sure the building was peanut-free, although it was just a shop of 2 employees so it was at a much smaller scale. They put up signs, and even went so far as to make sure the person “processing” the flowers and prepping them wasn’t snacking on anything with peanuts to contaminate the ones coming into our store for handling.

I feel it is important for me to let a potential employer know during my job interview that I do have this allergy and ask them if they can accommodate. If they don’t want to, I know it’s not a good fit, and I want to find this out upfront. So far I haven’t had anyone say a hard no, but I have had one job not work out due to it, and I had to leave another job that wasn’t able accommodate after the role changed some. That was a hard time for me. I got discouraged because my career plans got derailed and felt a bit like a rug was pulled out from underneath me. I was concerned my allergy would prevent me from being able to find a job, and I felt like I may need to lower my standards and just take one with an employer that felt they could hire me, rather than taking a job based on my own interests and skillset.

I like to get my needs out in the open, and let them know it is an “invisible disability” explain the seriousness of my food allergy, and that I always have epinephrine on me. After working 2 places in a row where they were happy to enforce a safe environment, I don’t have as much anxiety and nervousness going into a job interview. I no longer feel as fearful to discuss the accommodations, but I haven’t yet let a potential employer  know about my allergy prior to going in for an interview. In the past I often would take a bunch of alavert beforehand, although there were a few times when I still had to take a benadryl afterwards. This is something I’ll likely work on in the future, to tell people what I need beforehand, so they can get rid of any major peanut products preventatively.

It used to give me so much anxiety to bring up my allergy to strangers that I often would be brought to tears, or couldn’t speak about it because I’d get too emotional. I’m relieved that I’ve been able to overcome this and let some of that fear, guilt, and embarrassment go. It’s not something to be ashamed of, it’s just a part of my life, and I can do a lot to control it.

For anyone allergic or with an allergic friend or family, don’t feel bad asking for what you want and need. You don’t know until you try! I do try to ask wisely, so that the main things I need can be accommodated and it doesn’t get too complicated with non-essentials. Maybe one day this will change, but my only rule is NO PEANUTS. For example, I don’t need to be included in eating at each food-focused work event, but as long as food products aren’t containing peanut ingredients, I can bring my own snack and be involved. It can make me feel less included, but I just remember that food isn’t everything, and there are a lot of foods I really enjoy that are safe. Half the time my husband will eat snacks that are provided places and let me know I wasn’t missing out anyway.

If anyone ever has questions on how my employer keeps the environment safe, please don’t hesitate to ask! I’m always happy to discuss more details about it.

 

-Z-

 

Hoppy Easter Every Bunny

I’m back! I hope everyone has had an egg-stremely good weekend, and an egg-ceptional day getting in some quality family time! Like most holidays, they can be stressful when you have a food allergy. Today was low-key and relaxed- absolutely ideal for me. It didn’t have a huge food focus, which was nice. My husband and I brought safe brunch to my mother-in-law and we had a great morning with my mom joining us. We do hand-wash my plate and fork that I’m using when elsewhere, this time it was at my sister-in-laws home, but besides that, that’s basically it since we brought the veggie quiche and brioche ourselves! We were able to even find safe chocolate brioche!

I am currently watching the Great British Bake Off Easter Masterclass on KET. This show brings me so much happiness and inspiration! I love making my own safe meals based off television shows that walk you through it, it shows me how easy it truly can be for an amateur baker, and is fun to see how mine compare with theirs. This past Christmas I made a GBBO mincemeat and marzipan couronne, and it was surprisingly easy to make every element of it peanut-safe. Even when making mincemeat and marzipan from scratch, it wasn’t all that difficult and turned out really well! Honestly, the most difficult part is converting everything to U.S. measurements.

Another show I highly recommend is Poh & Co on Netflix. Poh Ling Yeow was a contestant on MasterChef Australia (never seen it) and has made quite a name for herself baking and cooking! She does use a lot of peanut ingredients, but I’ve gotten comfortable making recipes that use peanuts or peanut oil and subbing that out for a safe ingredient. Her conversions can be tricky as well, but are simple to replicate once converted. I recently made her super simple recipe for persian nut bars and added the optional rose water, they make me feel like a princess when eating them for breakfast with a side of fruit! They were sticky from the honey, so the parchment paper helps with that! CVS carries safe pistachios, and we use Blue Diamond almonds. Instead of sunflower seeds, I just used a blend of flaxseed and chia seeds we already had in the pantry. They are essentially peanut-safe KIND bars, definitely not safe for tree-nut allergies, but safe for peanut-only allergies.

persian nut bars

I would love to travel to Australia, specifically where she is in Adelaide, in South Australia. There’s an episode of Chef’s Table that features a farm-to-table type of restaurant in Adelaide and it was the first time I had heard of this city in Australia and it sparked my interest in traveling there one day. Australia is very similar to Canada in their food labeling requirements, they’re ahead of the United States in having strict labeling laws and being very aware of what’s in their food!

When watching a cooking show, reading recipes on Pinterest, or getting them out of cook books, I really believe that substituting out peanut products doesn’t ruin a recipe. I used to think it did and wasn’t as adventurous, but I’ve started to venture out and try to find tasty alternatives. My husband makes the BEST Pad Thai, and although I’ve never had the real thing, it’s delicious and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on the real thing at all. It can be hard to find certain safe ingredients such as tahini, certain spices or oils, but in my opinion they all can be safely swapped out for something safe and similar! Even if I can’t find something with the exact same taste profile, it’s never been problematic in the end, just find what you can, or even better, just throw a safe ingredient in that you know you already love!

Well, that’s all, yolks! I’m looking forward to posting weekly/bi-weekly again!

Zoe

A Lull

Hello followers!

I’ve been meaning to give an update the past month regarding my posting habits on here, I’m sorry for the delay!

I have been participating in an online course put on by my employer, focusing on becoming ‘unstoppable’ individuals and really zeroing in on our life purpose and goals, and how to achieve them. It’s a wonderful free course they provide, but it lasts 14 weeks in total, and is taking up a lot of my free time! There is a blog element to it, so for now I’m completing that blog, and will return to writing more on Invisibly Allergic immediately after.

I did come across this sample letter template online that was 100% spot on for my allergy, and I thought it would’ve been useful to have if I were still in a school setting, but it could be tweaked for an employer! Here it is.

Additionally, I have not yet watched it, but the show ‘Rotten’ on Netflix has an episode specifically on peanuts (episode 2) and the growing peanut allergy ‘epidemic’ as they called it. I saw good feedback in online forums about it, and tried watching it, and felt paranoid within the first few minutes. I am going to give it another try sometime soon, when I’m not eating dinner, and when I’m in the right mindset.

I’m still digesting my feelings about some of the peanut information I learned in the episode, one thing I learned from only the first couple of minutes was that peanut ground cover has tiny yellow flowers! They almost look like the little yellow buttercup flowers I hunt for in the summertime! To clarify, I don’t ever want to be near one! I did wonder about peanut “butter cups” though, and the origins of the candy, if maybe that was a connection?

I don’t want to celebrate the peanut plant, but I did want to share an image of it, for awareness purposes! I honestly was very surprised, and was glad to see what the plant itself can look like, especially in case I ever see it growing someplace!

Anyway, please don’t hesitate to write me with any questions or comments during my brief time away. Thanks for your continued support & reading! Signing off, I will return in about 6 weeks!

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What’s in my hair dye?

Peanut oil is often used in products outside of food that you consume, and I’ve touched on this briefly in some of my previous posts such as, “Dealing with Pet Related Cross-Contamination”.

Additionally, in my ‘Resources’ tab I have a document I put together of Non-Food Peanut Products’, which covers frequently used items I’ve discovered may contain or contain peanut ingredients. It isn’t extremely comprehensive and is not meant to remain up-to-date, but it is a resource I put together for others to get an idea of what types of products to be on the lookout for. It’s important to say that not all peanut- allergic folks will react to these items, everyone is different. 

Recently I got my hair colored and felt very itchy around the back of my neck afterwards later that day. Funnily enough, the salon took it upon themselves to check the Redken product labels beforehand, after I called to let them know about my allergy and asked snacks being around. It turned out they did have Reese’s cups out that they put away before I came in, and they were really understanding and cautious. The Redken products didn’t list any peanut ingredients, but said they couldn’t be sure if it was peanut-free or not. This wasn’t surprising to hear, as I’ve e-mailed and called companies asking direct questions about if they use peanut oil and received vague, non-specific answers, essentially encouraging me that there may be a chance so it’s an at-your-own-risk type of thing. This clears them of any potential liability, which is great for them, and not helpful for someone like me who wants to use the products but needs at least a full ingredient list.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mildly reacted to a hair dye product that wasn’t labeled for peanut oil. The first time I had this mild response was to a red box dye by Vidal Sassoon, and I haven’t used their products since. It’s hard to know what is inside of products that contain naturally sourced oils, (“natural essences” “naturally derived dyes” or “natural scents”) , because non-food labeling requirements vary, and are often able to be left off the package if it’s a small bottle or box. The rules surrounding it aren’t as strict since it isn’t being “ingested”, however topically it can still cause a reaction, the skin is an organ after all! 

Side note: I inquired before getting my first tattoo on the dye and had a hard time nailing down if it was risky for a peanut allergy or not, luckily it didn’t appear to be for me afterwards because we couldn’t determine anything super conclusive, but often tattoo dye is a risk for metal allergies (which I do have but isn’t as serious for me, most peanut allergies are also reactive at least slightly to some metals). 

If an oil is highly refined it often is considered as not containing any allergen components, which I’ve found to not be true– I’ve reacted to highly refined peanut oil cooked kettle chips before, and highly refined peanut oil used in a prepared meal. I tried these many years ago before my allergy worsened to the point it is now, and knew I needed to cut out refined peanut oil, and really anything that contains or may contain the peanut allergen, to limit my reactions. I suggest looking up the process of how they refine oils, and the exact definition of a refined oil sometime! airs fascinating and often a very toxic process. 

There are many articles online about highly refined oils not containing allergen amounts or particles, and I learned from snacksafely.com as well as www.foodallergy.org that the FDA exempts highly refined peanut oil from being labeled as an allergen. Studies show that most (*Key word* *RED FLAG*) individuals with peanut allergy can safely eat peanut oil (but not cold-pressed, expelled or extruded peanut oil – sometimes represented as gourmet oils).

The products I listed on my resources page that often contain peanut oil or peanut ingredients include cleaning products, hair products such as shampoo and conditioners, lotions, make-up, eye drops, nasal sprays, and various medications, dryer sheets, and the list truly goes on and on.

As you can tell, obtaining any full ingredient list or ‘may contain’ statement for a food product or non-food product can often be very tricky. It’s unfortunate that the majority of US companies are this way. After my mild reaction the other day to the Redken hair product and/or hair dye, I contacted their company which is owned by L’Oreal , and got a lengthy templated/standardized e-mail back. It stated,

“most ingredients derived from these sources are highly refined and retain no traces of allergenic proteins, for less refined ingredients L’Oreal Group has established strict levels on the potentially allergenic proteins. We believe that this policy minimizes the likelihood of reactions to these proteins in the majority of sensitive individuals.”

This response is often what I get when inquiring on products, and it later goes on to recommend you reach out to your medical care provider for questions, as per usual.

On that topic, I’ve asked my fair share of medical professionals and/or pharmacists about this, and most don’t know that companies often use peanut oil in medications and topical solutions. I once asked an allergist about a nasal spray and some eye drops that I’d seen on forums can contain peanut oil, and he said confidently, “they wouldn’t put an allergen in products that are supposed to combat allergies”… Ah-ha-ha! I pulled up the ingredient lists for products I was looking into that CONTAINED “arachis oil” (alternative name for peanut oil). I know this after having joined the peanut allergy awareness groups online, where people will post about certain lotions and products they’ve discovered contain their allergen.

I’ve attached a few eye-opening examples from the peanut allergy forum below of products that contain peanut oil, one being an asthma inhaler:

 

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Beware folks- and please feel free to let me know if you find any food products or non-food products that surprisingly contain peanut ingredients!

Happy holidays & remember if you don’t see a label, don’t risk eating it! 

A Reminder Around The Holidays!

Hello everybody!

Thanksgiving week has arrived, and more food-focused holidays are around the corner as we head into December!

I wanted to briefly remind food allergic individuals, as well as friends & family of them, that if you are unsure if you should eat something pre-made or that someone prepared for a party or family event, please go with your gut feeling and don’t feel pressured to try something that makes you hesitant.

It’s much better to avoid questionable foods, than to risk your life. Here are a few suggestions I put together, that I put in place for myself each holiday:

♦ Bring a snack for yourself as a backup, and don’t feel bad if you need to eat it

♦ Talk to your family members and friends about ingredients in the meal and give a safe list of brands they can use for their “menu” if you feel comfortable with it. Also, mention to wipe down surfaces and make sure the allergen isn’t around while the meal is being prepared. ***Otherwise, you can bring your own dishes if you’d rather!

♦ Make sure no peanut products will be out and about (snack bowls, dog treats, etc.)

♦ Read ingredients carefully, be just as thorough as you do at home

♦ If you slightly offend someone who made a lovely dish that you don’t want to try, brush it off and remind yourself being safe is always the priority, you have to put yourself first. Remind them it isn’t worth the risk if you want to.

♦ Always have your epi-pens and antihistamines on-hand

I will end this by saying that I am anticipating going out to eat one or two times this Thanksgiving holiday while in Cleveland, Ohio! I will be gauging my trust with these few restaurants in a city I haven’t been to before, and these restaurants I have only communicated with so far via e-mail. Besides, Taco Bell, which I trust and is our go-to for road trips!

I want to clarify that I am never 100% comfortable in a restaurant setting even after talking with them or reviewing their allergen statements or charts on their site, because you never know how serious they are going to take your allergy, or how well they know their ingredients that day.

(a) The only time this doesn’t hold true is for specific allergy-friendly restaurants or bakeries.

This week I am going to bring a backup snack with me in case I determine I am actually not comfortable at the restaurants once we arrive. In this scenario, I will get a soda or drink instead, and enjoy my night!

We do try to book hotels with a kitchenette suite included if we are there for longer than a day, to be able to have kitchen access as well, and then we bring all our own safe cutlery, sauce pans, utensils, cutting boards, sponges, dish soap, etc! We will be making our own safe Thanksgiving day meals to bring to the Thanksgiving on my husband’s side, just to make it simpler for everyone.

Even though food rules most holidays, events and parties, try to not let it get you down. You can have a great time with or without the abundance of food!

Have a wonderful holiday- and more posts will becoming soon!

PS- This year I got a few treats from my local safe bakery, Annie May’s Sweet Cafe, to make eating desserts even easier to indulge in! Drool worthy photo attached: img_4270

 

Continue reading “A Reminder Around The Holidays!”

Children Describing Anaphylaxis

Lately I’ve been thinking about children with severe food allergies, and ways to successfully convey severe food allergy symptoms to kids. Not only that, but also ways to decipher what a child is going through if they are describing a reaction.

I found this amazing stop-motion video on Youtube that I wanted to share. Like someone mentioned in the comments section, it’s a non-threatening way to portray anaphylaxis symptoms, and it even includes the correct place to inject an epi-pen! Genius!

 

What got me thinking about this topic in the first place was a post from the No Nut Traveler Facebook page, covering the many ways children may describe their allergic reaction symptoms. I feel like this is a more recent development in the allergy community, one that wasn’t a discussed topic when I was a child, and I’m glad it’s raising awareness to help catch signs of a severe reaction in a child.

Here is a screenshot of the Facebook post:

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Please share either the YouTube video, screenshot, and/or this blog to help spread awareness. Thank you readers for all the continued support!

Let your home be your “safe space”

Making my home a safe space for myself 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 space where you don’t have to be in a state of constant worry.

I consider this to mean my bedroom and TV type room in our house. Our dining room, kitchen, and basement are all areas that experience heavy foot traffic. These main living spaces are where friends & family are coming in and out of, where our dog Colby tends to track the most into, and in general, those are the spaces I still am careful to not touch my face while in without washing my hands. I also try to clean them more often! Ideally I would wet wipe everything coming in from outside, but I haven’t taken it to that level yet. However, that’s not to say I don’t wet wipe a lot of things already! I’m in a band and whenever we play house shows or move our equipment around between vehicles, I make sure to clean my mic as well as my drum sticks, drums, and our many cords.

I view the dining room table is a hot spot for potential cross-contamination, it’s where we put our mail, grocery bags, where we sit our bags after work, if someone comes over that’s where we sit, and in general things tend to just collect there. We keep a tablecloth on it so that way it’s easier to clean and won’t scratch or get water stained, but it also tends to collect allergens and dust this way. One trade off for another, I suppose.

I’ve mentioned before in previous posts that we don’t keep any type of peanut products in our home, meaning no dog treats with possible peanut products, no face products with possible peanut ingredients, etc. and being sure to keep all food options safe is crucial to make life easier for someone living with a food allergy. I like being able to look in the kitchen and not have to check all the labels again. It’s funny because I normally still do before consuming them, just to be safe, but it’s more of a good habit I’ve developed. I’m not having to do a hard check like I did, or my husband did, the first time.

We recently got a large compost bin (pictured below with our dog Colby inside!) after my husband sat in on a class about composting so we could know the basics for ourselves at home. Composting is a wonderful way to cut down on trash, as well as have a less stinky trash can, and create soil to use in your garden during the applicable months!

I am becoming huge on gardening to create fresh produce and herbs for myself to use that I know are not contaminated. I overheard a terrifying conversation at a farmer’s market where a vendor was talking about how peanut shells are great to compost with. This was a major red flag to hear. I never thought about that aspect of gardening and how it could potentially be related to my food! I don’t know if it really can be extremely dangerous, but I know if I saw decomposing peanut shells spread on/around my food I would avoid it like the plague. Much like my discovery about the Grain Flour recall, since the flour was contaminated at the growing source, I knew I now needed to potentially worry about local produce as well.

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I’m really looking forward to growing some of my own food this next Spring, and expanding my selection a bit more compared to last year! 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 of thought in my blog post, for people who may shop local (which I support 1000%), but who also have severe food allergies. It could be worth beginning to compost if you have the means to, or access to a community garden plot, and beginning to grow some of your own produce. Or it could be a conversation you begin having in the community to get to know your vendors a little more.

Unfortunately, products that aren’t for consumption such as potting soil is not required to label for ingredients as seriously as food products. I have looked into some potting soils and mulch, and been led into a blackhole of vague information where I could get no type of confirmation about it or from companies, but all signs pointed to it may be packaged on shared equipment as animal feed, bird seed, or that it contains “compost” with nothing more about it.  It may be mushroom or bark compost, but who knows?! In fact, at the compost class my husband attended, he learned in our city of Louisville there is a pilot program that collects wet trash compostables 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 and sell it as compost. 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. I know it’s breaking down, but how are we certain it’s all breaking down at the same time? We can’t be. Even if it can’t contaminate the actual food in our garden, if I’m handling it, then it could still potentially contaminate me.

After my last post, I was curious exactly where peanuts are grown. I know peanuts can really be grown anywhere, but I assumed most in the U.S. are primarily grown in Georgia. From a website called aboutpeanuts.com I found out that, “Peanuts are grown in the warm climates of Asia, Africa, Australia, and North and South America. India and China together account for more than half of the world’s production. The United States has about 3% of the world acreage of peanuts, but grows nearly 10% of the world’s crop because of higher yields per acre. Other major peanut growing countries include Senegal, Sudan, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Malawi, and Nigeria.” Interesting, and noted.

Additionally, the website goes on to say, “In the United States, ten states grow 99% of the U. S. peanut crop: Georgia (which grows about 42% of all U. S. peanuts), followed by Texas, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Virginia, Oklahoma and New Mexico.” I didn’t know regions of Florida grew peanuts, or New Mexico!

I have been on my way to vacation in Florida and needed to pull over to use the bathroom or get a snack, and not only come across boiled peanuts at every single stop, but actually come across some peanut farms in Georgia where I didn’t feel comfortable pulling over for many miles, and I turned the air blower to be inside the car only, as a precaution and to *sort of* ease my mind. The aboutpeanuts.com website has some interesting information, however, I want to challenge some of the history of peanuts details on there with some recent information I heard. I’m going to do some investigating… until next time!