Product Recalls

Ah yes, the dreaded recalls. Even when doing your due diligence by calling companies and reading ingredient labels, recalls can occur and cause a life-threatening reaction. This is why even when you’re trying your hardest, you have to remember that you can’t control everything, and there is always a slight chance of some type of cross-contamination.

I say this for a few reasons. First, because it’s true. As we all know, we can’t control everything, so just trust that you are doing your best. Unfortunately, someone reacted to a product they thought was safe, and that is what caused the contamination to be known, and the ‘voluntary recall’ to occur. Lastly, if you feel a reaction coming on, please don’t treat it lightly. I’m not saying to go to the ER immediately if you feel slight symptoms, but it’s good to try to remain calm, to try to decipher if a reaction is actually happening, or if it could be anxiety, environmental allergies, or something else. If you are an allergic individual reading this, if I feel a potential reaction, I always try to tell others around me so I’m not alone in knowing.

Recalls can occur a number of ways. It could be in a specific facility if peanuts are present but segregated and it can also happen in peanut-free facilities, where the individual ingredients coming into the facility are contaminated with peanut residue. I personally avoid items made on shared equipment with peanuts, and I normally avoid products even in the same facility,  just because the chances for a reaction are higher, but it is nearly impossible to know the source of each ingredient in a peanut-free facility, and where it came from and was grown, and how it was stored there, distributed, etc.

A company I love, one that does an excellent job with labeling, Clif Bar & Company, recently issued a recall for a few of their products containing chocolate for potentially containing tree nuts or peanuts. I am not sure how the nut contamination took place, but it made me reconsider starting my morning off with 1. something highly processed, and 2. something made in a facility, when I could just be making a fresh smoothie each morning. Something fresh would be more healthy, and way less risky. I appreciate having pre-made snacks and meals that are “safe” (I try to use this word lightly for obvious reasons) but I also know I need to try to limit them, and use them more sparingly. Vacations, roadtrips, long days away from home, long car rides, those are times it’s completely acceptable to eat them, but when I’m home all day enjoying a lazy Saturday, I don’t need to start my day off with a Chocolate Salted Caramel Protein Luna Bar (my favorite flavor). My personal goal is to try to eat more fresh, less risky foods that weren’t produced in a facility someplace. However, below you will see there is a caveat to that as well.

Throughout 2017, there has been a national flour recall for peanut contamination stemming from a company called Grain Craft. This was extremely problematic because they don’t sell to people like you & me individually, they are a flour provider for the foodservice industry, the supplier for entire companies, such as Kellogg’s. Like any product recall, such as the current car airbag one that is involving many different car manufacturers that purchased the Takata airbag, it can be very widespread.

This flour recall involved cereals, frozen pizzas, cookies, doughnuts, crackers, and so much more. Kellogg of course is a massive corporation, and I’m using them as an example because it gives you an idea of how massive this recall extended, because remember: it wasn’t Kellogg at the source, it was this company called Grain Craft who supplies to multiple corporations the size of Kellogg, so just imagine the damage. In case you didn’t know, because I didn’t for a long time, Kellogg Company owns these brands as well:

  • Special K, Keebler, Pringles, Pop-Tarts, Kashi, Cheez-It, Eggo, Nutri-Grain, Morningstar Farms, United Bakers Group, Egyptian Expansion, Famous Amos, Bear Naked, Gardenburger, and a bajillion others.

I don’t eat much Kellogg’s stuff, besides Morningstar, which has just been hard to give up, mostly because they are not respectful to the allergy community. They don’t label for ‘may contain’ or give information on shared equipment or facilities, and since it isn’t required in the U.S., I can’t blame them. However, they did start putting peanut flour in products SOLELY to make it so that people would quit asking them to label for the top 8 allergens. The company controls an ENORMOUS chunk of consumer food products, in my opinion it should be illegal to be this large, and as you can see, their values for its consumers are truly atrocious.

Shifting back to Grain Craft, the recall involved a Frito Lay product, Rose Gold pretzels. These are known to be safe for peanut-allergic individuals, so this was very important to spread the word about.

I am very passionate about raising awareness on the lack of standards in the United States surrounding food labeling, and recalls are one thing that it’s important to continue to be aware of, but even with good labeling, reactions to undeclared allergens can still occur. I do believe recalls would be caught much faster here if corporations were more aware of their ingredients, and required to label for ‘may contain’, but it wouldn’t eliminate the problem fully.

In fact, in this case, it turns out Grain Craft has actually never used peanuts in their facilities. It was that the wheat they purchased was grown in areas with peanuts in Georgia, so it was contaminated at the growing source, prior to getting to their mill in GA. This fact was particularly scary. I attached a link here about the recall. As you can see, this also goes against my idea of fresh food being safe, and causes me to emphasize that you can never be 100% sure of ingredients. I am now adding peanut-growing states in the South to my list to be wary about, not that I wasn’t already, but sheesh!

My next post will be more on this topic. Including how to garden at home safely, compost including peanut residue, states that grow peanuts, and more. Below is an infographic I found here that shows 10 major corporations, and the brands they own. I actually don’t think this even includes ALL their brands, or is the most up-to-date because I see a few missing such as Enjoy Life the allergy friendly brand owned by Mondelez.

infographic 2

 

Loving Vincent in Theaters

A couple of years ago I worked at an art museum as a security officer while the museum was closed under construction. I know what you’re thinking—and it was kind of a weird gig. I wasn’t there long, but in my short time there, especially with it not being open to the public, I experienced a lot!

My plan to work at an art museum and slowly work my way up came to a rapid halt and got derailed once the museum was set to open. I learned a bakery was going to be opening inside of it, and that they would be toasting peanuts in-house. How random, right? I tried to see if they would not serve peanut products, or even just not roast peanuts on-site, since they have another main location in Louisville, but no. I was disappointed and had to quit after having 2 slight airborne reactions, but I understood why they couldn’t change everything just for me. This was a big expensive work-in-progress for them & the museum that I was completely unaware of. They put in a brand new state-of-the-art kitchen and were going to handle the catering for all the weddings there as well as events. This was HUGE for a small locally owned, very successful bakery.

Fast forward to the present day, and the movie theater located in the museum, that the bakery handles concessions for. I am a huge art lover, a wanna-be art history major, as you know from recent blog posts, as well as fan of Vincent Van Gogh and his work. I’ve even painted a few copies of his portraits myself after being inspired by my visit to the Art Institute of Chicago for his Bedrooms exhibit. So naturally, when I found out the movie Loving Vincent would be showing at the museum, I knew I HAD to be there. I should mention I’ve been contacting the PR for Loving Vincent like a true crazy obsessed fan since I first found out about the project and film a more than 3 years ago! There have been multiple false rumors about its U.S. release, and in October of 2017 it is finally coming!

I should also mention, I haven’t been to a movie theater in years due to my peanut allergy. The last movie I recall going to was a showing of Brooklyn (coincidentally the same actress lead who is in Loving Vincent) at a small theater where movies went after being released on DVD, and so not many people would be there. I think in total there were only a handful of others, and I could literally see what they were eating and confirm it wasn’t peanut containing snacks! The showing of Loving Vincent I’m going to will be sold out, and packed- the antithesis of my Brooklyn movie experience.

I bought tickets a bit impulsively, since I knew it may sell out, and then moved on to contact the museum via e-mail about my options. The person in charge of Film, who I knew from working there, said I could come in during a school showing instead if I wanted. He let me know there may be one in the morning that I could sit in on, and he would let me know as more dates open up since there wouldn’t be food at those. I slightly wondered if the students may bring their own snacks.

As I explained this to my husband, he suggested I go directly to the source, and contact the bakery/concessions to see if they may be able to make any accommodations. I felt nervous, but inquired with the bakery right away, asking if they knew if peanut items would be on the menu for the Loving Vincent showing, and if there may be a way to keep my day/time peanut-free items. THEY SAID YES, and they will be sure to not use peanut products in anything that goes out that day/time to ensure my safety. Of course, they recommended I not eat anything.

Once again, I learned that I need to nicely ask for what I want, and not be afraid and stress over situations that I actually can control, or at least have some pull in. I felt some sour energy with the bakery before this, due to my work experience, and I feel like the air is clearer now. I’m thrilled they will make this accommodation, and I will not abuse this knowledge, but I am happy to know if another film I’m eager to see goes there, I can inquire again!

I will report back here on invisiblyallergic after the showing, and tell you all how it went! For those allergic individuals out there reading, and their families and friends, please note that I always carry my epi-pens at all times, as well as at least 8-10 Benadryl tablets. I also will be bringing a 3M filter face mask along with me as a precaution, and wet wipes to wipe down my area, just as I did when I saw Brooklyn.

Now, everyone go appreciate Loving Vincent in theaters if you can, but if you can’t, also remember it isn’t the end of the world and it’ll eventually be on DVD! 🙂

 

van gogh eugine
My version of The portrait of Eugène Boch

A Visual Representation

A Shakespeare quote that has always resonated with me is, “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” and that’s how I view this week’s blog post! Although this post is short, I feel it holds a lot of weight.

The information below is essentially a compilation of details I’ve found online surrounding the below image. From what I’ve gathered, this picture was created by Julie Brown, MD. However, I haven’t found much else about her!

It shows to scale the amount of peanut residue or dust that can cause a deadly episode of anaphylaxis . Often I witness a response to my own food allergy being taken as being “picky” or “overly cautious” and/or “too high maintenance”. In my opinion, this photo proves this not the case, it’s not a choice.

I’m truly not a picky eater, in fact, I like to experiment as much as I can. My peanut allergy does put a damper on the adventurous side of me that enjoys eating out and trying new foods. Investigating has to be done at the forefront, so my eating can’t be on a whim or impulsive, but it can still be exciting! The problem is how tiny the amount of peanut particle can set off a serious reaction. As you can see, it doesn’t take much to cause a full-force reaction, this is what those in the food allergy community are up against every day.

In fact, people with peanut allergies have died from as little as 1 mg of peanut protein, as shown here:

 

img_3489

Smaller amounts of dust and peanut particles also cause allergic reactions, which is the problem with peanut cross-contamination of surfaces and on shared food processing equipment.

It’s impossible to say someone hasn’t or couldn’t die from an even lower amount of peanut residue, such as .15 milligrams. When speaking about such trace amounts, it’s hard to pinpoint sometimes how much got ingested, and from what. After going into anaphylactic shock from my diluted intradermal prick testing, and multiple other scary severe peanut reactions, I don’t rule out any possibilities.

As deadly as a loaded gun

A couple of years ago I interned at a local art gallery in Louisville while obtaining my undergraduate degree, and it was a great experience learning how to hang and take down shows and see what it takes to run a gallery. One day, though, I walked into the empty gallery space and immediately was overcome by a toxic feeling and felt very uneasy.

I looked around, and saw no one, in fact the room was completely empty. There were folded tables stacked against a wall, but besides that, nothing out of the ordinary. I actually didn’t even touch a door handle to get in, because the door was propped open, so I continued inside. Within a few minutes my lip began to swell, and I texted my friend who was coincidentally working a writing workshop in the same gallery space earlier that day. I asked her if there were peanuts at the event, and assumed she would write back saying no and I’d get some peace of mind. Instead, she immediately replied “GET OUT! THERE WERE MINI SNICKERS EVERYWHERE! A HANDFUL AT LEAST PER TABLE, AND THERE WERE SO MANY TABLES!” I appreciated her honesty and promptness, and ran out while popping Benadryl into my mouth and texting the gallery owners explaining why I had to leave and get home.

When I’ve shared this story in-person, people often laugh at how silly her warning sounds at first. It isn’t the norm to treat candy/food as dangerous, but my friend understood that it is to me.

I’ve seen parents of children with severe airborne food allergies share posts on social media comparing children eating a PB&J next to their child to holding a loaded gun next to them, or bringing a loaded gun to lunch. When I first saw this, I initially thought it seemed too extreme, but it stuck with me. The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize it is in fact a comparable situation. Peanuts are, and can be used as, a weapon. They are just as deadly, the control is in the other person’s hand, and it is preventable.

I attached one of those loaded gun articles on food allergy bullying here, in case you want to read it.

There are many stories similar to the above, because it is a common everyday situation for allergic individuals and their families. You eat at least 3 times a day, and often not in a secluded setting or in the comfort of your own home. I believe this specific comparison has been repeated often in the food allergy community, because it is attention grabbing, but also expresses the true severity of a food allergy that is hard to convey to others.

I feel it’s important to state that this “loaded gun” situation arises during my daily routine without any type of bullying taking place. I could be passing someone on the street eating something and react without the culprit having any knowledge whatsoever. That’s why it’s important for me to make people aware of my allergy in as many situations as I can, so this can be avoided as often as possible. When someone is aware and continues to eat peanuts, that’s when the line crosses over to potential food allergy bullying, that does need to be directly addressed to convey seriousness to the other person. Ultimately, it could save a life.

The one statement “as deadly as a loaded gun” was eye opening for me in a number of ways. Until it was put into this perspective, I didn’t realize how emphatically I needed to be explaining my allergy. I also felt less alone in my peanut allergy, and like there is a community of individuals just like me existing out in the world, figuring out ways to illuminate their food allergy experiences.

The 11-year old in the article I attached above tells how he’s been taught to handle food allergy bullying, and his advice is powerfully direct! He explained, “I would tell them that’s not nice,” Liam added. “It’s nothing to joke about. People can die of that (food allergy bullying).” I struggle with feeling like explaining my peanut allergy teeters the line of being too dark, but simply making it clear that death is the outcome of exposure is not a lie or extreme, it’s the plain truth, and it needs to be discussed.

The other day in my work break room, a co-worker had told me they don’t bring in peanuts to work because of my allergy, and that they bring cashews instead. Next they mentioned to me that they grew up eating PB&J sandwiches and felt their parents would have been the type to come back at the school system saying, “what do you MEAN my child can’t eat a peanut butter sandwich at school now? It’s his favorite!” This was a bit upsetting to hear initially, but I also realize it is likely coming from a place of not being exposed to a life-threatening food allergy before. The deadliness of the act of eating peanut products needs to be conveyed, shared, and discussed.

The allergy spectrum is vast, so I see why the explanation is needed. I’ve determined that unless told otherwise, people most often know what they do about allergies from their own individual experiences with them. I hope to broaden what “food allergy” can mean to people, since my airborne peanut allergy situation is not as common as other food allergies.

I want to share the message to not prioritize a food over a person’s life, and to not exclude a person, when you can simply exclude the food.

I hope my blog can help spread the word on food allergy bullying, and the overall seriousness that often gets brushed off time and time again due to being uninformed. I’ve included some comics below that encapsulate my experience of living with a peanut allergy perfectly. Enjoy!

 

Life is Peanuty

dust_in_the_air
cross-con·tam·i·na·tion
the process by which bacteria or other microorganisms are unintentionally transferred from one substance or object to another, with harmful effect.

Being severely allergic to a food, people assume that most settings are safe, and that moving through life being mindful of what you eat is your main focus! As it turns out, cross-contamination is a much larger and difficult problem to control. Being allergic to the dust of my allergen is the scariest part for me! I would imagine those allergic to things like poison ivy or poison oak understand this aspect of an allergy! It’s invisible to the naked eye and potentially e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.

Tying into my earlier article on pets and cross-contamination of peanuts, I’ve learned not only homes and vehicles of friends and family with pets are contaminated, but the entire world is covered in peanut dust, and that isn’t even an exaggeration! There’s just no way to control miniscule amounts of particles and completely remove them from an area.

Thinking about cross-contamination from a commercial kitchen or food manufacturing standpoint, if the allergens are present, they’re very likely to end up in trace amounts within the final product. Take a look at my photo of the salt below, I was shocked to see soy being a possibility! This is in no way a diss to Trader Joe’s, it’s great that they label and are aware of allergens! I’ve even seen a bag of kiwis that were labeled “may contain peanuts” once… I assume they were bagged on shared equipment.

trader joes salt

I feel the risk of my actions greatly, but do occasionally eat at restaurants like Qdoba, where the allergens are listed online, and I know there aren’t peanut products on the menu and used in the kitchen. I try to limit my going out to restaurants that don’t use peanuts overall, because it is still a risk in-store and at the food facility level.

Having an allergen menu online is much appreciated, but it doesn’t guarantee the person making my food isn’t snacking on a peanut item, or that the facility of the tortillas or salsa aren’t making the product on shared lines with peanuts. Cross-contamination can come from a million various situations. In kitchens, both in homes and in restaurants, it can come from dishes with peanut residue on them contaminating all the other plates/utensils, the preparation of food in the same areas, or shared pans and ovens! The particles can get on hands, cabinet doors, in the pantry on items, anywhere!

At Qdoba specifically, it’s moderately safe for me to eat a meal from there, but what about people inside Qdoba? The customers bringing in their outside items, or the employees on break? I’ve on more than one occasion seen someone eating a snickers inside at a table, or with their child playing with and spreading out their peanut m&ms out on the outside tables. This could very well have been the same table I am sitting at, or person I’m next to, causing me to have an airborne reaction. Every day I see at least one situation that could put me in danger, just by touching something.

At work for example, I know a few people who eat their peanut products outside, because they aren’t allowed on my floor. I greatly appreciate that, because it does limit dust in the break room, bathroom, and common areas (and then there’s the whole airborne aspect as well!) Although, twice now, I’ve seen someone eating a small bag of peanuts outside in a common area in front of my building, then open the front entrance door handle, press the ‘up’ elevator button, and use the door handle to get into my floor. The last time I witnessed this, I waited 5 minutes, then followed cautiously trying to hold my breath as much as possible, and immediately went and washed my hands. There’s no getting around particles traveling by air or objects, whether it be dairy, soy, peanuts, or another allergen.

One bad reaction of mine was in a shared conference room at Spalding University when I was giving my final senior presentation. I was sitting in a room with 4 other students, presenting to two professors, and the stakes were high. Suddenly I started to feel my face get really hot and my lip itchy and swollen. I had already presented, luckily, and was sitting in one of the leather office chairs sitting around an oval table. I’m sure I was going over my presentation in my head and touching my face nervously. I looked down in the back of my seat to check my surroundings and reassure myself it was probably nothing, and it looked as if someone had eaten peanuts in my chair! There were a few actual whole peanut pieces around the seat crease.

In shock, I hesitantly interrupted the other student presenting, to let them know I needed to leave immediately because of my chair! They were equally as shocked and horrified. It was absolutely not intentional, I was a part of the discussion when we randomly chose the office, and I chose my own seat. It was just a fluke, and something I now am on the lookout for in shared spaces!

I’ve been inside a friend’s car who warned me they’ve eaten peanut products in them recently, potentially wiping their hands on the seat or shared spaces as the passenger’s side. My fried Laura once lost a peanut in her car for over a week, and would not let me in it until she found it!

In general, everyday life is peanut-y, and you’d never notice unless you needed to. That’s all for my hopefully informative rant on daily encounters with cross-contamination!

Dealing with Pet Related Cross-Contamination

 

For the longest time my animal allergies seemed inconsistent. I seemed to be okay with some dogs, but not others, some cats, not others, some horses, some chickens, some hamsters… the conflicting pet list went on and on. Being an animal lover, I wanted to make sense of it all.

I should start off by saying that I grew up with lots of pets in my household, and all my friends seemed to have a plethora of pets as well. We had neighbors with bunnies, so we inevitably ended up with somehow only two of those- Carrot and Lazy. At different times, but also with a lot of overlap, I had a salamander, two frogs, goldfish, two panda bear hamsters Cookie & Cream- who we were told were both Male, until Cream shockingly and semi-traumatically gave birth to Oreo and Pinky.

I had a gerbil who lived a very long life, our cats Quest and Arena (I’ve always been highly allergic to cat dander, these two are still around, ages 10 and 11 & live with my mom), our dogs Emma and Tara, and later our dog Brownie after Tara passed away. And to be honest, I’m feeling like I’m forgetting some.

As a kid, my family checked ingredients to be certain to not buy peanut butter dog containing treats, but that was basically the extent of our safety measures. In hindsight, the bunny, gerbil and hamster food was very risky for me in terms of exposure!

———-

It turns out I actually am slightly allergic to dogs, which I know from the blood allergy testing I got done in 2016. For a while I thought that I had a dog allergy suddenly develop, since I would break out in hives and/or get a swollen lip and face at friends’ and families’ houses from their dog’s saliva. Peanut derivatives are found frequently in dog food and treats, and peanut butter is used as a pairing for many common dog toys. The culprit of these reactions was due to peanut cross-contamination coming into play and I wasn’t realizing it.

Remnants would not only be in their saliva, but also on rugs or carpets from them chewing on toys in the area, on the furniture, their bedding, their fur, etc. Generally, I assume small bits of peanut dust are throughout every dog owners home, and so I enter bravely and proceed with caution. The brand name wipes ‘Wet Wipes’ are convenient to keep on-hand, and actually contain an ingredient that breaks down nut-protein, so they are my favorite go-to for most situations and combating peanut dust in daily life.

Another favorite product that I use is Nature’s Miracle brand ‘Allergen Blocker’ wipes for allergens such as cat dander, dog dander, dust mites, and other environmental allergens. These are particularly neat because you can wipe furniture, carpet, and other surfaces, but you can also wipe the animals directly to break down their allergen proteins while deodorizing their coats.

I love going to friends’ and families’ homes who have animals, but it brings a whole new side of my airborne and severe allergy out that I really need to stay aware of, and honestly try to limit when possible. From dogs who play with peanut butter filled Kong toys or take daily medicine with peanut butter, to birds in cages with dusty bird feed that gets onto surfaces and microscopically into the air- the potentials are truly endless. Cross-contamination from pets is a very common problem I run into with my severe food allergy.

For people new to food allergies, or those not well-versed in food allergies, it’s something that is often not considered, since there’s no real act of eating that is involved.

———-

After determining why I was reacting to others pets, I immediately wanted my own safe pup in my life. I knew I could keep my own dog peanut-free for myself! My husband and I got a beagle mix named Colby as a 5 ½ year old rescue from a local shelter. Colby eats Earthborn brand food, which luckily he seems to like, because he is picky! Earthborn is also a company I feel good supporting for environmental reasons, it is the only brand I found that is a peanut free-facility as far as dog food manufacturing goes, with ingredients that are recognizable.

Unfortunately, their treats are not safe. The brand Fromm makes safe treats, but they can be expensive! We got those for a long time and still do occasionally, but now we make our own a lot of the time out of Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour and other dog-friendly and Zoë-safe ingredients! They make great gifts as well to other pet parents, and can be customized with cookie cutters to adorable shapes and varying sizes.

Luckily some pet brands were responsive and helpful to my inquiries. As a general rule, if I don’t get a reply back from a company, or if I get a vague reply, I cross it off my potential brand list and move on to the next. It is hard enough finding out about dog food, but I also needed to know about pet wipes and washes, and pet treats as many facilities use undeclared ingredients, shared equipment with peanuts, and also legally these companies don’t have to label with a basic ‘contains’ statement, since it isn’t designed for human consumption. This will have to get covered in another post- because I could go on and on about undeclared allergens in household products!

I will admit— I understand the hype surrounding giving your pet peanut butter to get them to swallow their medicine. We have a very allergic dog, funnily enough, and he takes a prescription allergy medicine daily for environmental allergens. He will spit the pill out of most things, but alternative-nut butters that are labeled and safe for me, such as soynut butter, pea butter, or cashew butter seem to work the best!

———-

Play dates with other dogs can be risky, but are fun for both dog and human parties, so during these my main objective is to try to limit my own touching of my face, especially my mouth area or eyes (a good habit anyway), since who knows where the other dogs have been, or what the other dogs have had recently. If I get a lot of licks from the other dog, I normally try to wash the area relatively quickly as a precaution! I also wash Colby afterwards, or have my husband help me wipe him down, and anything else that may be cross-contaminated by potential peanut ingredients from the other dog.

I’ve recognized recently that I need to improve my conversations with friends and family who have dogs that play with Colby, to make sure they avoid giving peanut products if they can help it. Most of the time I do, and friends who I see often are mindful, but occasionally situations happen where I don’t communicate as much as I should, and then I have a lot of cleaning to do afterwards to try to secure my safety and a peanut-free house, especially if we host the playdate.

This is a bit off topic, but I actually had to ask a neighbor of mine last year to stop feeding peanuts to our neighborhood squirrels. After finding peanuts in my front lawn and on my porch due to our big oak trees above, I initially thought it was the mailman (well, in actuality, I first thought I had an enemy). I called the post office and asked if my mailman may be potentially feeding the squirrels, as I’ve seen him feed cats before. Turns out, he was not, and he’s a very nice guy!

Later while out walking my dog, Colby actually ATE a peanut. I was in a panic over that alone, until I realized I had also stepped on a peanut piece, which got stuck in a crevice on the bottom of my sneaker. I quickly followed the peanut trail with my eyes, mostly to escape as quickly as possible, to find my neighbor’s front yard littered with peanuts! Luckily, he was very understanding and now uses sunflower seeds. I should probably write him a thank you note again, to also serve as a friendly reminder.

I didn’t want to tell him, since he was doing a nice gesture for me, but feeding squirrels peanuts is actually bad for their digestion, as they are in the legume family, and not a ‘nut’. Just a side note!

It’s important for me to keep my environment safe, but I also try to not get too hung up on the potential cross-contaminated side of pets. I stay aware and alert, always, whether I like to or not, so I try to trust that I’m taking precautions to keep myself safe.

Cross-contamination in general is an entire issue I will cover much more in-depth, so that may be my next blog post. It’s everywhere, at every moment, and entirely unavoidable. Touching doorknobs, going into an animal shelter, using anything public like a library book, or even a book a friend lends you, sitting on a park bench, doing simple shopping at the grocery store,  arranging store bought cut flowers– all of these normal actions are just as risky as having a doggy play date. The goal is to not avoid everything, but try to take as much control over situations as you can, and then try to enjoy the moment. I’m so glad I got a dog, and didn’t let my allergy get in the way! If you or your allergic child want an animal and aren’t allergic, I say give it a shot! 

Until next time!

College Knowledge

My #1 tip for food allergic individuals going to work, school, or college:

Attend an institution that treats you like a person, not a number.

 

Why? I’ve found that smaller environments are able to hold up their end of a food allergy accommodation much better. The bigger the corporation or school, the more people being controlled, and the larger margin of error.

I hope this post will allow parents of allergic children some peace of mind as they approach joining the workforce and/or attending college. Living with a severe airborne food allergy is scary and a constant worry, but it can often be accommodated in the real world with a little groundwork! Of course, that is the tricky part of living with an invisible disability– unless you tell someone, they won’t know you have it.

I started off as an Art major at Spalding University. I would have the instructors make an announcement to the class, and the class sizes were small (15-20 students max) and easy to ensure there weren’t peanuts. My second semester, I took an Art History course that opened my eyes and changed my life. This single class, my only A+, led me to become an Art History major at the University of Louisville, since Spalding didn’t offer an Art History degree path.

However, upon getting started at UofL, I immediately knew it was a bad fit.

It was a large university, and I had no control in packed hallways with snacks for sale, or lecture rooms of 200+ students. My first day of class, I couldn’t ride the required shuttle that they made Freshman/Sophomores use to shuttle us from the parking lot of the stadium to the campus. For a brief moment I thought maybe it would be possible since there was a “no food allowed” sign, but I quickly learned that wasn’t enforced at all, and even the bus driver ate!

I tried riding it for weeks, and my anxiety was through the roof. As soon as someone would inevitably open a snickers or other peanut snack, I’d have to ring the bell and fight my way off, just to be stranded far from my car and from my class. I tried to get a parking pass that juniors and seniors had access to, and it wasn’t approved, so I just parked in the nearest neighborhood to campus- it was cheaper anyway (although I didn’t get a refund for my barely used parking pass.)

I reached out to my instructors to see if they would make an announcement to not eat peanut products in the classroom, and if they didn’t feel comfortable, I’d ask if I could make this announcement myself. All the instructors made the announcement or let me make one, but it was clear afterwards that no one was going to listen. One example that stands out was in my French class. I recall catching up with a mother of a student who attended High School with me. Despite this connection, every class she would place a peanut butter sandwich behind me on her desk in a Ziploc bag. I let her know I would have to leave if she ate it, and often she would eat it anyway.

It left me baffled! I knew her daughter and we talked about the severity of my peanut allergy, but somehow she never switched to another sandwich or felt she was doing any harm. I explained over and over, clearly and concise, and she would be really polite and understanding, but then eat it. I would make eye contact with the instructor and signal that I was leaving because of the sandwich, and then I’d have to reach out to the instructor to find out what I missed and how I could make it up.

I began sitting far away from her, and trying to actively give her signals that her actions were causing me a lot of problems. Looking back, I think now I would be more direct with a person. I’ve learned to let these situations go once I’ve said my piece a couple of times. I ultimately have to protect myself. I don’t need to understand it, I just need to not be around individuals that I can’t count on them to keep me safe! I was so discouraged in my one semester at UofL, I switched back to Spalding, realizing it was a much more personal school.

At Spalding they remembered me and were happy to have me back. I explained briefly what had happened, and they suggested I put a letter in my file stating that I needed this accommodation, and they printed letters each semester for me to hand to my instructors, so it was officially enforced that no peanuts were allowed in my classes.

Initially, they even tried to give me the option to keep it confidential, to prevent any bullying, but it usually came out that I was the one with the allergy because questions about what was safe and what wasn’t would arise. It didn’t bother me that it was out in the open, but it meant a lot that they thought of that! Besides a few situations involving open peanut products, it was wonderful! Having a letter on file with the school really helped, and I happily finished my Bachelor’s degree with them!

It was nice knowing if I wanted signs put up on the vending machines to say “out of order” or “please don’t purchase any peanut items” there was no judgement, because the university wanted to me to feel safe. I couldn’t expect the entire university to go peanut-free for me, but I didn’t need that! I didn’t need to eat lunch in the cafeteria when it was peak hour, I could easily bring my own and eat it in my car or even in class like a lot of the other students.

It was a balance that I had to determine what I was okay with, and what I couldn’t budge on. I was okay with eating a safe meal in my car that I packed for myself, normally something that didn’t require heating or refrigeration, if it meant my 4-hour-long night class wouldn’t have peanuts in it! I even made friends in the class and they would take breaks outside with me, or make an announcement on my behalf to say, “Hey everybody, Zoe’s going to be eating with us, so no peanuts in here” to anybody in the designated break rooms. I always liked hearing the authority in their voices when they said it, I sometimes thought, “why can’t I be that commanding in my tone?” I still work on it!

It was really nice, and once I got over the initial hump of being nervous and anxious about my allergy, although I could never fully let my guard down, I was able to a lot more. It felt like my small High School again where people knew me, and I’m a social person, so I liked that! After I had class with someone, I felt I had expanded my group of people looking out for me.

Often nursing students in general education type courses with me would offer, “I’ve given epi-pens before, I’ll administer yours if you ever need it!” My response was always super appreciative, but internally each time I felt a combination of, “I really, really, really hope you never have to” but also thankful because it’s good to know!

XO