Food Labels

I came across this short little article from the Mayo Clinic about food labeling, and thought it would make a good blog post. It is a concise and informative blurb on how food manufacturers are required to label… and what they aren’t required to label. I highly recommend that everyone read it – even if you do not have food allergies/intolerances, it is helpful information. You probably know someone with a food allergy. Plus, I also think it’s important to know what is in your food.

My two cents…

I think the most important part of the article are these statements:

“Manufacturers aren’t required to include warnings about food allergens accidentally introduced during manufacturing or packaging (cross-contamination). This common occurrence can cause trouble if you’re very sensitive to food allergens.”

It is SO DIFFICULT to really know what MIGHT be in a food. Basically, food manufacturers are required to label what is actually in their food (i.e., an ingredient in their recipe), but they ARE NOT REQUIRED to label their food for cross-contamination. For my son, who has a severe peanut allergy, we cannot risk cross-contamination; it would affect him. So, we read labels very carefully, but even still we don’t always know what is in his food and it makes me uncomfortable. We have moved to making most of our food ourselves (which is no small feat) for various reasons, but mostly so that I know what is in our food.

The article also cites this:

“Many manufacturers voluntarily include warnings, but these advisory labels aren’t always clear. And, manufacturers have different ways of saying a food allergen may be present. For example, labels may say “manufactured in a factory that also processes wheat” or “may contain soy.” The FDA is working to make the format of these advisory labels more consistent so that it’s easier to identify which products contain allergens.”


But, they don’t do it yet. That is what is so hard for us (and many others who deal with food allergies). Manufacturers are not required to label if there is a cross-contamination risk. Personally, we really appreciate the companies who do disclose the contamination risk, and we definitely support those companies as much as possible in our grocery shopping. Personally, I appreciate when companies put the possibility of a cross-contamination risk as well as if there is no risk of cross-contamination. It is helpful information, and we look forward to improvements in our food labeling system!

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Diagnosis

I’m still not sure where exactly I’m going to take this blog, but I thought a good beginning post would be to tell the story of how our son was diagnosed with a peanut allergy. So here it goes.

I will remember the date forever. It was the day before Thanksgiving and our son was 15 months old. We were helping my in-laws clean up in preparation for Thanksgiving dinner the next day (we lived with them at the time), and we were feeding our son amidst the craziness. Our pediatrician had cleared us to feed our son anything at his one year checkup, and so we thought, “Hey, why not try peanut butter?” I mean, it’s every kid’s staple food, right?? What could possibly be wrong with peanut butter? Our nephew lived on the stuff. Every kid I knew would eat peanut butter. It was a solid protein food. It seemed like such a good idea at the time… Anyways, moving on.

So, my husband gave him a bite of peanut butter on a spoon (I was in the kitchen with them doing some cleaning). Within a minute, our son did not look well at all. He was acting uncomfortable and, obviously from the look on his face, was not feeling well. My husband called for me to come over – we pulled him out of his high chair and he vomited all over the floor. I think in the moment we thought that he must be sick. But, within a few more seconds I think we thought, “Hey he might be allergic to peanut butter.” I called his pediatrician right away and got put through to the nurse on call. She validated our concerns with the peanut butter and said that we should get to an ER right away. We grabbed everything and got into the car. By the time we got in the car, our son had vomited again and was definitely not himself. We booked it to the ER. We were freaking out at this point and the ER seemed forever away. (As a side note, we decided to make the trip to a children’s hospital a little further away instead of the regular not-so-great hospital ER a couple of minutes from our house.)

We entered the ER and expressed our concerns right away. We were told to be seated and waited for about 20 minutes in the waiting room (at this point, I was thinking, “If this is a true allergic reaction shouldn’t we be seen a little quicker?”). We were then taken back by a nurse who asked us all of the usual questions. We basically told her that our son had JUST had peanut butter for the first time right before he vomited and we thought he might be allergic. She quickly brushed our concerns aside and settled us in a room and told us the doctor would be there soon.

The doctor came (I don’t remember how long we waited) and we repeated ourselves yet again. He quickly brushed our concerns aside stating that you don’t throw up if you have an allergy and that you have to have been exposed before (which we later learned is NOT TRUE – you can throw up with an allergy, and an exposure can occur prenatally or through breastfeeding, so our son had been exposed). After maybe a minute in our room, he told us that our son most likely had a virus and that they’d observe us for an hour and then we could go home. I did not feel settled with this, and so I made a phone call back to our nurse. She confirmed my thoughts and told us to go have his blood drawn immediately to have preliminary allergy testing done and to watch him very closely over the next day and even up to 3 days because allergic reactions can come and go for 72 hours. She told us that he may very well break out in hives later in the day or experience breathing troubles later that day as well. We took our son to have his blood drawn and then went home.

At home, we put him in a bath to settle him down and in the bath he broke out in hives all over his body and was beet red all over. I specifically remember his ears being bright red. We pulled him out and watched him and he began to make funny swallowing sounds. I called the nurse back and she confirmed that he could very well be having trouble breathing and she instructed us to call an ambulance. We did so and got our first ride in an ambulance back to the same hospital. I specifically recommended a different doctor (for obvious reasons!). We were seen by wonderful nurses and a doctor who took our concerns seriously, gave our son steroids and other things (I don’t even remember, it was such a blur) and he got so much better within a few minutes. We were monitored at the hospital for a few hours and educated a little on peanut allergy. We left the hospital around 6:00 or 7:00 at night and were EXHAUSTED. What a day.

First post… again.

I first created a blog about 4 years ago, after our son was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy, but didn’t do anything with it. I thought it would be a good way to educate our friends and family as well as just get my thoughts out there. It seemed like such a good idea at the time, but I didn’t do anything. A year later, I posted a few times but again neglected it. Now, four years later, the thought keeps nagging at me that I should utilize this blog. So, with a fresh update, new website and look I am attempting this again!

First off, I realize that there are SO MANY different kinds of allergies out there, and I do not wish to belittle anyone’s allergy or make a peanut allergy seem “more important” or anything of the sort! Living with food allergies is hard stuff, whatever they may be, and I hope all of my readers know that. I do not wish to offend anyone. This is just our journey – the challenges, things we’ve learned, and our successes and failures.

The last four years of having a son with a peanut allergy has been a roller coaster! We have learned so much about peanut allergy. It is hard stuff. Those first few months I felt like we were drinking water from a fire hose. There is SO much to learn, to worry about, to implement with your child and family. It’s so overwhelming. It took me a long time to adjust back into a more normal mindset and to not freak out about every little thing. And let’s be honest… I’m still working on that. Sometimes I feel like my son can have a normal life, and sometimes I am just overwhelmed by the dangers that are out there. I hope to use this blog as an education tool. While there are many challenges and adjustments we have made as family, our goal is to provide our kids with a safe and happy life. Welcome to our journey.