Every day I am checking ingredients labels. With a nut allergy it’s just part of my food habits. I don’t think about it that much any more, because as I said it’s one of my habits to double and triple check.
But how do you figure out which warning label is ok and what’s not? I get asked this question a lot and recently I’ve been finding some funny product labelling. So I decided it was time I wrote up how I think about this stuff.
Disclaimer: This post is what I do and how I decide. You must continue to use your discretion and common sense when you check ingredients labels! If in doubt don’t eat the food. If you have further query call the company and ask for their product allergen specification sheet. You are responsible for your food choices because you are responsible for you allergy safety.
How do I actually decide which foods I’m willing to eat?
To be honest it comes down to a few things: what the warning label says, the company and my mood. I’m talk about these is reverse order and show you how I come to a decision.
Although this might sound strange, how I feel really does shape how I decide on whether to eat a food or not. I mean we all have that but mine, having a severe food allergy, could have further reaching consequences. So I acknowledge and make sure I know when my mood is having more of an influence on my decision.
Let’s talk about when I’m in a good, energetic mood when my work is going well and I’m at the shops looking for a snack. At this time I’m less likely to eat something with a warning. This is because I can think past the hunger, the food isn’t going to make me feel anything different or more than what I’m already feeling. So I am more willing to feel like I am “giving something up,” and that’s exactly it. When I’m happy I feel like I’m not missing out on anything.
Now what about if I’m sad, stressed and or tired. I can tell you straight away I’m a comfort eater. Any or a combination of the afore mentioned emotions, I feel like I want sugar and carbs usually in the form of biscuits. Unfortunately for me if I want gluten and nut free biscuits there are only a few brands I can have which don’t have nut warnings (Schar being the most widely accessible at the supermarkets). When I am in a mood I am far more willing to risk a warning for that satisfaction of sugar. It is not rational. It is emotionally fuelled. But knowing this and accepting it as my choice, is important for owning my allergy. For taking responsibility of my allergy and accepting the risk.
Although I know my mood dictates some of how I choose a warning label, it is not the whole story. Although I may be fuelled emotionally, I still always look at the packets, the ingredients and make a calculation of the risk. Although the driving force behind some decisions may be emotional, I want the risk to be calculated.
How I make a quick risk assessment of product packets for allergens
The company is one factor when I decide what to eat. It comes down to how well do these companies understand and follow the rules for food production?
To the best of my understanding large food companies have stricter rules within their factories for food production. As such I am more likely to trust big company on what they say their factory processes are on the packet than a small packet.
On the other hand, small businesses are exactly that, small. This isn’t to say that all are bad. I just find with some small business, perhaps they are bakeries or home businesses, that unless they have experience dealing with allergies I don’t always trust them. This is because they are making lots of different things in one place. If there are nuts or peanuts in the kitchen, how do I know for sure that they haven’t been contaminated. How do I know that machinery has been cleaned properly. Do they have the same structures in place as a big factory? Being a small business may mean no protocols and procedures or they think they understand the seriousness of allergies but in their newness to the food business their naivety could make them think they understand when they don’t.
Some small businesses are great on the other hand. Being small means that you can often talk to the people who make the product because you are buying directly from them at a market. When it comes to this, it comes down to your allergy sense and you have to make your own decision of whether to trust them or not.
There’s no hard and fast rule about this, you have to trust your gut in many of these situations.
Searching the Ingredients List For Allergens
Every product in Europe is required by law to list their ingredients. There is a specific way in which they are supposed to be listed and according to the current regulations, allergens are required to be highlighted in bold.
Every food I want to consume from, I check. This includes the ingredients of drinks as well by the way (and to justify this I recently found a peanut butter drink while on holiday in the Caribbean and it was at the supermarket…). If I see one of my allergens listed on the label, this is an obvious no. I am not going to eat something that could make me sick or potentially kill me, that would be stupid.
If the ingredients list does not contain my allergens I next scower the packet for allergen warnings and any free from claims.
Now before I go on I must say I am seeing an increasing number of companies claiming “free from [insert allergen] and then putting a may contain warning on the back of the pack too. I even saw it on an entrant to the Free From Food Awards when I was judging in January 2018. It infuriates me because it is so misleading, and untrue. However, as there are no formal agreements on what constitutes free from, it is currently up to a companies judgement and common sense, which is sometimes lacking. So be careful and always check the packet.
So now what if there is an allergy warning?
How Do I Understand Allergen Warning Labels?
Well for me, it depends on what the warning says. I will not go near one that specifically mentions peanuts. This was an unconscious decision at first but I’ve realised I do this because I had a severe reaction to peanuts (read my reaction story here) and ever since I have been incredibly careful. A warning label of any kind specifically saying “may contain….,” “made on a line using…,” “made in a factory handling…,” or anything else with ‘peanuts’ I stay well clear. It stresses me out too much and because I know I react within 5 minutes I just don’t want to take that risk.
When it comes to tree nuts on the other hand I am not so strict. I have a feeling it is because I’ve never had a reaction to tree nuts before, and my tests when I was a kid told my parents that peanuts and Brazil nuts were my most sensitive allergies. The rest of the tree nuts I couldn’t have but weren’t as bad.
So here is where the other factors come into play; how I’m feeling, the company and what the warning says.
As I may have mentioned, there isn’t a hard and fast rule for what is a good warning and what’s a bad warning. They are all food allergen warning labels and must be given their due amount of caution at all times.
That said here is how I interpret what allergen warning labels might mean.
“Made in a factory using…”
This warning could mean a number of things. One thing is for sure is this product was made in a factory that uses any of the allergens they list. Where and how it is handled is unknown. It could be made is a separate part of the factory floor with a partition. It could be made in a totally separate part of the factory with a door as the only connector between the allergen free side and the contaminated side. Or, it could be made right next to or on the same line as the allergen containing product.
“Made on a line handling…”
What you have to know about this is “how does the equipment get cleaned and how thoroughly?” As we all know using the same equipment is risky business when it comes to cross contamination. The smallest amount could cause a really severe reaction. For this reason I usually stay clear of these warnings. They are there for a reason and I’d much rather not take that risk.
A general “may contain…”
These “may contain…” warnings I am never sure whether a company actually means it or whether they’re putting it on to cover the their legal butts. Most times I’ve been in contact with a company the may contain is something along the lines of “there are no nuts in the recipe but we can’t guarantee its nut free.” Usually meaning they can’t be bothered to check their supply line, don’t know or just want to put a warning just in case.
So how do you know whether you can eat it or not?
As I mentioned before, I won’t go near a may contain peanuts. The memory of my reaction will always be far too vivid. When it comes to a general may contain nuts, it depends on the company and the other products they make in their range. If the company makes other products which contain nuts I will be more wary because I assume they are made in the same factory that could mean greater risk of cross contamination. I also avoid “made on the same line as…” warning because I can’t trust someone would clean down the equipment as well as I would.
Also a quick side note before I wrap this up. When it comes to factory or wrapped fresh food, I usually go for the factory packed. This is because I personally trust the protocols put in place by large companies over something wrapped but some random person working in a bakery or on a deli counter. Especially when my allergens are present in that small space.
For every food consumption decision, I try to make sure my logical brain rather than emotions (or hungry stomach) make the final decision. In the end it all comes down to what are you comfortable with. I wish I could tell you there is a hard and fast rule, but there isn’t.
It’s an allergen filled world and there is no getting away from it. When it comes to deciding which allergen warnings are ok for you, I view it as a calculated risk. I personally choose as much as possible based on the way the warning is worded, what I know about the company, and what other products they make. These logical factors coupled with how I’m feeling usually are the way I come to a decision. But it all comes down to “am I willing to risk it?” And only you can make that decision for you own allergy.
Do you eat foods with warnings? If so, how do you decide which ones to go for? Leave a comment below and share your views.
So, Allergy Awareness Week UK is over, and Allergy Awareness Month USA is here! During Allergy Awareness Week I got some messages asking about how to travel with allergies and live with allergies, this has spurred me on to develop the Allergy Coaching and make some e-books and resources. So to make sure these resources cover everything and that they are useful to you I have created a short 10 questions survey. Please can you fill it in with as much details as possible and pass it on to any other allergy mums or allergy sufferers you know?
How do you build confidence in your kids with food allergies? Are there ways you can be intentional about building confidence and self-sufficiency? This is a question allergy parents ask me a lot, and the answer is “yes,” you can definitely be intentional in your parenting to raise confident allergy kids who can advocate and manage their allergy when you are not around.
You want your child to have the best in life, and when they have a food allergy that means they will have to learn to manage it confidently. But how? When I am working with allergy parents in coaching sessions this is a question that comes up a lot (listen to a coaching session here). They don’t want their child’s allergy to impact their live negatively but obviously can’t keep their child in a bubble their entire life. The answer I say is down to how you prepare them early in their life and primarily with how they think and approach their allergy management. Below I am talking about 4 of the most important things you can do to build confidence in your food allergy kid so when they grown up they are equipped to manage their allergy safely and not let it negatively impact their life.
Teach your child to own their food allergy and never feel sorry that they have one. Allergies are a fact of our lives and for those with anaphylaxis it is unlikely that they will ever grow out of it. When I was young my parents took this approach with me, the aim was that teach me to own my allergy in all areas of my life so that I was safe when my parents were not around. The fact that my parents never felt bad for me but took a practical approach to my allergy management meant that I didn’t grow up feeling sorry for myself. I was taught to see the problem and then work out a solution to the problem. It was, and still is in my life because I still have my allergy, to not think I’m missing out but to figure out how I can do things differently.
Don’t hide your child’s food allergy or how severe it is. Honesty is usually the best policy and I am sure when it comes to allergies that this is the way. My Mum calls it her Sleeping Beauty Theory: when the king finds out that sleeping beauty would die if his daughter pricked her finger on a spinning wheel, he made sure all the spinning wheels were removed from the kingdom. So Sleeping Beauty had never seen a spinning wheel before when the evil fairy turned up at the castle with. If Sleeping Beauty had known what a spinning wheel was and she would have known how important it was to avoid it and so not pricked her finger. It’s not about scaring your child, it’s about making them aware of what will make them sick so that they will take ownership and responsibility for their well being.
Make your child practice advocating for themselves. We all know to be good at something we have to practice and it is exactly the same when it comes to building confidence. So when you are looking to build confidence in your food allergy kid to advocate and manage their allergy you need to encourage them to ask the questions, help you read labels and tell people about their allergy. From my own experience of growing up with food allergies, my parents would remind me before we went to restaurant and ask whether I wanted to tell the waiter about my nut allergy (they had usually called ahead and checked before we got there, but I didn’t know at the time). Then when it came time they would guide and prompt me through the process. Each time I told a waiter the easier it got and the older I got the more confident I felt. The same came to telling my school friends, they all knew about my allergy and it never bothered any of them one bit. Every part of living my parents got my brother and I involved in so that we would learn, from the simplest thing of going food shopping and checking labels all the way to telling parents and teachers about my allergy.
Make sure your food allergy kid knows they can say “no” to food they are unsure of and that you will support them in their decision no matter what. This is one of the most important factors of building your child’s confidence and it is only when I was an adult reflecting on my experiences that I realised how much of an affect it had on my confidence. I remember my Dad saying many times growing up, especially when I was little, that “if you don’t think somethings safe, if you’re not happy about any food, you don’t eat it. EVEN if an adult is telling you its ok. You can say “no.” Don’t worry about getting in trouble because you won’t. We will deal with it.” I was a good child as well, one of those who always followed the rules, listened to adults and teachers, so defying an adult with the possibility to get in trouble was not a nice thought for me. But because I knew that I had my parents absolute support, that they trusted my decision even if they weren’t there empowered me as a little person to advocate for myself, and if that meant disagreeing with an adult, well then so be it. I could be or pretend to be confident in myself because I knew my parents trusted and believed in me.
I continue with my Allergy Awareness Week series tomorrow talking all about how to travel with allergies when you get thrown into the unexpected.
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If you have any questions on this post and would like to know more, book in a complimentary 15 minute consultation with me and get a tasted of allergy coaching. I am here to help and want you to empower you food allergy kid to be able to travel, have their dream career and explore this wonderful world! Send me an email today.
When you have a food allergy, there are misconceptions. But they are exactly that misconceptions. Here are 5 myths that I’m going to set the record straight about.
Food allergies cannot be cured with probiotics.
An allergic reaction is an autoimmune response in the body to a protein. Allergic reactions can range from mild too extreme. The extreme form of allergic reactions is called anaphylaxis which in the worst case can result in death. The research for the link between the gut and allergies is still very new. Food allergies cannot be cured by simply taking probiotics or those good bacteria yogurts you can get at the supermarket. Always talk to your doctor or a medical professional about allergy treatments.
Food allergies are not a fad or phase.
They are a bodily reaction to a protein that your immune system sees as a foreign invader, it is an autoimmune response. Allergies are not in your head, they’re not something you’re dreaming up. Food allergies are serious and need management so that you can stay allergy safe.
Food allergies do not make you weak.
The beauty about allergies about you know what makes you sick. This means is really easy to avoid those foods that make you sick. You are healthy just long as you avoid those allergens. It does not affect your ability to have friends. It’s your choice how you think about your allergy and what it means in your life.
Your food allergy does not rule your life.
Just because you or your child have an allergy does not mean you will miss out. You are the one in charge of your allergy, you are the one who can take ownership and you are the one who doesn’t need to let it define you.
Having a food allergy does not mean the world has to cater to you.
There are lots of people with allergies some with multiple severe allergies. Restaurants hotels and catering companies do you not have the responsibility to ensure that you have safe food to eat. These are privately owned businesses meaning they can do what they like. This will sound harsh but it’s true. Your allergy is your responsibility. Don’t give up the control over your life.
So what next…?
Sometimes when you don’t know where to start, it’s good to rule out what things are not. When you’re first diagnosed with a food allergy it can feel like the end of the world. The simple task of going food shopping is now a maze of the potentially deadly. Just starting out is frustrating but it wont stay that way.. Living with allergies is a constant process of education and like anything the more we practice the better we get.
Tomorrow’s blog post is number 2 in my Allergy Awareness Week series, I share the 4 most important things you can do to build confidence in your food allergy kids, a question that comes up regularly in coaching sessions.
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To Boycott or Not to Boycott Peter Rabbit?
We all remember that cheeky little rabbit in a blue coat. We had the whole collection which we read when I was growing up. The mischievous antics of the young Peter Rabbit. This new movie adaptation of the Beatrix Potter classic, however, has the world in uproar.
On the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes, usually a good reference of actual peoples views I find, has given it only 51%. Rather than the rascal rabbit we know and love, critics say in this movie, he is being portrayed as a violent and psychopathic jerk. Could this be true? Well I’m not sure, I haven’t seen the movie yet. But this is only part of the controversy.
What’s All The Fuss About?
Well, it comes down to allergies. One of the scenes in the movie showPeter Rabbit deliberately throwing blackberries at McGregor with the knowledge that he is severely allergic to them. The next scene is said to be of McGregor stabbing himself in the leg with his epinephrine. The uproar has come over the lack of remorse and lessons learned by the young rabbit and so many believe it shows this type of bullying to be ok.
Allergy awareness and campaign groups in the states have called for a boycott of the movie in protest. The question now is, do we still go? Or do we boycott?
The movie company has issued an apology for their lack of sensitivity to this topic, but it doesn’t seem to have appeased the many allergy parents out there.
The Two Sides
Last night I posted a link and short message on the Eat Allergy Safe facebook page and the comments were torn. One side included those who were completely against going to the movie and those who would wait and see to pass judgement but would prepare their allergic children for what they might see.
I fall into the second bracket. I’m going to wait and see. We all know the news like to sensationalise stuff, but I prefer not to be sensationalised. I want to watch it and make up my own mind. After the bad reviews, unrelated to allergies as well, it might just come down to a badly written movie all round.
Things To Think About
As this scene has caused concern, I wanted to offer a few things to think about if you’re still deciding whether to see the movie. Or if you’ve seen it and now upset by it. I find that it’s all about how can we use a situation to our advantage and promote allergy awareness.
First up, when do we ever get allergies so front and centre in the news?! I have fellow allergy bloggers who are working overtime to use this opportunity to present the allergy community on national television and radio channels to give the facts of having and living with a life threatening allergy. That is a win!
Second, the movie is depicting what is unfortunately actually happening in some classrooms. It is unfortunate that Peter Rabbit is depicted as the bully, but it does throw a light on the fact that allergy bullying is happening, and it is not funny. Deliberately forcing an allergen in as person is like going at someone with a knife. Having this in a movie that is going to be seen globally opens up the chance to talk about this issue and start changing it! But we have to know what we are up against and then take the emotion out of how we respond so that we can actually get people to listen.
Third, the world is not an allergen free place. It never will be. As much as people petition to ban this that and the other from anywhere and everywhere. It doesn’t solve the problem. Ignorant people will continue to be ignorant people until they agree to be educated. It is our job as allergy sufferers to own our allergy and SHOW the world how we live safely, carefully and happily. Our allergy is our responsibility so we need to act like it.
A Plea to Allergy Parents
If you are an allergy parent and reading this, I urge you to use these types of opportunities to teach your children how to start facing and conquering their allergy challenges rather than hiding them. Your children might be young but these challenges will be the same their whole life, they don’t change. Your child’s friends will also ask about the film to their allergic friend, so better to prepare them to answer the questions confidently. Why not get their friends involved in the allergy education.
By the way, people still say the same things from being a kid with a nut allergy to an adult who still has one…I’ve heard it all and now I’m barely ever surprised or bothered. This is because my parents never hid the darker (anaphylaxis can lead to death) part from me, they just kept educating and encouraged my taking responsibility for my allergy. [link to podcast episodes with mum and dad]
What Will You Decide?
The Peter Rabbit movie has just been released in the USA and we in the UK have to wait until March to find out what the actually is going on. For me, I will be going to see the movie and make up my own mind, and the above post lays out my mindset before I’m going in. I want to make a silver-lining and I am going to watch it with an open mind. I don’t know what I’ll find until I watch it.
If you’re still deciding whether to boycott the movie or not, just remember it is your decision. Make the decision you feel is right for you and don’t let yourself be pressured by anyone to watch or not watch the movie. It’s your money and time so use it how you like.
If you have questions or comments, I’d love for you to join the discussion. What are your thoughts on the Peter Rabbit movie and depiction allergy bullying in the media? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.