Sunday, October 12, 2014
common misconceptions about cross contaminated food allergens
I keep running into these problems, so I thought maybe I should write them down. This is why I no longer 'eat out' or pick up food from a deli or eat anyone else's cooking, no matter how stringent they think they are controlling for my specific food allergens. These are real examples I have experienced with certified professionals, trained food handlers, family members, and the general public. All of the professionals and workers in this list were informed of specific food allergies ahead of time.
1. A top chef in a Japanese steak house assured me he didn't cook with lemon, and indeed cooked my entire meal in front of me with no lemon. I was very glad I had enough benadryl on me to control the reaction I started having with the first bite and on through the meal to the point where, when our meals were all done being cooked, he sliced a lemon in half and cleaned the grill with it. Lemon seared onto a hot grill puts lemon into every bite of food that comes off that grill. That reaction went on for several hours on 150 mg of benadryl, and I was later watched in a clinic.
2. A massage therapist with a doctorate in physical therapy believed it was enough to use hand sanitizer after eating peanut butter before touching my bare skin with her bare hands, even after I had alerted her to intense skin reactions to even the most minute amount of anything peanut. Hand sanitizer doesn't 'kill' peanut allergen. A food allergen is not a germ. Smearing alcohol on anything oily doesn't magically make that oily substance inert. This came up three times between us in three different sessions. I finally had a genuine skin reaction one day that scared several therapists (my upper back and neck turned a brilliant flaming red that looked like a very bad sunburn) and I had to take benadryl before I left the building. It never happened again after that, and she stopped arguing with me about it. I personally wonder if she experimented on me because she thought I was making too big a deal about having such a dramatic food reaction.
3. A pizza place locally famous for making pizzas with various nut toppings (which I was not aware of until I walked in) offered to make me a nut-free pizza on a cleaned off counter, but the cook didn't switch her gloves out. Touching a food with gloves and touching another food with the same gloves is cross contamination, no matter how stringently you have purged and cleaned your work area and use all different dishes for the food. Thankfully I actually saw this happen since the cook's work space was open to the public. It's just best never to go inside an establishment that serves nuts and have surfaces and people all around you coated with what could be toxic to one's self, if you have a nut allergy.
4. I ordered water without lemon in a very nice restaurant assuming that would be safe. As the waitress started across the room toward our table, she suddenly went 'oh' and stopped, set the tray down, and delicately fished a lemon slice out with her fingers, then served that glass to me when she reached our table, thinking I hadn't seen her. Removing a food from a dish doesn't remove the allergen and the risk for reaction. While the rest of you go ew, her fingers, I'm going holy cow I could have wound up in a hospital if I hadn't seen that. I have never trusted anyone to serve me water since then. Same goes for coffee, after watching a woman slice lemons and then grab a clean coffee cup by the rim for me with one of her fingers inside without washing her hands first. Again, if I hadn't seen that happen...
5. I ordered water in a sandwich shop and was handed a cup to take to a soda fountain, which shared a spigot for iced tea with lemon with plain water when switched. When I went back to ask for tap water because of a lemon allergy, the server couldn't understand what the problem was. Running water doesn't remove a food allergen all by itself. Not having any idea how long that spigot had lemon building up on it without being cleaned isn't even relevant. My water being exposed to any lemon at all was unacceptable. That also goes for clear soda spigots that share to plain water, since most clear sodas are a 'lemon-lime' flavor.
6. I ordered breakfast out thinking what problem could I possibly run into just ordering pancakes, eggs, and bacon. As I was shoveling it down (I was starving) and realizing it was happening again, I happened to glance up through a doorway and saw a cook wipe a pan out on his apron. Having cooked professionally myself, I suddenly thought oh yeah, Hollandaise sauce, which has lemon in it. If the pan my food had been cooked in had been used multiple times through the morning and wiped on a common apron (I swear I was in a nice restaurant, not a 'greasy spoon'), then it was likely my food was cross contaminated. Wiping a pan out doesn't remove a food allergen, and heat doesn't 'kill' an allergen. Even though my waitress had strict instructions to keep all citrus away from my dishes and food, a cook in a hurry had me racing to the ER on a Sunday morning because all the walk in clinics and urgent cares were closed.
Other reactions in public places have happened, but those are the biggies where you'd assume that alerting your server and cook would make your food safe. Alas, I have to be much more vigilant than that, as in this next example.
One of my worst hand reactions (puffing, redness, really bad itching) was after I'd been pushing a cart in a store. Either the wipes other people had used to 'clean' the handle were spiked with refreshing lemon, or someone had been eating some of the free food samples while they shopped that I avoid like the plague. I had to go wash my hands vigorously with soap a couple of times and take benadryl. While the rest of you freak out about germs on your cart, I freak out about you all touching everything and me dying from it. By the way, wipes don't 'clean' cart handles. Hospitals use disinfectant wipes that are so strong you have to wear gloves to handle them, so the puny wipes offered by stores for cart handles are only there for your peace of mind, and they certainly don't magically remove peanut butter... It doesn't mean you don't have to go wash your hands after touching things other people touch.
Since I brought up washing my hands, I'd like to ask the public to please stop stocking citrus scented soap in public restrooms. I've learned that not using soap is safer for me in public, which goes against all good advice during flu season. I've thought about carrying my own soap, but I seem to be just as well off never putting my hands near my face while I'm not home, since the point of entry for germs is eyes, ears, nose, and especially mouth. Then when I get home I wash my hands and change my clothes.
Back to food. I was once told by a family member that a special recipe had been prepared especially for me at a holiday gathering. As awkward as it was, I asked to see all the ingredients so I could check labels. Something as seemingly innocuous as ketchup with 'natural flavors' had me apologizing for not eating what was prepared especially for me (many acidic foods are flavor boosted with lemon, which doesn't have to be listed as an ingredient by law), and ever since I have instructed everyone around me that it's ok, don't worry about me, eat what you like to eat. I will take care of me, and I will be careful around you and your food, or won't come over if it's a really big deal (peanut butter pie, lol), because I think other people should enjoy their food. I have learned to eat before I visit with other people and I'm working on being a good conversationalist to help distract from being awkward because it's weird when other people feel guilty when I'm not eating, and it makes me uncomfortable that they're uncomfortable.
I no longer order coffee out, or any other drink. I bring only sealed bottled drinks everywhere I go, even if the place I'm in sells them, so other people won't have to handle my bottle. I pack my meal or snack in a Spiderman lunch box and take it into restaurants with me. I wear a medical alert bracelet in case there are questions, and so far no one has had any problems with me doing this. I've never been kept out of or told to leave an establishment because I brought my own food and drinks. I remain aware at all times that allergens surround me, could be on any surface or object, and will probably be on someone's hand when I shake it. I still hug people (I've had reactions doing that) and shake hands, but I'm very careful to wash my hands frequently and never touch the food I bring with me with my bare hands while I'm out in public.
I carry medications on me everywhere I go in case I have a reaction. It's not anyone else's fault I'm difficult. However, sooner or later, we all know someone who knew someone who had a near fatal reaction in a public place, and some of us wind up with kids who have food allergies. It's important that we all become more aware of why protocol is protocol (actual hand washing vs sanitizer, food handling, etc) and that everything we do affects the people around us either positively or negatively.
Something to think about- we know how we feel about a drunk driver killing a child, right? How about a negligent food preparer/server who inadvertently kills a child with a severe food allergy because they were in a hurry and/or dishonest?
For people who still don't get how heart rending it is to never know if your child will come home from school each day, and a question I feel coming on of whether food allergies are the new 'racism' (very first comment)- What it feels like to be the food allergy mom (click) by Katherine Martin. This is also basically how I feel about being the only person on board a plane who can single handedly shut down the snack venue and has to hear angry people demand to know where the peanuts are and why they can't have any. I can't tell you how terrifying it is to feel trapped in a small place jammed full of people who have been snacking on nuts and no chance of escape for several hours and I don't dare touch anything.
I'm the sort of person who is able to stand up and confront in public, not because I'm brave, but because I'm not afraid of looking stupid. There are a lot of people in this world who will never tell you they are having pain or panic or some kind of reaction going on because they are timid and afraid. It especially gets dumb when the public misunderstands what the problem actually is and nearly kills someone trying to 'save' them because they don't have a lick of sense when the person in crisis isn't able to speak well for themselves. It's human nature to be judgmental, and people with challenges live in continual judgement everywhere they go. Your kindness and consideration could literally be life saving. It feels really good to know your presence might have actually saved someone's life. Imagine knowing you saved someone else's child and kept a very bad day from happening for the people who love that child.
That's what food allergies are all about, Charlie Brown.
:edit: 10-13-14 This link was given to me privately.
Vaccines and the Peanut Allergy Epidemic
While I disagree over the origin of autism (I was unvaccinated for the most part as a child and come from a Mennonite family history, which indicates genetics, also based on other family member personality types and behaviors), I am shocked at the prevalence of peanut ingredient as a main vaccine excipient for so many years, and that this was known and unpublished to the public. I have not researched the truth of this article. In personal retrospect, to be fair, my peanut allergy did not begin until my 40's, and by then I'd had a number of shots throughout my adulthood. I also have multiple food allergies (autoimmune reaction disorder), all recent in the last 5 or so years, so I can't blame my own stuff on a simple swipe at demonic vaccinations. Vaccinations do still save lives (I grew up with disabled polio victims and people going deaf and developing heart complications and even retardation from hard measles, among other diseases), and prevent quarantinable epidemics (I remember those, too), so I'm still on the fence with vaccines.