Friday, February 13, 2009

A Little Bit Soapy, A Little Bit Boxy

I hate Valentine's Day.

No I'm not single. I'm not bemoaning the commercialization of the holiday. I'm not even cursing Hallmark for creating a holiday to fatten their coffers.

I'm sitting here going through my little boy's candy he brought home from school. He even decorated a special paper bag to bring it home in as part of his art project. And I am performing the dreaded task of telling him there's precious little in it that he's allowed to eat.

He is allergic to tree nuts. Just like it sounds, this is any nut that grows on a tree, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, macadamias, etc.

Peanuts do not grow on trees and they are not actually a nut. They are a legume and more closely related to soybeans.

Other people often do not understand the concept that someone can be allergic to one and not the other. I'm sure I assumed peanut allergy was the same as a nut allergy before I became an "Allergy Mom."

Jamie is not allergic to peanuts. He has been tested twice and eats peanut butter regularly.

Recently we began cautiously allowing Jamie to eat products that have the warning "Processed in a plant that processes peanuts" because he is not, in fact, allergic to peanuts. I knew that many adults did not and could not understand this difference between a peanut and various tree nuts (sometimes even after I've explained it to them), but I would expect a manufacturer, that is required BY LAW to list all known allergens in the ingredients, to make it their business to know the difference.

Then I read this from the FAAN (The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network) Product-Related Member Calls:

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites - (Name removed to protect privacy) called to report that her 13-year-old daughter, who is allergic to tree nuts but not peanuts, had a reaction. The product, made by Taste of Nature, Inc. indicates that it contains "traces of peanuts." (Privacy) saw this, and since tree nuts are not peanuts, she interpreted the fact that they warned about one allergen as a good indication that the manufacturer was careful and that the product would be safe. Her daughter took a few bites and said she felt funny in the throat. The reaction was mild compared to others she has had, but it frightened them and caused them to rush to the doctor's office. After taking Benadryl and Zyrtec she was fine. When (Privacy) called the company at 1-800-89 TASTE to report the reaction, she was told that the product is made on the same line as a product containing walnuts and "that's why we put 'traces of peanuts' on the label."

When I read something like this, why do I get the overwhelming urge to clap my hand to my head A La Homer Simpson and proclaim "DOH!"?? It literally astounds me that someone who is in the business of food manufacturing would assume that placing "contains traces of peanuts" on their label would enable someone to realize that it actually may also contain walnuts.

And I now feel myself sliding back to the bad place. The bad place where I am scared to allow my 4 year old son a piece of candy. The bad place where even things like bread and pasta and soups are scary. The bad place where every item of food is suspect, because I don't even trust the warnings on the labels.

And when there is no warning on the label do I assume that is because the food is safe, or just that there is no warning on the label?

My son is precious. Russian roulette is not my sport.


Mary K Brennan said...

That truly is terrifing. My children do not have food allergies but I have talked to other moms who share your fears. I think it's even more frightening during these early years because you're his only advocate. It will get easier as he gets older and learns to ask the questions you do every day. Good job Mom!

Norkio said...

My uncle lived with a lot of food allergies his whole life - 76 years. When he was young in the 30s and 40s his parents were Allergy Parents in a world where people barely understood that an allergy could kill. You are doing a great job MB. I can't advise you on what to trust or not, but I know you will make good decisions based on the best information you have.