Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ideas for safe classroom treats

My friend Lori emailed me this week, with a problem that seems to be pretty common these days. She volunteered to be a room mom for her son's classroom, which mostly entails planning the parties throughout the school year. She received a list of the food allergies in the class. They include: peanut, sesame, dairy, wheat, and green vegetables. (Do you think one of the kids made up the green vegetables allergy?)

Lori's question was 'what the heck kind of snacks can I get with such a limited choice? Here's the kicker, they need to be pre-packaged and individually wrapped!'

Here were a few of my suggestions, that might help some other room moms out there! Please keep in mind, you should still read the ingredient list every time. Ingredients can change without warning and cross-contamination statements are not mandatory. (Bold items below are links to ingredient info)

The following snacks are free of the top 8 allergens:
Dum Dum lollipops
Snack-sized packs of Skittles
Kelloggs Fruit Flavored Snacks
Snack-sized bags of Lays Classic Potato Chips (be careful of other brands that use peanut oil)
Snack-sized bags of Frito's (original flavor)
Snack-sized bags of Tostitos Natural corn/tortilla chips
Popsicles (read ingredients)

Healthier Options:
small boxes of raisins
individual apple-sauce cups
fruit (apples, bananas) if allowed?

Sun Chips (original flavor) and Rold Gold pretzels would be good if none of the kids in the class had a wheat allergy. Do not buy Snyder's pretzels due to cross-contamination issues. They make peanut-butter pretzels in their plant.

There are some great companies that make allergy-free cookies and treats on dedicated equipment.  Home Free is one of those companies, and they make good chocolate chip cookies, chocolate-chocolate chip, and oatmeal cookies that you can buy individually wrapped, in a case of 12.
Surf Sweets makes allergy-free 8 oz snack size packages of jelly beans, sour berry bears, and gummy bears.

I told Lori that even if she provides safe treats, some of the kids with allergies might say no because they are trained not to eat anything that they're unsure of. Our school district requires that parents are given a 3-day advance notice of a classroom treat or party, so the parents of kids with allergies have time to provide an alternative safe treat.

Thanks, Lori – for being so kind and considering safe snacks! There are a lot of people out there that would have blown it off and bought treats without giving it a second thought. In our case, if our girls accidentally ate a treat that wasn't safe, it would likely result in an anaphylactic reaction.
And even if they don't eat the unsafe food, the residue left on other kids hands and desks from these treats can cause their skin to break out in welts or hives. If they touch the food and rub their eyes or face, it can get bad.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

'Natural Flavoring' can contain food allergens

Natural flavoring is a "catch all" term used on food labels and merits special scrutiny for those of us reading labels for a food allergic child.

According to the current U.S. F.D.A. food labeling regulations:
"The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional."

The new labeling law effective in 2006, The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), requires manufacturers to declare if one or more of the 8 major food allergens are contained in a natural flavoring. The top 8 major food allergens are defined as: milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.

If you are managing food allergies other than the top 8 major food allergens, however, the new law will not be of assistance to you in identifying the sources in any natural flavoring stated on a label.

In conclusion:
  • Natural flavoring can be derived from just about anything made from a natural source! Major allergens like peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, wheat, fish and seafood can hide in natural flavorings as can countless other food-derived flavorings derived from other "natural" sources.
  • New product labeling after 2006 will help with products that contain natural flavoring derived from the top 8 major allergens, but some old packages may still be on the shelves from 2005 and will not contain the updated labeling requirements.
  • For allergens other than the top 8 major food allergens, don't make any assumptions about the safety of natural flavoring; be sure to check with the manufacturer to be sure it is safe for your child's unique allergy issues.
From Kids with Food Allergies.
Reference: Food and Drug Administration. (2004). Foods; labeling of spices, flavorings, colorings and chemical preservatives. In Food Labeling. (21CFR101.22). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office via GPO Access. Retrieved June 7, 2005 from:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cross Contamination Warnings are Voluntary

I was at a birthday party today, and we were discussing food allergies and school.
Now that Ohio has passed House Bill 1, our school district has a new rule: all treats that are sent into classrooms have to be individually wrapped, with nutrition and ingredients listed on the package. I happened to mention that this was a Catch-22, because now foods being sent in will be from a bakery, where there is a higher chance of cross-contamination. Someone else said 'yeah, but that would be listed on the label'. Well, that's where it gets tricky.
Did you know that cross contamination warnings are voluntary? Even if a company makes cupcakes on shared equipment with cookies that contain nuts (or other allergens), they are not required to state this on their packaging.
So how can you tell if a product is safe for your child with food allergies? Please read Is Your Food Really Allergy Safe? from the Kids with Food Allergies website. And when in doubt, call the manufacturer!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Nut Allergy Skeptic Learns the Hard Way

Joel Stein wrote this article about food allergies for the Los Angeles Times in 2009. The article started with: “Your kid doesn’t have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special. Your kid also spends recess running and screaming, “No! Stop! Don’t rub my head with peanut butter!”

He recently apologized in his Time Magazine column after finding out that his one-year old son Laszlo has a nut allergy. Check out the column here.

I'm glad that he apologized, but it's disheartening to know that there are so many people out there that think food allergies are made up by parents wanting attention. I've seen both of our kids have anaphylactic reactions, and for someone to say that allergies are 'mass hysteria' is just ridiculous. I try not to let negative or ignorant comments affect me, but sometimes it's hard not to get angry!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chinese herbal therapy and food allergies

A Chinese herbal therapy that may prevent life-threatening reactions to food allergies will enter the next stage of the FDA approval process. This looks to be be very promising! Learn more about this research here.