Sunday, October 19, 2008

What is Safe When You're Peanut Allergic?

DD is seriously allergic to peanuts and is also allergic to tree nuts, sesame, and maybe soy.

I know I should be home baking any treat she might have but it seems so much easier just to buy packaged cookies. I'm now researching brands that are safe to eat. It involves rather strange calculations - I guess that's just risk management. It's pretty easy to avoid peanuts and maybe even peanut products, the devil is in cross-contamination.

My DD's last reaction was months ago from a chocolate chip bakery cookie, somehow it must have gotten peanuts on it or in it. Okay, so we've learned that it is stupid to feed her bakery cookies - shared mixing tools or baking sheets are enough to cause a serious reaction in our child. So we avoid bakeries - but this also means avoiding baked goods. No baked goods means no birthday cakes, no cupcakes, no cookies - nothing, not at potlucks or for snack-time or at birthday parties. I think once we get this established it will be easier, but it's a little hard for us right now. That said, her last reaction was from a bakery cookie and in the ensuing months (pretty much until right now), she has eaten bakery items, birthday cakes, cookies, cupcakes, etc. It might make one ask why restrict them now? Because maybe we've been lucky and now that we know better, how can we accept that risk when it's so easy to just NOT eat them. And really, I should just be baking cookies on a weekly basis - it's not that hard and then I have worry free snacks.

This link summarizes some study's findings regarding warnings that are on packaged goods - basically, the lowest number is 12.5% of the time items with shared equipment or shared facility warnings actually contain peanuts. Sure, it's just some study, and I think we've beat the numbers because I'm sure DD has eaten items from a shared facility more than 8 times, but maybe I'm ready to stop playing the odds.

It's not always easy to get information on packaged goods. I guess I need to be calling customer service a lot. Again, it's the cross-contamination issue. It's easy enough to see if peanuts are listed in the ingedients, but it's the possibility of cross-contamination on shared equipment or in a shared facility that causes this worry. The laws regarding labeling do not speak to the issue of advisory labels such as "may contain" or about shared equipment or facilities. The labels you see now are voluntary, just because an item is not labeled as shared facility does not mean it was not produced in one, it just means that company didn't label it. And they don't have to. This is where the equation involves factoring in brands with good reputations for labeling. (There is actually an open comment period on this law, so you might want to look into this if it's an issue that impacts you).

I've seen lots of websites arguing either for or against the safety of the basic Oreo sandwich cookie. Lots of people trust Nabisco's labeling practices. While others, as a matter of common sense, do not trust an item where one of the versions contains peanut butter since you can't really know if they are run on the same production lines and therefore pose cross-contamination risks. So, are Oreos safe? I don't know, but we've been eating them but I think we'll stop and stick to our peanut-free facility Dare cookies.

It's beginning to feel like dealing with a food allergy is something out of a Clint Eastwood movie, "so you've got to ask yourself, do you feel lucky?"

1 comment:

e said...

Just to say that I'm so sorry you're having to deal with the allergy thing. Many of my parent-friends have to, and it's a nightmare.

Good wishes,