When my son, Andrew, first had a real, no doubt about it, reaction to peanuts, I came home from the pediatrician’s office and immediately threw out the peanut butter.
And then I looked around at the pantry, thinking “There’s no way it’s this easy.”
I remembered the pediatrician telling me that we needed to see a pediatric allergist immediately so that she could teach us how to handle the allergy. Our ped said “Peanuts are in everything.”
So I knew it couldn’t be as simple as throwing out the peanut butter. Indeed it wasn’t.
I sent a quick email to a friend who had dealt with peanut allergies in her child for years. She lives in England, so a phone call was out of the question. Then I called a dear friend in town and asked her to give me the scoop on peanut allergies. Nut allergies can become anaphylactic at any point, and we don’t know if it would happen on Andrew’s third time of eating nuts or his thirtieth, so diligence is important. One month later, when we were finally able to be seen by our pediatric allergist, her advice was completely identical to both friends’ advice, so I knew they had not steered me in the wrong direction.
So here are “The Rules.” If you’re like I was, thinking that it couldn’t be that hard to avoid nuts, think again. Check out The Rules so that you can really understand what’s going on when a friend tells you her child is allergic to peanuts*.
*Our toddler is allergic to peanuts and cashews, so both peanuts and tree nuts must be avoided. Do keep in mind that I am not a doctor, and I should not be giving you medical advice. If your doctor says to avoid something, please avoid it.
I’ve become a professional label reader. Anything that comes in a box or a package must be examined carefully before I put it in the grocery cart. Here’s what I’m looking for:
The Processing Question
Most people think that it’s going overboard to not permit him to eat anything processed with nuts. However, this was a rule laid out by the allergist, and if you have an understanding of plants and processing, you’ll know that multiple foods are processed in the same facility and even on the same lines.
So Stouffer’s Animal Crackers, for example, are processed with nuts. This means that a nut product was made on the same factory line. After that, the animal crackers were made. Nuts could be anywhere in the machinery, and a simple wash down would not be sufficient to ensure that no nuts were in the machinery, which is why Stouffer’s puts this information on the label.
The very next batch of animal crackers would probably be the ones at greatest risk for cross contamination. Am I getting that batch or am I getting a batch that’s probably safe? Who knows? It’s a gamble. And it’s a gamble that I’m not willing to take, especially with a 2 year old who can’t tell me if his tongue tingles or his throat is swelling.
It’s important to remember that this information is voluntary. Companies don’t have to put processing information on their labels. Processing also varies by location, so a food that’s safe for me may not be safe for someone in California. When I wrote a previous post about my mother’s diligence with avoiding nuts, someone asked me why couldn’t she Google the product on her iphone. It’s not that simple. An internet search of ingredients will tell you what the food contains. It will not, however, tell you what the food is processed with, because that varies across regions and even by month.
Typical unsafe foods are granola bars, chocolate, and various crackers, snack cakes (all Little Debbies), desserts, and breads. But I’ve also found oatmeal, barbecue sauce, and any number of random things that are also processed with nuts.