It wasn’t so long ago that the news of peanut butter in any food made me start to salivate. If an ice cream shop added a peanut butter sundae to their menu, I ran out to try it. A bakery made a new pastry with PB, I was there the next day. I loved the stuff and ate it daily on a sandwich, on crackers or right off of a spoon. That was until my first-born, then 2 years-old, had a serious skin reaction after being kissed by her grandfather who had eaten a peanut butter cup twenty minutes before. That week, after a blood test and skin prick test, we found out she had a very severe peanut allergy.
Peanut butter became the enemy because it now was a dangerous and deadly poison. It could kill her and I was reminded daily about it when I saw the Epi-pen I had to carry with us everywhere we went.
Any parent of a child who has a food allergy understands this and according to the journal Pediatrics there are 5.9 million children with food allergies in the US, so there are a lot of us. A tiny peanut, not actually a nut but a legume, is enough to make us nuts.
My anxiety level decreased a bit over the years through lots of education and precaution. Peanut-free bakeries started to open up, manufacturers started selling peanut and nut-free products and schools started training faculty to understand allergies and use Epi-pens. But I have to be an advocate. I have to constantly remind people about what it means to have an allergy. That just because that cupcake you want to give my child doesn’t have a peanut IN it, doesn’t mean it’s safe for her. I have to avoid the looks and rolled eyes I get from some parents who think I’m just being an alarmist, overprotective mom. I’m not and even if perhaps I were, I’d much rather be overprotective than to take a chance with my daughter’s life.
But there are times that that anxiety creeps back in, like last week when I read about a 7-year-old Virginia girl who died at school after having an anaphylaxis reaction with no Epi-pen available. Currently only a few states have legislation to allow schools to have a stocked supply of Epi-pens to use on any child in need. That means in most states if a child is having an anaphylaxis reaction, the school cannot administer an Epi-pen, even if it has dozens in hand, if it wasn’t prescribed for her. All it can do is call 911. The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act would change this if it’s approved.
Yesterday I found out Cheerios, a cereal that we’ve been eating since my daughter was an infant, is now making a Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter flavor. I immediately was upset and I wasn’t alone. I started reading lots of Tweets from other allergy parents upset with Cheerios. We wondered if that meant regular, good old Cheerios would now be off limits because of cross-contamination. Some moms of young children were upset that they looked almost exactly like Multi-Grain Cheerios and therefore their child might be confused and accidentally eat one on a playdate. The Washington Post wrote about it and has included Cheerios response, which says, “Cheerios has a commitment to allergen management. We can say with complete confidence that MultiGrain Peanut Butter Cheerios will not cross-contaminate other Cheerios varieties.”
Well that’s a relief! I bet Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter are delicious, and I would have loved it years ago, but now they are just another thing that causes anxiety. Things like that happen often. Dunkin Donuts’s Munchkins used to be safe until they the company started making peanut butter cookies. Rita’s Ice used to be a great summer treat until last year when they added peanut butter and Reese’s Pieces to the menu. It’s why I learned to read product labels each and every time I make a purchase. Companies add new products or switch factories frequently and the safety of a food product changes.
It’s important to know and truly understand everything there is to know about food allergies. This Facts and Statistics sheet by The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) is helpful. I highly recommend seeing a pediatric allergist and one who will let you sit with him/her for as long as it takes for you to ask every question you need to. Food allergies are not something to be taken lightly.
It’s not all bad though. There are many good things: the parents who really get it and have asked to be trained to use an Epi-pen so I can drop off my kid for a playdate, the school nurse who sits with me every year to fill out an IHP (Individual Health Program) so all precautions are in place to make school safe and, best of all, my 8-year-old who when at the many times finds out she can’t have something at a party or a restaurant, just shrugs and says, “Okay, that’s not safe, I’ll just have something else.”