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Food Allergies and Intolerance

Curb Cross-Contamination
Watch for the warning "may contain ..." on processed foods. Manufacturers add that statement to alert you to the potential risk of cross-contamination. Cross-contamination occurs when machinery used to make one type of food that doesn't contain potential allergens is then used to produce another product that could contain allergenic ingredients. When manufacturers fail to properly clean the equipment, cross-contamination can occur. For example, when tiny fragments of nuts make their way into a nut-free cereal, the person eating it is prone to an allergic reaction. The same is true for deli meats purchased at the supermarket. Cheese and deli meats, such as ham, that contain added casein, a milk protein, are often sliced with the same equipment used for other milk-free deli products.

Dining Out Dilemmas
Cross-contamination is also an issue in restaurants, making dining out with an allergic child no easy task. For example, French fries that are cooked in the same oil as fried fish are benign for most people but problematic for those hypersensitive to fish. Meat seared on the same grill as a tuna steak poses a similar problem.

Then there are the ingredients used to concoct restaurant foods. Nuts used in cheesecake crusts and pasta sauces such as pesto are potentially problematic; so, too, is the peanut butter or other "secret" ingredients used to thicken soups and sauces. And when the chef decides to get creative, watch out. One night Tom and I met friends for dinner at a local restaurant. Joe, who is allergic to nuts, ordered the same pork tenderloin dish as I did. Mine came first to the table. His entree arrived a minute or so later, looking slightly different. He was just about to take a bite when I realized the difference between the two meals: chopped nuts. Someone in the kitchen had garnished his meal with nuts. The kicker is that nuts were never mentioned in the description of the dish. If they had been, Joe would have steered clear of that entree.

Allergy experts advise extreme caution when eating away from home. To avoid hazardous dining-out situations, always ask the wait staff about the ingredients in restaurant food, and let them know what foods you or your child must avoid. If your waiter seems to lack confidence in his answers, ask him to query the chef about how the dish is prepared and to alert the chef to your needs. Many chefs will be as accommodating as possible. Stick to plain foods such as broiled chicken or steak, and avoid deep-fried and grilled foods. Try to dine out early in the evening (which is easy to do with kids) and stay away from restaurants on Friday and Saturday nights. This will help you get the special meal you need for you or your child with a minimum of mistakes and aggravation.

Top Allergenic Foods
Eight foods account for 90 percent of all allergic reactions, says the Food Allergy Network. Peanuts are the leading cause of food allergies, affecting about 3 million Americans. Overall, an estimated 6 to 7 million Americans suffer from one or more food allergies.

When feeding infants new foods, watch for any of the following food allergies. Introduce just one food at a time so that you can track your child's sensitivity. Feed that single new food for about five days, unless your child is bothered by it.

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts such as walnuts and pecans
  • Shellfish, including shrimp, crab and lobster
  • Fish
  • Eggs*
  • Milk*
  • Soy*
  • Wheat*

*According to the American Dietetic Association, these allergies may disappear with time. Even though experts say cow's-milk allergy is the most common food allergy among children, kids tend to outgrow it by their fourth birthday.

At Day Care
Alert the staff at your child's day care center or kindergarten about his food allergy. Do what you can to educate them about your child's needs and about the importance of avoiding food allergy in general. A bit of planning can go a long way toward avoiding problems when your child is away from home.

Make a list of foods that provoke allergies in your child and write down emergency information about what to do when your child is negatively affected by food products. For example, not only is peanut butter problematic in the form of a sandwich, it can also be dangerous to a child with peanut allergies when used to make projects such as birdfeeders. Make sure all of his babysitters and teachers have the facts. Any medications your child needs should travel with him. A MedicAlert bracelet or necklace for your child is also a good idea.


Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth M. Ward. Excerpted from Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

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