This post is dedicated to the parents of kids with life threatening allergies. I've managed my fish and nut allergies pretty successfully all my life, and was raised to read labels and question ingredients. But accidents happen. In this post, I've laid out some strategies that have worked for me personally, and explanations about what it feels like to have an anaphylactic reaction, and why I act stupidly sometimes with the hope that it provides a bit of clarity to parents whose allergic kids may not be able to fully communicate during an allergy attack.
The nuances of allergies can be complicated to explain to outsiders. For example, the reaction my body has to a walnut is far more severe than the reaction to a Brazil nut and yet they both cause anaphylaxis. Same with various fish. Over the years, I've unfortunately had the opportunity to gather this detailed data and have listed my top three tips below for eating out of my home. Sometimes, even after nearly four decades, I make mistakes and eat something that causes a bad allergic reaction. I have to live with this burden of guilt and regret when this happens and at the same time, I'm incredibly grateful to live. This weekend was my first allergic reaction in three years, and the first time that I've needed the epi pen since 2010. I'm still a work in progress.
My strategies for eating out
1. Avoid. There are many foods that I avoid completely and only eat if I've made myself because I've been burned in the past. This includes foods like pesto (walnuts), banana bread (walnuts), barbecue sauce (anchovy) and marshmallows (fish gelatin). If I'm at all doubtful that a food is safe, I don't eat it. There are plenty of other options in the world.
2. Lip Test. I usually do a "lip test," where I put a suspicious food on my lips and wait a few minutes. If I'm allergic, I'll get a hive immediately and I know not to eat the food. I've been enormously fortunate with this strategy and would recommend it to anyone with known food allergies that react immediately to contact with skin. If you aren't sure whether your skin reacts, and you have been told otherwise by your allergist, this wouldn't be an option for you.
3. Clean Hands and Utensils for All. When I'm at the grocery store, the bakery or anywhere else that I may be purchasing food where there are known allergens and potential cross contamination, I ask whomever is helping me to put on a fresh pair of gloves. I request newly washed ice cream scoopers, newly washed tongs, you name it. These days, many people are accommodating to the request. If it's an issue, however, you should question whether you want to spend a penny at that establishment.
Note: these are things that have worked for me, but if your gut says it wouldn't be a smart experiment for you or for your child, or if your doctor has cautioned you not to vary at all from her recommendations, obviously do what feels right. This is not clinical advice by any means.