Fearful Food Allergies

Food allergies are very dangerous to those who have them and allergies can be difficult to deal with.

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With DAIS being considered a transiiton period between allergy guidance and independence, the cafeteria has two peanut-free tables for students with peanut allergies. This is with the intent to keep everyone safe and increase children’s awareness of food allergies.

It’s a Saturday night and you were invited out to dinner with a group of friends that you haven’t seen in a while. A kind gesture, so you willingly accept. You get to the restaurant and are chatting with your friends while looking through the menu. 

The only problem is you have never been to the restaurant before and are unaware of the allergens in certain foods that have sparked your interest. The menu does not include an allergen notice for foods that contain them and the waiter might not be able to confirm whether the meal was allergen-free.

Dallastown student Jacob Fleming is allergic to peanuts and shellfish and works in the kitchen at The First Post.

“A big thing in the kitchen is to taste as you prep so that nothing bad goes out to customers, but things like when I make crab dip or candied walnuts, I do not know what to add so I have to get someone else to try it,” Fleming noted.

Fleming has over a year of restaurant experience as he worked at Stone Grill and Tap House for about a year before getting a job to cook at The First Post.

“The biggest piece of advice I could give is to make sure that you tell the server that you have an allergy, because if you just ask to not have something on your meal then there is a high chance of cross-contamination,” Fleming advised.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, the AAFA, food allergies affect over 32 million people in the US with each allergy being specific to the person.  

90% of food allergies are related to the top eight common allergens. Those are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish/shellfish, and sesame. 

Allergies range in severity from a mild reaction to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction to a food or substance that sometimes causes trouble breathing, facial swelling, skin reactions, a dramatically quickened or slowed heart rate, and much more. 

In the case of anaphylaxis, an epinephrine auto-injector, also known as an epi-pen, is administered to the individual which helps to slow the process of anaphylaxis but does not cure it. Immediately after being administered an epi-pen, the person must be admitted to the hospital for further evaluation and/or procedures. 

90% of food allergies are related to the top eight common allergens: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish/shellfish, and sesame.”

Back to the restaurant scenario. You decide to, despite the embarrassment, ask the waiter to find out if the meal contains ingredients that you’re allergic to, or even if there is a possibility of cross-contamination of substances. 

The waiter comes back to the table and informs you that the meal you asked about doesn’t contain your allergen. However, because of past experiences and the severity of your allergies, you’re leary of how trustworthy the report is. 

Even if, for example, you’re allergic to tree nuts and you order a salad without walnuts, there’s a possibility that the kitchen staff may just take a pre-made salad and take off the walnuts which pose a severe threat to those that are anaphylactic. 

This would be the case for Dallastown senior Michaela Long. Long has a severe tree nut allergy that impacts her daily life and she must remain diligent in preventing exposure.

I think it’s a huge struggle and it’s actually stressful when I go out to eat or someone asks me to go. I feel like I have to preview the menu to see if I can go to that place.”

— Mr. Miller, Learning Support

“Because of how severe my allergy is, anything that says may contain, I don’t eat because of the cross-contamination concern. Everywhere I go I ask if there is a shared kitchen area and I always have my Epi-pen on me at all times. I also have to be extremely careful about who I eat around,” Long explained.

You can feel the tension in the air as your friends are all ready to order and you are still looking through your potential possibilities on the menu. 

Eating out presents a substantial concern to those with food allergies. There is never a guarantee that the meals are safe and food that seems innocent may cause a significant issue.

For some, even being in the environment of their allergen or coming into physical contact with it can cause a reaction. These reactions can be difficult to deal with, whether it’s an itchy skin rash, a nagging stomach pain, or a dazed, seemingly insurmountable feeling. 

Dallastown learning support teacher Mr. Miller battles celiac disease. Celiac is an allergy to gluten and like all other allergies, ranges in severity. Miller has a severe reaction to gluten.

“I think it’s a huge struggle and it’s actually stressful when I go out to eat or someone asks me to go. I feel like I have to preview the menu to see if I can go to that place,” Miller said.

Going out to eat, whether, with friends, family, or individually is looked at by most as an enjoyable experience. For those with food allergies, it is not always that way.

“Something that should be fun and you should be able to enjoy is actually stressful for me. I can’t even order french fries because they could’ve been fried in the same oil as say chicken tenders,” Miller expressed.

Being careful and aware of your allergies can only go so far. Sometimes, it’s best to stick to restaurants that you know are safe for you and you feel comfortable eating at, but that could also mean a higher price tag.

“Eating gluten-free means you’re paying more. A roll or bun is about $2 more and your bill is gonna be automatically higher. Also, Jersey Mike’s has always done an outstanding job keeping gluten-free options,” Miller mentioned.

In a school environment, allergies become particularly dangerous to students. Whether students are unsure about buying the cafeteria food, their friends they eat lunch with bringing/buying foods containing their allergen(s), or even sitting at a table that a previous student sat at, can be stressful for students, and the possibility of having an allergic reaction arises.

At the Dallastown Area Intermediate School, there are strict guidelines surrounding food allergies in hopes to suppress the chance of reactions. DAIS school nurse Beth Boyd is one of many that strive to continue these allergen safety precautions at the school on a daily basis.

It takes a village to help keep our students with food allergies safe – from nursing to teachers to custodial staff to fellow students. Good hygiene before and after eating is always important and it is one way we can help reduce inadvertent cross-contamination.”

— DAIS Nurse Beth Boyd

“We have a peanut-free table in our cafeteria [and] we also have a school stock of EpiPens stored in our cafeteria near the peanut-free table,” Boyd described.

There are also unique methods Boyd uses when there are treats brought into classrooms or for special occasions. 

“When treats are provided to students through the PTO or class events, I receive nutrition information about the treat… I then run an allergy report for the grade or building depending on who is receiving the treat to then create a list of students who have to have an alternative treat due to allergies/other food concerns,” Boyd stated.

Even holidays like Halloween prove to be difficult for those with allergies. Trick-or-treating becomes impossible and goodies distributed among students are dangerous.

At DAIS, the most common allergies are peanut and lactose intolerance, closely followed by gluten/celiac allergies. At the high school level, the most frequent allergies are to tree nuts and peanuts. 

DAHS school nurse Whitney Sams shared her experience with food allergies and anaphylaxis.

“I have only ever given epinephrine once in my 10-year career for a student who was having an allergic reaction.  He was unaware of his peanut allergy and ate a Snickers bar and went into full-blown anaphylaxis immediately,” Sams explained. 

Every school follows the same guidelines when it comes to an allergic reaction. If the case is mild, antihistamines are provided, but if it’s severe, the individual should be given epinephrine and 911 and the individual’s guardians must be called immediately.

It is important to recognize the severity of food allergies and they must not be taken lightly. For you, that peanut butter and jelly may be the lunch of choice, but for your peer, it may mean a trip to the hospital.