Food Allergies - The Silent Killers

Food Allergies - The Silent Killers

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Is Peter Pan a war criminal? It is a proven fact that Peter Pan is responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. No, not THAT Peter Pan. Peter Pan, Smuckers, Skippy, Jif and all brands of peanut butter are potential killers for people who are severely allergic to peanuts and peanut products. Did you know that one of the ingredients in some flavors of Jelly Belly jelly beans is peanut flour? Did you know that food, processed in equipment that has previously processed food containing peanuts, may be as lethal to the severely allergic as food containing peanuts? If your answer is No, then read on. Here is a story that sounds like something from Stephen King.

True food allergies are rare. The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) estimates that only 2% of the adult population of the United States is allergic to foods. Further, only eight foods cause 90% of all food allergic reactions. They are milk, egg, wheat, peanut, soy, tree nuts, fish and shellfish (Food Allergy Network). Many reactions to foods are really intolerance (reaction of the metabolism due to a chemical deficiency) rather than allergy (reaction of the immune system). Many infant allergies, which are later outgrown, are thought to be the result of immature immune systems. However, other allergies become stronger as the person ages and inadvertently becomes more exposed. One report on KCBS radio indicated there may be a link between mothers who ate peanuts during pregnancy and their children’s subsequent allergies.

One of the reactions to peanut allergies is anaphylaxis which is characterized by swelling of the mouth and throat, a feeling of panic or dread, followed by a drop in blood pressure, unconsciousness and death. I was on a Southwest Airlines flight to Los Angeles and the snack being served was peanuts. People all around me were eating peanuts. The aroma of peanuts pervaded the airplane. There was no place for me to go to get away from the smell. Panic crept in, even though I knew I had not eaten a peanut or touched a bag of peanuts. On another flight I ate a muffin that was specifically labeled and supposedly contained no peanuts. However, it did contain something that brought on the panic. What can you do at 30,000 feet? Not much. I asked the attendant if there was a doctor on board and she said no, but they could divert the plane to the nearest airport and have a doctor waiting.

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If it had been true anaphylaxis, I would have been dead by then.

People with severe food allergies become avid label readers because abstinence is the only sure way to avoid a reaction. However, reading labels does not guarantee that the product contains only what is on the label. Several years ago Safeway Stores was sued because Lucerne brand rocky road ice cream contained peanuts instead of the almonds listed on the package. In August, 1996, KCBS radio announced that Safeway was removing specific batches of Mrs. Wright's chocolate chip cookies from store shelves because there was a possibility that peanuts were in the cookies. Even knowing what should be in a product guarantees nothing. For instance, I learned in my Chemistry 109 course at DVC that olive oil is sometimes cut with other, cheaper oils, including peanut oil, to make the product more profitable. The severity of these allergies is especially dangerous to children who may not be believed when they say they are having trouble breathing because they ate a piece of chocolate cake.

One way to determine if a person is truly allergic to something is to have a bttery of allergy tests done. These tests can be the standard skin scratch test, blood tests or elimination and challenge tests (Rare but Risky 9). The challenge test includes the use of blind or double blind challenges where the doctor in charge may or may not know if the substance being ingested is a potential threat or not. The challenge test is done to exclude the imagination from controlling the result.

People who have tested positive for severe true food allergies should carry either an Epipen or an Anakit for emergencies. Both are forms of adrenaline that can be self-injected to reduce swelling and bring the blood pressure up to a more normal level. Neither is meant as a cure, only a stop-gap until medical treatment can be reached. The Epipen is easier to use because it is just pushed against the skin but it only provides one dose. The Anakit is a hypodermic needle with a double dose available. I carry an Anakit with me at all times. Ive never had to use it, but Im not about to challenge a peanut butter sandwich to find out how it works.

An additional precaution for children is to make sure school administrators and day care staff know and understand the consequences of the allergy. A Medic-Alert bracelet is also a good idea (Life-Threatening Allergies).

In 1991 Anne Munoz-Furlong founded The Food Allergy Network to give support and information to parents of children with true food allergies. I found The Food Allergy Network while doing research for this paper. The most amazing material on this web site is the Product Alert section It lists information provided by manufacturers whose products are not as listed in the ingredients or that may have a formulation change that may impact people with allergies or that may have been produced in equipment that had not been properly cleaned from the prior product. These alerts are sponsored by the manufacturer and The Food Allergy Network. An example is:

August 14, 1996

To: All Food Allergy Network Members

From: The Food Allergy Network and The Kellogg Company

Kellogg USA wishes to notify Food Allergy Network members of a few reports of consumers finding packages of KELLOGG'S FROSTED BRAN cereal mixed with another Kellogg cereal which contains peanuts. The KELLOGG'S FROSTED BRAN packages have a Carton Number K-1360H and "Better If Used Before" product code of APR 26 1997 NA 09 printed on the boxtop. No other Kellogg products are affected.

Kellogg wants those with peanut allergy to be alerted and has initiated action to remove than product from warehouses and grocery shelves. The Kellogg Company has funded this mailing to make you aware of this situation.

Food Allergy Network Members with a 19.9 oz. KELLOGG'S FROSTED BRAN cereal package with the Carton Number K-1360H and Better If Used Before product code of APR 26 1997 NA 009 printed on the boxtop should call Kellogg Company at 1-800-527-1557 for replacement.

Happily, people without computers can receive the Product Alerts also by contacting

The Food Allergy Network 4744 Holly Ave. Fairfax, VA 22030-5647 (703) 691-3179

The horror stories about people who have died because they ate peanuts or peanut products that they didn't know were there go on and on. The main source of survival is education of people who have these allergies, their families and those close to them.

Works Cited

The Food Allergy Network.

KCBS News Report. August 30, 1996.

Life-Threatening Allergies

Rare but Risky. FDA Consumer Magazine May 1994.
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