Monday, March 29, 2010

Lupin Allergy in Europe

by Kelley Lindberg

It’s that time of year when families everywhere start looking ahead to vacations. Daffodils are blooming, travel brochures are arriving in the mail, and wanderlust is itching at our toes. I’ve started planning a dream vacation – a European adventure! We’re going to spend a day and a half in Paris, then head to Italy for nearly two weeks.

While I’m looking at airline fares, train schedules, and websites full of scenic photos (I’m going to look just like that fabulously fashionable model sipping wine at that sidewalk café in her size 0 sundress, honest!), I also have been thinking about my son’s food allergies.

Traveling with food allergies always involves a little more planning and preparation than the average traveler might realize. But we’ve been traveling since he was tiny, and we’ve gotten some good routines and tools that help get us through safely. But this will be my son’s first trip to Europe, and I’ve discovered something new that we’ll have to deal with: lupin.

Ever heard of lupin? Most of us in the USA haven’t, fortunately. It’s the bean of a few species of lupine flower (like those hundreds of species of beautiful flowered stalks that grow wild here in the States, including Texas blue bonnets), and it’s ground up to make flour. Although we don’t use it here in the USA (yet), it’s been approved for use in bread flour in Europe since 1997. It’s apparently used a lot in pasta, bread, and pastries, especially in countries near the Mediterranean, like Italy.

What’s the big deal with lupin?

Well, if you’re allergic to peanuts, you’ve got about a 50% chance of being allergic to lupin flour, too. In Europe, they’ve discovered that lupin is the cause of many of the anaphylactic reactions they’re seeing.

So as I’m researching all things Italian, I decided I’d better look into lupin. I’d rather know before our trip if my son is going to react to this stuff, rather than finding out the hard way, at a restaurant in some little village in Italy, far from an English-speaking doctor.

I called my son’s allergist, Dr. Jones, who couldn’t find any prepared lupin serum from any manufacturer in the United States to do allergy testing with. So he suggested a skin-prick test using actual food made with lupin flour. I spent days searching for lupin flour or something made with it. I called European delis and bakeries in Salt Lake City – they’d never heard of it. I tried gluten-free stores. Same response. I went online and Googled the heck out of “lupin flour” and couldn’t find anything. Finally, Jamie Stern from the online grocery store Allergies and Me located some imported Italian pasta made with lupin flour for me.

I cooked the pasta until most of the water was cooked away, blended it up into a fine paste, and took it to the doctor’s office. There, he did what’s called a “prick to prick” test, where they prick the needle directly into the pasta, then prick my son’s skin with it.

The results? Drum roll, please…. Positive.

Sigh. Yep, we’re headed to Italy, the land of pasta and bread, and my son’s allergic to the flour they may use in it.

Well, forewarned is forearmed, as they say, so I’m going to be prepared. I’ve looked up how to say “lupin flour” in both French (farine de lupin) and Italian (farina del lupino). I’ve ordered a new medical ID bracelet for my son that lists peanuts, tree nuts, and lupin. I’ve ordered nifty laminated translation cards from SelectWisely that will help me communicate the severity of his allergy in both languages. And I’ve explained to my son that we will have to be very careful about every baked good he wants to try while we’re there, and he understands and is okay with that.

I’m hoping the use of lupin flour won’t be as widespread as I fear. Perhaps it’s still fairly exotic, and we won’t encounter very much of it. But I have no way of knowing until we’re there.

Despite this new worry, we’re still excited about our trip. I only wish we were leaving NOW – I keep counting the weeks, and it’s still too far away! But when we do finally go, I’ll write about our experiences with lupin flour, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy all these travel brochures that keep piling up. (Even if all the happy vacationing models in the photos are a size 0.)


Gita said...

Hi Kelley - I live in Boston and have a 14-year old daughter who has life-threatening peanut/tree nut allergies (diagnosed when she was five years old). We have lived through this the hard way, with her experiencing anaphylaxis numerous times, us giving her Epi,then rushing her to ER etc.
We are going to France for 10 days at the end of June, and I stumbled on your blog - thank you so much for highlighting lupine flour. I contacted her allergist at Children's Hospital this morning, and he is going to do a RAST test for lupine, since there is cross-reactivity between peanut and lupine.
I see that the EU labeling requirements cover prepared foods. How do you plan to deal with the issue of eating in restaurants, where one would literally have to see the packaging for the spaghetti, in order to be sure that there is no lupine ?
We are going to be in Provence and Paris, and I wondered if you have looked into contacting a good doctor/hospital beforehand. I am doing some research, and will let you know what I find.
BTW, our daughter has gone to sleep-away camp for the last three years, and I would be happy to pass along information about that as well.
Your blog is fabulous ! Keep up the good work. We need more advocacy and community of the kind you are creating. Having a child with life-threatening food allergies can be a very isolating and stressful situation for the parents and siblings.

Thanks again, and best regards,

Gita Rao

Sonia said...

Hi Kelly & Gita,
So glad I stumbled on this blog. My 5 yr old daughter has severe egg/soy flour/peanut & tree nut allergies. Her school has a no-nuts allowed policy so we she has been fine so far. And I am always checking labels etc. We are going to Italy (Rome & Venice) for 7 days in March and I am more tense than excited about the trip. I am going to order the cards from selectwisely,com and will learn the italian translation for the allrgens. My husband and my son will insist on eating out.
Kelly & Gita do you any tips for italy after your trip? Does Italy follow the EU requirement of listing all ingredients ? I read about a couple of incidents which happened because Italy labels just show ingredients which are more than 20% of the product. I think that law has changed now after Nov'05

Kelley J. P. Lindberg said...

When we were in Italy, I found most packaging labels to be helpful and they seemed careful about listing allergens, as per that law. However, just like in the States, mistakes can slip through and mom-and-pop manufacturers can sometimes slip under the radar. But I didn't encounter those problems. Where we had the most trouble was in restaurants -- bread usually came from a local baker, so the waiters had no way to check ingredients. But in all the restaurants we went to for dinner, the owners/cooks would bend over backwards to find foods my son could eat -- we were very pleased with all the "nicer" restaurants we tried. Lunch counters were much harder -- fewer safe options, so always pack a sack lunch on your day trips. If you haven't found it, read my May 10, 2010 post for our experience in Italy: Allergies are always hard to deal with when traveling, even in the States, but being prepared, being flexible, and carrying a sack lunch everywhere helps, just in case. And those cards are worth their weight in gold! Good luck -- you'll have fun!