Monday, March 25, 2013

Allergy-Free Easter Candy

by Kelley Lindberg

First, my apologies… I’ve been sick for over a week with a really nasty case of bronchitis, and it hasn’t let up yet. So I have not been able to go out and shop for Easter candy like I do every year. So this year, I have only bare-bones advice.

Believe it or not, it is possible to celebrate Easter without loading up on unsafe candy. Here is my post from 2 years ago with ideas for non-food Easter Egg and basket ideas: Creative Easter Egg Fillers.

But if you want to include Easter candy in your child’s Easter basket, there are safe versions you can look for.

Remember to always check the ingredients – some companies use different manufacturing plants around the country, so the same product may have different factory warnings. In addition, some varieties of candy may have safe versions or sizes, and unsafe versions and sizes. For example, I found Cadbury mini eggs that are nut-free, but the larger sizes had nut warnings. So always double-check!

For nut-free and egg-free chocolate bunnies, your best bet is Hershey’s. I found several Hershey’s chocolate bunnies at Target (including Speedy Bunny, Snapsy Snap-apart Bunny, and a Hollow Bunny) and a package of 6 Hershey’s solid chocolate bunnies (but avoid the package of 6 “cookies and cream” flavored Hershey’s bunnies, because they have a nut warning). Some flavors of Hershey’s kisses are also nut-free, as well as Hershey’s mini foil-wrapped chocolate eggs. But double-check labels – many Hershey’s products have nut warnings, so don’t assume they’re safe until you check. And remember, all Hershey’s chocolate includes milk and soy. Those Cadbury mini eggs contain milk, soy, and corn, but they’re nut-free (I found them at Smiths and Target). If you need milk-free chocolate bunnies, your best bet may be to make them yourself by melting safe chocolate chips (like Enjoy Life Foods) and filling bunny-shaped candy molds. Unfortunately, it’s probably too late to order safe chocolate bunnies online.

If you are looking for jelly beans free from the Top 8 allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, shellfish, fish, and soy), look for jelly beans made by Starbursts, Jolly Rancher, LifeSavers, Mike & Ike, and Wonka (several Wonka jelly beans were safe last year, but double-check ingredients from Wonka because their labels change every year). Last year Kroger’s brand of jelly beans were also safe. If you’re a fan of Jelly Belly jelly beans, check out the Daily Chef Gourmet Jelly Beans from Sam’s Club. They have 41 flavors, and advertise that the beans are free from nuts, peanuts, dairy, egg, soy, gluten, trans fat, gelatin, and high fructose corn syrup (although they do contain regular corn syrup). You also get twice as many for the same price as Jelly Bellys. Again, I found Daily Chef jelly beans at Sam’s Club the last couple of years, but I haven’t been able to go look for them this year. Let me know if you find them!

If you need to avoid corn as well as the Top 8, I found these options last year, so look for them again this year:
  • Pixy Stix (usually available at Target or Sam’s Club, for example)
  • Charms Fluffy Stuff Cotton Candy (found this at Smith’s last year)
  • Wonka Springtime Fun Dips (also found these at Smith’s last year)
Also, if you are looking for premade Easter baskets, try Sam’s Club. In previous years, Sam’s Club usually has premade Easter Baskets filled with a few toys, and some candy, like Mike & Ikes, Fun Dips, and a “candy egg bouquet,” that list corn and soy in the ingredients, but none of the other Top 8. So that’s worth a shot again this year if you’re looking for a simple idea (and who isn’t?)

And finally, remember to register for the Utah Food Allergy Network's (UFAN’s) annual toy-filled, candy-free Easter Egg Hunt this Saturday, March 30, 2013, from 9 – 11 am at Southwood Park (6150 S. 725 E, Murray, UT). It’s for kids ages 0 – 12, and the Easter Bunny will be there, along with crafts and lots and lots of kids with food allergies just like yours! It’s always an amazingly fun and fantastic day. Register and pay $3 per child in advance at (Or you can pay $5 per child at the door, but it’s better to register in advance so they know how many children to plan for and don’t run out of toy-filled and sticker-filled eggs!)

Have a safe and happy Easter!



Monday, March 18, 2013

Peanut-Allergic Teen Dies in Massachusetts

by Kelley Lindberg

A couple of times a year, I seem to find myself reporting on another teenager who died after eating a food they were allergic to. Unfortunately, it has happened again: “Allergic Teen Dies After Eating Cookie.”

Cameron Groezinger-Fitzpatrick was a 19-year-old college student, who had come home to Massachusetts for spring break. He’d only been home for 2 hours.

According to the news report, he and his friend went out driving and bought some cookies. The friend tried a cookie, said he didn’t taste any peanuts, and then young Cameron ate one, saying “Ah, the hell with it, I’m sure it’s fine,” according to the friend. He didn’t have his EpiPens with him.

There are the first 3 problems: 1) Cameron was out of the house without his EpiPens. 2) The cookie didn’t have a label, but Cameron risked it anyway. And 3) his friend tried to predict the ingredients by tasting the cookie. (You can’t always taste allergens in a food product. The taste test is NEVER a reliable test, and should never, ever be used to determine the safety of a food. If a food doesn’t have an ingredients label, avoid it. Period.)

Then even more problems occurred: 4) The friend apparently drove Cameron home, instead of to the ER. 5) Cameron hadn’t unpacked his suitcases yet, so his mother couldn’t find his EpiPen. 6) She had one in her cabinet, but it had expired 2 months earlier, so first responders told her not to use it. (Seriously?) A neighbor brought one over and used it, but by then it was too late.

The mother was later told by a doctor that she could have used the expired one, but no one knows if it would have made a difference at that point.

In any crisis, problems and mistakes can stack up in a heartbeat. In this case, all of those problems and mistakes created an unthinkable disaster for this family.

As my friend Suzanne said when she told me about this story, “I don't know what is scarier, the fact that the teen willingly ate something that he had no label for or the mom being quoted to say, ‘I didn't know you could die from nut allergies.’”

So if we can learn anything from this awful experience, it’s that we need to remind our kids (and ourselves) that food-allergic people simply cannot let our guards down, even for a minute. We must stay vigilant, keep our medications with us, read ingredients labels each and every time, and never rely on blind luck. It isn’t really all that difficult to do. But convincing teens to do it seems to be a challenge sometimes.

Once again, I feel compelled to remind us all that most food-allergy deaths occur to teen boys who don’t have their epinephrine auto-injectors with them. Now that my son is a teenager and running with a very social group of friends, I worry more about making sure he has his epinephrine with him. I also remind him about food every time he leaves the house. I know he’s probably tired of hearing me nag him, but I know he needs constant reminders even if they are annoying. Much as we love ‘em, teen boys just aren’t universally known for their common sense and perfect memories.

So I remind him, and make sure he has his meds, and show him articles like this one that really hit home. My heart goes out to Cameron’s family and friends. And I hope that his experience will help reinforce our own children’s commitment to staying safe.

Monday, March 11, 2013

New York Times Magazine: “The Allergy Buster”

by Kelley Lindberg

"Your child is always playing near a precipice that is visible only to you: you may be able to keep her from falling off, but you can never move her away from the edge.” --Melanie Thernstrom, "The Allergy Buster"
A cure. That’s what we want. It’s what millions of kids (and millions more adults) need. Is there one tantalizingly close? It looks more and more like that answer could be “yes.”
Oral desensitization is one of the most promising treatments for food allergies being studied today. By introducing a carefully measured, incredibly tiny amount of the allergen every day, increasing it slightly at specific intervals over the course of several years, researchers are demonstrating that many of their patients are eventually able to tolerate the food allergen safely.
However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The amounts must be carefully measured – not something you can do in your own kitchen with a blender and a measuring spoon. Many patients in these studies still have anaphylactic reactions to the dosage and must be treated with epinephrine shots, steroids, and antihistamines. The patients have to carefully control their activity level after taking the dose, because increased body heat can trigger reactions. Timing, commitment, control, and monitoring are essential so that the treatment doesn’t become the trigger for a life-threatening reaction.
And after several years of treatment, when the patient appears to be “cured,” the understanding now is that he or she will have to eat that allergen every single day to prevent the allergy from returning. For a nut, that could be a serving of 16 nuts every day. If it turns out you don’t actually enjoy the taste of that food, that could be a difficult life sentence to face.
But despite the downsides, oral desensitization is still the most exciting possibility for a cure on the horizon, and it’s one that many of us are anxiously awaiting. I desperately want my son to be able to go to college and leave his food allergies safely behind. So I was very encouraged to read this informative and thought-provoking article by Melanie Thernstrom on the New York Times Magazine website: “TheAllergy Buster: Can a Radical New Treatment Save Children With Severe FoodAllergies?”
Thernstrom talks about a trial her son in participating in that is going beyond the single-allergen desensitization method to multiple-allergy desensitization. The article is long, but well worth the time to read.
That light at the end of the tunnel may be getting closer after all.