Food al­lergy an un­wel­come Thanks­giv­ing guest

Hosts must adapt as ad­verse re­ac­tion be­comes com­mon

The Washington Times Daily - - Television - BY NATHAN PORTER THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Though Thanks­giv­ing din­ner is eas­ily the most an­tic­i­pated meal of the year, mil­lions of Amer­i­can fam­i­lies will pro­ceed to the din­ner ta­ble this Thurs­day with cau­tion — in­clud­ing the first fam­ily.

Even as his ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing new steps to deal with a surge in re­ported al­ler­gies and asthma among Amer­i­can chil­dren, Pres­i­dent Obama re­vealed last week that there will be no peanut-based stuff­ing recipes on the White House Thanks­giv­ing menu — daugh­ter Malia, 15, is al­ler­gic to peanuts, an in­creas­ingly com­mon food al­lergy among young Amer­i­cans.

With the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion say­ing that 15 mil­lion Amer­i­cans have food al­ler­gies, and with food al­ler­gies among Amer­i­can chil­dren ris­ing ap­prox­i­mately 50 per­cent be­tween 1997 and 2011, di­etary con­sid­er­a­tions have taken a new promi­nence on Turkey Day, forc­ing cooks to sub­sti­tute, get cre­ative, and scrub their menus of po­ten­tially lethal in­trud­ers.

Just in time for Thanks­giv­ing, Mr. Obama last week signed a law mak­ing ep­i­neph­rine more avail­able in schools for chil­dren with al­ler­gies and asthma. The law was co-spon­sored by House Mi­nor­ity Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Mary­land Demo­crat, whose 11-year-old grand­daugh­ter has a se­vere peanut al­lergy.

“The rise of food al­ler­gies in the past 10 to 15 years has been alarm­ing,” said Matthew Green­hawt, a pro­fes­sor in the Di­vi­sion of Al­lergy and Clin­i­cal Im­munol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan.

“We don’t have an an­swer as to why so many have food al­lergy, and what has caused this epi­demic of new cases, but when you stop to think about it, it re­ally dom­i­nates a large part of our lives — what we send or serve for lunch at school, what we give out for celebrations at school or dur­ing the hol­i­days, what we serve as snacks on air­lines or sport­ing events, and where we go out to eat or take our fam­i­lies on va­ca­tion,” he added. “This is the new re­al­ity, and it was some­thing that I cer­tainly did not have to con­front when I was a child.”

It is es­ti­mated that a per­son goes to an emer­gency room due to a food al­lergy re­ac­tion ev­ery three sec­onds. Close to 150 Amer­i­cans die each year from food al­ler­gies, and 80 per­cent of those deaths are re­lated to peanuts.

The ris­ing prob­lem trans­lates into big busi­ness.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported this week that sales of or­ganic pack­aged foods rose 24 per­cent to $11.48 bil­lion over the past five years, cit­ing mar­ket re­searcher Euromon­i­tor In­ter­na­tional. Gluten-free pack­aged foods, made for those who are sen­si­tive to wheat, more than dou­bled to $419.8 mil­lion. And the broader mar­ket of pack­aged foods tar­geted to peo­ple with food in­tol­er­ances to things like wheat, dairy or sugar rose 12 per­cent to $2.89 bil­lion.

To­furky, the tofu-based turkey al­ter­na­tive, has gone from the joke punch­line it was when it was first in­tro­duced in the Pa­cific North­west in 1995 to a re­spectable al­ter­na­tive to the tra­di­tional Turkey Day cen­ter­piece. To­furky Pres­i­dent Seth Tib­bott told AP his com­pany ex­pects to sell 350,000 of the stuffed-meat­like tofu loaves this hol­i­day sea­son.

Of­ten re­ferred to as “the Big Eight,” the most com­mon food al­ler­gies in the U.S. are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shell­fish, soy and wheat. Man­u­fac­tur­ers of pack­aged food, whether im­ported or do­mes­tic, are re­quired to list if the prod­uct con­tains one of the top eight al­ler­gens.

Milk al­ler­gies are very com­mon among chil­dren, but not com­mon at all among adults. An es­ti­mated 2.5 per­cent of Amer­i­can chil­dren have some sort of milk al­lergy, and an es­ti­mated 80 per­cent of those chil­dren will out­grow their al­lergy by the time they are 7 years old.

Con­versely, the most com­mon food al­lergy for adults is shell­fish. Two per­cent of adults in Amer­ica have a shell­fish al­lergy, while just 0.1 per­cent of chil­dren have the al­lergy.

Peanut al­ler­gies of­ten have the most se­vere re­ac­tions.

For Thanks­giv­ing cooks, Mr. Green­hawt be­lieves that fa­mil­iar­iz­ing one­self with ingredients in a meal is the most im­por­tant ac­tion a food al­ler­gic in­di­vid­ual or their cook can take.

“As a provider, I try very hard to ed­u­cate our pa­tients and their fam­i­lies about these risks,” he said. “Ev­ery la­bel must be care­fully read, and when eat­ing out­side of the home, the ingredients for each dish the food al­ler­gic in­di­vid­ual may eat has to be care­fully screened.”

He also points out the im­por­tance of mak­ing sure cook­ing and prepa­ra­tions sur­faces are void of cross-con­tam­i­na­tion.

Pre­par­ing a din­ner that is con­scious of the “Big Eight” al­ler­gens can be dif­fi­cult, but al­lergy-friendly recipes are avail­able.

The photo-shar­ing and in­struc­tional web­site Pin­ter­est is filled with “Thanks­giv­ing friendly” recipes.

“The worst part of hav­ing a food al­lergy, for some, is the lack of in­clu­sion in celebrations, said Mr. Green­hawt.

Still, with a dose of cau­tion and a tea­spoon of cre­ativ­ity, in­di­vid­u­als with food al­ler­gies can en­joy a hol­i­day din­ner that they’re guar­an­teed to be thank­ful for.


Pres­i­dent Obama re­sponds to Rep. Fred Up­ton, Michi­gan Repub­li­can, in the Oval Of­fice on Nov. 13 af­ter sign­ing a bill to en­cour­age schools to stock­pile ep­i­neph­rine. House Mi­nor­ity Whip Steny H. Hoyer (right) has a grand­daugh­ter who is al­ler­gic to peanuts.

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