TODAY.com Misleads on Food Allergies

In a piece that will do more harm than good, Today.com purports to "bust myths" about food allergies. While some of the article is accurate there are a few points that may be technically accurate but are misleading, even harmful. 1. Gluten allergy

While Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are not true allergies, for the purposes of dining out, safe service, restaurants would do best to treat them the same as true allergies. It is unsafe and irresponsible for a server to make his or her own judgment that someone claiming to be "allergic" to gluten is faking it and then to assume a little won't hurt them. For someone with severe intolerance even a tiny amount of gluten can have severe and long-lasting health impacts.

For those with no food intolerance or allergies, but who are following a diet out of preference, PLEASE indicate that so that you are not contributing to the pervasive assumption that everyone is falsely claiming allergies. If you can tolerate gluten but choose not to because "my sister read an article that said if you eliminate gluten you'll lose ten pounds" (true story, I heard this once at a media dinner) simply tell the kitchen that you prefer to avoid gluten but it is a preference not an allergy. That will help us all.

2. Hypoallergenic pets

Sort of true, sort of misleading. While some breeds are generally better tolerated than others (like Portuguese Water Dogs). It is NOT true that people are likely tolerate or be allergic to an entire breed. It can actually be specific to a particular animal. So, someone with an allergy to dogs could be tolerant of one Portuguese Water Dog and allergic to another.

3. Black Mold

While I agree that the internet is full of misleading "expert" advice (ahem) what we do know about mold allergies is that they are common, often undiagnosed and extremely expensive to remediate. Those of us with mold allergies who, say, live in an old funky loft in an historic district, have to accept that a certain amount of allergic reaction is probably a fact of life. While it may not kill us, allergic reactions can be imagined as filling a bucket. If one's bucket is completely empty, for SOME (not all) allergic people a small amount of a known allergen MAY be tolerated. If your bucket is partially filled and you are exposed, you could be thrown into full anaphylaxis by a small amount of exposure.

This is why we must manage all the exposures we can, there is nothing we can do about the partial "filling of the bucket" from seasonal allergies, mold, etc.

4. Flu shots and egg allergy

Some shots are safe some are not, your doctor or pharmacist will be able to tell you if the shot you are getting has egg protein in it or not. Ask.

5. Advice to pregnant and nursing mothers, mothers of young children

The advice about limiting the children's exposure to the 8 major allergens has widely been disputed. It was a small study and every respected allergy doctor will tell you, likely wrong. Our immune systems have a learning curve and we need some exposure early on to enable it to determine what is and what is not dangerous. By eliminating exposure early on, we are actually hampering, not helping our children and their immune systems.

More Misinformation

  • I've been told that my overuse of hand sanitizers is likely the cause of my allergy. The so-called "hygeine hypothesis" has been debunked although its layered and complex connections are still being explored, for example triclosan and BPA in many antibacterial soaps and cleaning products cumulatively in the environment may be a contributing factor to the overall increases in asthma and allergy. It is FAR to simplistic to blame someone's use of sanitizer for their allergies. I barely use them, for the record. Hand washing with plain soap and water is highly effective and not dangerous.
  • Servers in one study of restaurant workers believed frying would kill allergens. WRONG. For example if one is allergic to dairy (as I am) eating french fries cooked in oil that buttermilk fried chicken was also cooked in is unsafe.
  • "It's all in your head. You're too nervous." This is pervasive. I'd love to be able to share my urticaria or eczema caused by allergic exposure with someone who thinks this.
  • Products labeled "wheat free" are also gluten free. FALSE products labeled as wheat-free can also contain gluten (barley is just one example.)
  • "All beef" hot dogs are safe to eat for someone with a dairy allergy. FALSE. Hot dogs often contain whey or casein as binders. These are milk proteins which dairy allergic folks must avoid.
  • "You can take a pill, what's the big deal?" FALSE. There is no pill to cure food allergies. Lactose intolerance is not an immune response as dairy allergy is.

 

Training on Serving Food Allergic Diners

Dining out is a minefield for those of us with food allergies. We are constantly battling misinformation and doubt from servers, managers, chefs. I've taken my years of corporate training skills and turned them to this subject and now offer traning for chefs and restaurants.

In the training, I cover what is and is not a food allergy, information about the rising numbers of food allergic diners, where to allergens may be hiding in food service products, how to adopt best practices for safe service and more.