Food allergies affect nearly 15 million Americans and account for an emergency room visit every three minutes in the U.S. alone. Unlike food intolerances (involving the gastrointestinal tract and though uncomfortable, are relatively harmless), food allergies involve the immune system. The body mistakes a food protein (allergen) as a threat to the body and contact with even trace amounts can result in a severe, life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Avoiding these allergens is crucial.
The top eight food allergens: dairy milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, walnuts), wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish account for 90% of all food allergies.
Tips for keeping loved ones safe
- Read entire food labels, including ingredient lists, bolded allergy information and warnings such as "may contain" or "made in a facility that processes..."
- Be aware of facilities that use common allergens (e.g. bakeries).
- Check with a child's caregiver prior to giving any type of food or snack.
- Make sure all caregivers are aware of food allergies, know the symptoms of a reaction and understand how to administer epinephrine injections.
- Have an up to date allergy action plan that includes when and how much medication to give and when to call for help.
- Encourage hand washing before and after meals.
- Thoroughly clean food preparation areas, tables and utensils to prevent cross contamination.
- Provide only prepackaged foods for school snacks and avoid homemade or unlabeled treats.
- Call restaurants to identify safe menu items and inform staff of all allergies.
- Get children involved: discourage sharing of food and talk about food safety.
This year, May 8-14 marks Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) national food allergy awareness week. The purpose of this week is to improve public understanding of the seriousness of these allergies, while encouraging respect, promoting safety, and improving quality of life for those effected. Parents, siblings, grandparents, school and daycare staff, neighbors, friends, and all caregivers play an important role in managing food allergies and creating a safe environment.
For more information, visit foodallergy.org.
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