Keeping Known Food Allergens in Your House—To Do or Not To Do?

This is a big debate among people in the food allergy community. I’ll be honest with you, there’s not a one size fits all answer. I know some people that have a food allergy in their family and they don’t let that food within a 100-foot radius of their house. Then I know others that have one family member with a food allergy but still keep that allergen in the house for other family members consumption.

In my personal experience, I have to say I see (and have been on) both sides of the table.  Some back story: when my daughter was diagnosed with her food allergies we spent days ridding our house of anything that not only contained peanuts or tree nuts, but any products that were knowingly processed in shared facilities/on shared lines with these. We disinfected every pantry cabinet and the refrigerator, and put up signs reminding ourselves to check labels. We were terrified to make a mistake or face a reaction, so we would do anything necessary to avoid it.

Now let’s fast-forward a year, when our son (our youngest) was around nine months old. This was when the New England Journal of Medicine Peanut Exposure Study was released. You can find the study here. Essentially the five-year study concluded that those children that were exposed to peanut early and consistently had a lower incidence of forming an allergy than those not exposed. With our allergist’s guidance, we decided to introduce the “big eight” common allergens to our son ASAP, which included peanuts and tree nuts. For reference, the big eight the FDA recognizes as the most common allergens are: peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, eggs, milk and soy.

We not only introduced the foods my daughter was allergic to, but we did so OFTEN so his body continued to see them as a regular visitor and not a threat. So what does this mean? They entered back into our house. Every family has to decide what approach is best for them (with their provider’s guidance), and if they feel comfortable bringing the allergen into the house. For us, it was all about forming a system—where we kept the nuts, how often we exposed him and how we disinfected surfaces to ensure no cross contact would happen in the kitchen.

I’m proud to say it’s been over a year since introducing these foods to my son, and we’ve had no reactions/incidences with either child. So if you’re a family who comes to the same crossroads and decides to bring the allergen into your home, here are a few best practices to keep everyone safe:

1-    Be organized. It’s important to designate a spot for the allergen away from other foods. What I mean by this is to make it less convenient to access so there aren’t “oops” moments (like accidentally reaching for the soy nut butter and grabbing the peanut butter on accident). We keep peanut butter and a nut butter blend for my son in our basement refrigerator, in it’s own container on a high shelf. That way it’s not easily accessible to my allergic child, and we only grab it from downstairs a few times a week when we need it. If you keep several foods with a known allergen in your home, diligent organization/storage and labeling is key.

2-    Label allergen foods clearly. There are wonderful allergen alert stickers you can buy and put on a package/container to ensure everyone sees what allergens the food contains. We like these from Allermates and use them in our house.

3-    Form a routine. This routine could involve how and when you expose a child to a food (and how you clean up after the exposure), or it could be your practice of how to unload/organize allergen foods in your home post-grocery store trip. For us, establishing the routine of when/how we feed my son nuts and what the clean up procedure looks like is key. We run it like clockwork three times each week with a diligent clean up afterwards.

4-    Safe kitchen tools are key. If you are eating a food someone else in your house is allergic to, it’s wise to use only dinnerware, utensils and cutting boards that are made from glass or stainless steel (or easily washable pottery for plates). Reason being, these are not porous materials and should clean easily, while utensils or storage containers made of plastic or wood stand a higher chance of hosting food allergen proteins and not cleaning as easily (they’re porous)!

5-     Designate a location for medications. This is important for anyone with a food allergy! We keep a basket in our kitchen cabinet that stores all food allergy emergency medications, and it’s close to the landline phone. That way if we do have an emergency at home, we have everything we need within arms reach.

There are SO many tricks and tips I have developed to help keep families safe (and well fed)! Let me know if you want to talk further, and we can strategize on what may work best in your house.

Until next time,

Meg

Posted on February 22, 2016 and filed under Food Allergies at Home.