We’ve all been there. You are cruising through the grocery store and you see the words “Allergy Free.” You stop dead in your tracks. Your heart leaps and you do a little happy dance, right there in the aisle, much to your kiddo’s chagrin. Prepared to throw four of each kind into your cart, you turn it over, because that’s what allergy parents do: read every label, every time. There it is… “Wheat, Sugar, Cornstarch, Milk, Egg,” and on and on. You sigh deeply and carry on to your usual brand of whatever it is you were there for. If I had a dollar for every time this happened, I would be living on a private island somewhere.
Here are my top three words I dislike (my Mom told me I’m not allowed to hate anyone or anything, so I’ll stick with “dislike”) to see, when referring to allergies.
School Safe: What criteria is there for safe foods in schools? 98% of the time, things listed as “school safe” are peanut-free, and 1% are peanut- and tree nut-free. The last one percent is free of those two, plus dairy (maybe… even 1% seems high). There are 8 top allergens that account for 90% of allergic reactions. There are around 160 foods there have been documented allergic reactions to. Being free of 1 or even all of the Top 8 allergens doesn’t necessarily make a food “safe” for the 1 in 13 kids with allergies in classrooms in the US.
Allergy Free: Again, in the best of circumstances this typically means Top 8 or maybe even Top 10 in Canada. I see companies who are very allergy-aware use this term, and I cringe. The fact is that even the most allergy-aware company has products that someone, somewhere, is allergic to. As I said, 160+ foods are a lot to consider when formulating a product. It reminds me of the meme I’m sure you’ve all seen of the Allergy-Free ice cream, and pictures someone scooping air. I do appreciate them trying to call out to us folks on the allergy wagon and to catch our eye. I much prefer the term “Allergy Aware”.
Allergy Snack List: School is here for many and I see posts on social media daily about parents making “snack lists” to send home to others in the class. I have several concerns about doing this. First and foremost, when I ask “Have you inquired if there are any other allergies in the class?” many times the answer is no. What may be a safe list for one family may be a minefield for another. My second issue is that even if you did ask, if you are in the US, the teacher CAN NOT give you that information. While there is HIPAA in the medical community guarding your privacy as a patient, your child’s classmates’ privacy is protected by something called FERPA. No one at your child’s school can give you medical information about another child. Third, manufacturers change product formulations all the time. What is safe today may not be tomorrow, or from one side of the country to the other. I would not want to be personally responsible for creating a list with the word “safe” in it, and be held responsible for an emergency situation. No thanks!
What I would love to see if manufacturers using full ingredient lists-every spice and seed in a product. I would love for schools and restaurants to be allergy aware and understand the needs of all those with food allergies. Classrooms free of food of any kind so that children can focus on learning. I would really like those marketing foods specifically for the food allergy community to choose their words carefully as well. Yes, the final determination for what is safe and what isn’t rests on us as parents or those with food allergies but we can only do that with the proper information about every product on the shelves. Using terms with no standard meaning can be confusing to many so let’s be careful with the words we choose.