May is Food Allergy Awareness Month in Canada. It is estimated that food allergies affect as many as 6% of young children and 3-4% of adults in Canada. Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies in children, adolescents, and adults accounting for 1.7% of the Canadian population.
An allergen is anything that can cause an allergic reaction. A food allergen is when the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies a particular food (typically the protein) as a threat, which causes the body to adversely react. Allergic reactions vary in severity and can be mild with hives and lip swelling to severe anaphylaxis, which can have life-threatening symptoms. Since avoidance is the only way to prevent allergic reactions, education and awareness is important for all individuals, including children.
Some exciting technology being explored right now is smartphone-based food allergen detection. This would make it possible to test food for specific allergens to ensure it is safe to eat. These portable allergen detectors would give more confidence to consumers in identifying foods that may cause a reaction. While we don’t yet have access to this technology or know the extent of its validity, it’s exciting to learn that there are some innovative steps being taken on this topic.
Meet our Allergy Specialist, Eva Lam
What does it mean to be an allergy specialist?
As the allergy specialist at Wholesome Kids, my primary role is to ensure that the foods that are prepared in the allergy kitchen meet each child’s specific needs. In the allergy kitchen- we treat all food allergies with the upmost care and respect because our ultimate objective is to prepare snacks and meals that are safe for kids to eat.
What practices and processes do you use to address allergy management?
The allergy team, which consists of myself and my wonderful sous chef Gunmeet, take special precautions when preparing meals and snacks in order to prevent the risks of cross contamination. We will never use the same utensils to prepare different foods. For example, a spoon used to portion a dairy sauced pasta is not safe to use on a non- dairy sauced pasta. We are strict about hand washing and changing gloves after the handling of different foods. Surfaces are cleaned and sanitized both before and after preparing different food items because surfaces may still have traces of another allergen on them. We are always reviewing recipes and product labels. For example, we double check and read the ingredient list of products used in the allergy kitchen because ingredients in packaged foods can change without notice. We label all foods used and prepared in the allergy kitchen including any leftovers and foods made from scratch.
On any given day, we use dozens of various ingredients and products that may be an allergen for a child so we need to be diligent in our efforts to ensure our food is safe for all the children we serve.
What is the rarest allergy you have heard of?
I’m not sure what the rarest food allergy would be, but I’m always struck by the children with allergies to a specific type of fruit or vegetable like carrots, celery, apples, grapes…or having an allergy to one type of bean like kidney beans, but not to any other bean. We even have a child with a sunflower oil allergy which as a result, omits garlic powder from any of the recipes for this child.
Over the years, as the allergy specialist I’ve come to understand that food allergies are extremely common and can be life threatening.
It’s truly not always about a preference or being a picky eater- the truth of the matter is- a simple food can cause a serious illness and anxiety and stress for both a child and their family.
It’s our pleasure to be part of the Wholesome Kids team that helps to provide healthful, safe snacks and lunches for kids to eat.
Looking for more information?
Here are some helpful resources:
- Have a concern about a possible food allergy? Visit the Allergy Check App for guidance and resources
- Questions about educating others about allergies? Go to Food Allergy Canada for information and downloadable resources
- Looking to participate in Allergy Awareness Month? Check out the list of events here
Wholesome Kids Catering is committed to our mission of providing food that is not only tasty and healthy but safe for all kids to enjoy. We manage over 100 different allergens and dietary restrictions each day. To learn more about our allergy management program click here.