If you or one of your family members has recently been diagnosed with a nut allergy, the questions can be overwhelming.
- How do I keep my child/myself safe?
- What kinds of food should be kept out of the house?
- If I bring allergens in the kitchen, how do I effectively keep them apart?
- What kind of life will we have now?
- Does the worry ever stop?
Take heart, I’m right there with you. My son was diagnosed with a life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergy at a young age. We had to do a major house and lifestyle overhaul to keep our little munchkin (who’s now a strapping tween that melts with embarrassment to be called a munchkin) safe.
There are things that we changed and ways that our extended family has had to adapt their own homes. It’s a process and one that normally takes some time to tweak and perfect.
You’ll need to decide as a family whether or not to actually keep the allergen in the house in any form. It’s a personal decision. Some families opt to ban nuts and peanuts entirely, others allow them or products that “may contain nuts” into their cupboards. Talk to your allergist and decide what’s best for you.
Even when you attempt to avoid it completely, the allergen can get in and cause a reaction.
Here are some tips to help avoid nuts in your kitchen.
Be sure to keep food in its original packaging
So that the ingredient list is readily available. Foods can change their ingredients without warning and you may not notice right away. Always read the ingredients of anything brought into your house. Nuts can come up in the strangest places (the sauce on pre-packaged beef ribs for example, who would have thought?).
If you have young kids with allergies and you keep a stash of peanut butter for yourself, always limit accidental exposure by having it stored away properly, high and out of reach. It’s a good idea to have all potentially risky food in one spot in the pantry, again out of reach.
Clean up any spills right away
Use hot water and cleaner to eliminate any residue. Nut oils are stubborn little things and can hang around long after you’ve casually wiped them away or swept up.
When dealing with a peanut or nut allergy, it’s important to limit exposure. Completely. Even a trace amount of the allergen can cause a reaction in some people.
Avoid Cross Contamination
So keeping your kitchen clean is essential. When you keep allergens in your home, but want to eliminate cross contamination, you need to put a little elbow grease into it and make sure things are sterile.
Always use the dishwasher for any utensils or dishes that come in contact with the allergen. Get a good quality, reliable dishwasher and use it well. The high temperatures help to remove stubborn residue and anything remaining allergen gets washed away through the plumbing (not hanging around in your sink).
Keep a lot of soap handy. Liquid soap is best, but be sure to clean the pump handle often. Encourage every one in the house to wash their hands, especially after any contact with nuts. We have a rule in our place – if we’ve eaten or touched nuts of any kind, we wash our hands and our face well before going near my allergic son.
The same rules apply to the rest of your home, but special attention should be given to your kitchen. That’s where the nuts will normally be stored and consumed. If you do have them in another area of the house, use the same caution and rules of cleanliness there.
Leave detailed instructions in an obvious place for babysitters or visitors. There are excellent posters available on allergy websites that you can print out and hang on the fridge or next to the pantry. Remind visitors of the allergy if they will be handling any food, especially if you’re dealing with a child’s allergy and they can’t speak for themselves.
Also be sure to have medication in an accessible spot. Since my son wears his meds on him, we also keep the older Epipen above the fridge and have another one at the neighbor’s for a spare.
It’s important to remember that millions of people live with peanut and nut allergies every day. It’s completely doable. With some common sense, a game plan and some extra attention, you and your family can stay safe together.
Those who suffer with food allergies are wary of the Double “C.” No, that doesn’t mean Christopher Columbus or chocolate chips. It means Cross Contamination and it occurs when allergens end up in foods that are normally safe.
This can cause a surprise (and severe) reaction. It’s the reason why food manufacturers claim a product “may contain traces of peanuts/nuts.” Allergy sufferers need to beware of that label, because it means there is a possibility of cross contamination in the product.
But a double “C” can happen in your kitchen too.
Clean Your Cutlery
Besides countertops, which we covered in the last post of this series here, another infamous culprit of cross contamination is cutlery.
There was a well known case of a peanut allergy fatality that happened in Ontario. Someone used a knife for peanut butter and then put that same knife in the butter dish, effectively spreading the allergen with the utensil. The girl who was allergic then used the butter to prepare grilled cheese sandwiches and had a reaction. Truly tragic circumstances.
Be sure to set up your kitchen in such a way to limit these occurrences.
Clean Your Countertops
Maybe you or a family member just found out that you have a severe nut allergy. Or it could be that you’ve been living with it for years. Now that a kitchen remodel is on the horizon, you’re beginning to wonder which materials are safest for food allergies.
Countertops are a big deal. As are cutting boards and anything else you might prepare food on. If you have peanuts or nuts in the house and want to eliminate cross contamination (when the allergen gets into “safe” foods), you need a clean, sterile environment.
Restaurants and commercial food establishments are often required to have stainless steel surfaces for preparation. That is mainly due to the non-porous nature of the material.
Other countertops (such as concrete, stone or even laminate) can be nicked or scratched, leaving areas for contaminates to soak in or collect. When even the slightest amount of nut oil or residue can cause a reaction, this becomes a big deal.
Consider having one spot with stainless steel, such as on an island or baker’s rack. Use that area specifically for any nut related preparation. PB&J’s, Thai food, various baking and hummus are all things that will require nuts and a prep surface that can be completely cleaned.
When sterilizing for allergies, clean with the hottest water you can and always use soap. You want to carry the oils and other particles away, not just wipe them to one side. Pay special attention to any areas where allergens may collect (seams of countertops, embellishments or corners) and scrub them well every time.
While the chances of cross contamination are quite small compared to other incidents of exposure, they do happen. And they are dangerous. Build a kitchen that includes the cleanest countertop possible and practice good sterilization techniques.
Remember that accidents may happen despite your best efforts, but stay positive and do what you can. The safety of your family is worth the effort.
Have your cutlery well separated
If a utensil is used with the allergen, place it immediately in the dishwasher, not on the countertop or onto another dish. It can also be a good idea to have another set of cutlery that’s only used with the allergen or visa versa.
The important thing is to keep a healthy, clean separation between anything regularly used by the allergy sufferer and anything used with the allergen.
This applies when sending dishes and cutlery to school as well. Often kids are discouraged from sharing food or utensils to limit the chance of cross contamination. But be sure that anything you do send to school or daycare has been thoroughly washed in a dish washer to eliminate all of the allergen.
Sometimes it may seem paranoid or overly cautious. And it is really important to stay positive and not transfer any hysteria onto the allergy sufferer. But good, clean practices can become part of everyday life and increase the level of safety for all involved.
These are good things to know if you have extended family with a nut allergy (like grandkids or cousins for instance). You might not need to protect against cross contamination all of the time, but when you know they will be visiting work hard to provide a safe environment for them.
It might be a life or death situation. And a little attention goes a long way.
This article is courtesy of the No Nut Sense blog and was originally posted on Charles & Hudson.