It’s August and many students are headed back to the classroom which means they’re heading back to your cafeteria. Now, more than ever, schools across the country are re-evaluating menus and updating standards to make students healthier and to promote food safety. Here are five great resources to get your cafeteria on the right track, or to help you improve current procedures.
What it’s about: First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to help raise a healthier generation of children.
How it can help your school: They provide guidance for everyone in the school from the principal to foodservice staff. Let’s Move! has brought on changes and updated standards to the National School Lunch and National School Breakfast programs and have also launched other initiatives such as Chefs Move to Schools and HealthierUS School Challenge
What it’s about: FAAN is a credible and trusted source of information, programs and resources for food allergies and anaphylaxis. Their mission is “to raise public awareness, to provide advocacy and education, and to advance research on behalf of those affected by food allergies and anaphylaxis.”
How it can help your school: They assist schools in food allergy training and protocol. They also provide detailed information about the different types of food allergies.
What it’s about: SNA provides high-quality, low-cost meals to students and have been “advancing the availability, quality and acceptance of school nutrition programs as an integral part of education since 1946.”
How it can help your school: For one, if you aren’t already a member, you may want to consider becoming one (click here for information). SNA has some information available to the public on their website, but membership includes extensive education and training. SNA sets standards through certification and credentials, gathers and shares several kinds of important school nutrition news, legislation, etc., and represents the nutritional interests of all children.
Can you imagine an elementary school lunch without a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? How about getting on an airplane without getting a tiny bag of nuts? And as if both of those weren’t enough, what if you couldn’t even eat chili to warm you up on a cold fall evening? These are just a few items on the do not eat, touch, etc. list for people suffering from nut allergies. And while it isn’t necessarily the most common item to be allergic to, nut allergies have begun to occur more and more. Robert Wood, MD, director of the division of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore told WebMD, “The number of people with peanut allergies doubled over a recent five-year period, from four in 1,000 people in 1997 to eight in 1,000 in 2002.” This growth may mean more people could potentially suffer from the ill effects of the stray peanut or tree nut, but it also means an increased awareness to the allergy.
What’s the difference between tree nut and peanut allergies?
Often when a person is diagnosed as allergic to peanuts they are also told to avoid tree nuts and vice versa. This is because according to the Food Allergy Initiative, “30-40% of people who have peanut allergy also are allergic to tree nuts.” But what exactly is the difference? The main answer is simply the plant family from which they are produced.
Tree nut allergies are basically nuts grown on trees. The proteins in these nuts are what cause the allergic reaction. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) says that about 1.8 million Americans are allergic to this family of nuts which are also one of the leading causes of death among those with food allergies.
Peanut allergies are caused by a similar protein to that in tree nuts and basically present the same reactions (anything from breaking out in hives to anaphylaxis). The main difference between the two is that a peanut is a member of the legume family along with items like peas and lentils.
What should be avoided?
Since there are so many different types of nuts, it can be difficult to know exactly what to avoid. While it may sound easy at first to just avoid a peanut or an almond there is a lot more to the process. First, for tree nut allergies it’s important to know what qualifies under U.S. law as that particular item which means it must be labeled as containing tree nuts on packaged food items. The Food Allergy Initiative lists the following as being considered tree nuts under U.S. law: almond; Brazil nut; cashew; chestnut; filbert/hazelnut; macadamia nut; pecan; pine nut (pignolia nut); pistachio; walnut. For peanut allergy sufferers the basic peanut is the main culprit to avoid.
But just because you avoid the tree nut or peanut in its most basic state, doesn’t mean that’s the only item to stay away from. Items like barbecue sauce, chili and even spaghetti sauce sometimes use peanut butter or peanut flour as a thickener. NBC Washington also advises to be careful with pancakes, salad dressing, pasta, pie crust and meatless burgers that may contain traces of different types of nuts. When eating out it’s a good idea to also avoid ice-cream parlors (due to shared scoops) and Asian and African restaurants due to the risk of cross-contamination since many of their foods contain different types of nuts. Kids Health even warns to be especially careful when performing some everyday activities due to the possibility of coming in contact with nuts. They list items such as bird seed, hamster food and bedding, cosmetics and even ant traps as items that could cause a reaction due to nut contamination.
What are some alternatives?
Thankfully for allergy sufferers, items containing these products must be marked on the outside of the package as either containing or possibly coming in contact with nuts. This leads to a pretty wide variety of products that are nut-free. PeanutSafeFood.com has a fairly comprehensive list of several products nut-free and non cross-contaminated items including: Sun Chips, Vanilla Wafers cookies, Skittles, Special K Bars, Betty Crocker Angel Food Cake Mix, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and Blue Bell Creameries Dutch Chocolate Ice Cream. And if you’re in the market to try some goodies specially made to be peanut-, tree nut-, milk-, and egg-free, check out Divvies. Their facility specializes in making items with minimal cross contamination and as allergen-free as possible. They offer items ranging from gourmet popcorn to cupcakes and even have a cupcake to help you make your own nut free items at home.
Eating Tree Nut and Peanut Free on the Go
Eating nut-free on the go can be a bit more difficult than some allergies due to the ability for small traces to cause big reactions. Just as in our previous dairy-free post, it’s extremely important to be aware of the possibility of cross-contamination. Because reactions can be severe, it’s extremely important that you make servers or your host aware of your allergy ahead of time to prevent any accidents from happening in the kitchen. It’s important to remember that even something as small as not fully sanitizing a knife that has come in contact with a nut can cause a severe reaction. Kids Health advises, “If the manager or owner of a restaurant is uncomfortable about your request for peanut- or nut-free food preparation, don’t eat there.”
In the meantime, if you’re on the go and curious as to where it’s safe to eat, you can rest assured that there are options available. A great site for looking up ingredients and policies at different restaurants prior to visiting is Project Allergy. This site has a plethora of places that are nut-allergy friendly that’s not only includes restaurants, but also lists hotels and airlines as well. Project Allergy restaurant lists include everything from kid-focused places to the family-friendly and just about anything else you might be craving. For the kids, Chuck E. Cheese’s warns against cross-contamination in many birthday and sweets options, but overall could be an option. If you’re looking for family dining Applebee’s can provide around three pages worth of everything from appetizers right down to desserts that are safe to dine on for nut-allergy sufferers. Even theme parks like Holiday World (in Indiana) and Hershey Park (in Pennsylvania) have joined in to help make sure everyone can have a fun getaway without having to worry about a bad allergic reaction.
Delicious Tree Nut and Peanut Free recipes to try at home
Have you had a sandwich this week for lunch? If so, it was probably some type of meat and/or veggies inside a nice thick bun or maybe some delicious doughy bread. Imagine that same sandwich, only take away the bun or bread and you’d be more accurately describing a meal fit for someone who is gluten-free. Whether you’re gluten-free by choice or necessity, it can put a crimp in your daily diet, but it’s important to know that it doesn’t mean having to do without. Celiac.com says that “at least 1 in 133 Americans” are affected by Celiac Disease. Wheat allergies are in the top 8 most common food allergies alongside items like peanuts and shellfish. There are many more suffering with gluten sensitivities. With this in mind, much of the food industry has begun to turn over a new leaf and started to offer a much broader range of foods and knowledge to ensure safety and variety for those on a gluten-free diet.
What’s the difference between celiac disease, gluten sensitivity and wheat allergies?
“People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients,” is the way Celiac Disease is described by the Mayo Clinic. While this disease is manageable, if not carefully monitored and properly diagnosed, it could eventually lead to permanent damage to the intestines. Since this disease is genetic, the American Celiac Disease Alliance encourages, “If someone in your family is diagnosed, it is recommended that first degree relatives (parents, children, siblings) are screened as well. “
Gluten sensitivity, whilestill painful, poses no long-term physical damage. Basically, it is an intolerance of the body to digest gluten and while it can cause discomfort in the form of abdominal pain and similar issues, it will not cause any permanent damage and will go away once the gluten is out of the system.
Wheat allergies are more directly associated with a protein found in wheat products, which means it could be possible for sufferers to eat other types of grains. Like many other allergies the symptoms can range anywhere from mild (an upset stomach) to severe (throat swelling, lowered blood pressure, etc.)
What products should be avoided?
For all three issues you should avoid products containing wheat, rye and barley which includes many types of bread, crackers, pastas, pizza and cookies. It’s also extremely important to always read food labels to make sure other products don’t contain these ingredients. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), “Wheat has been found in some brands of ice cream, marinara sauce, play dough, potato chips, rice cakes, and turkey patties, and at least one brand of hot dogs.”
What are some alternatives?
Recently, more and more items have become gluten-free. There are now breads, cereals, pizzas and other products certified by the FDA as gluten free. Two such brands that you may find in your local grocery store are Udi’s which specializes in baked goods and Amy’s which offers everything from frozen pastas to soups (with an extra bonus that all products are either organic or made with organic ingredients). FAAN also gives the suggestion of using items like rice, corn or potato starch flour when baking as a substitute for wheat flour.
Eating Gluten-free on the Go
Although it does take some extra planning, eating gluten-free at your favorite restaurant is a possibility. As mentioned in our post on dairy-free dining, there are many databases like Allergy Eats and Allerdine which allow you to search for restaurants in your area that take special food safety measures for patrons with food allergies. There’s also a database specifically for gluten-free eating, Gluten-free-onthego.com, that allows you to search for everything from coffee shops to sit-down restaurants all over the world (recently France, Italy, Spain and Mallorca were added to the search areas). And in case you’re at the grocery and want to know what’s safe to grab, there are also several apps to get your phone thinking gluten-free such as Gluten Free (for Blackberry) and Gluten Free Ingredients (for Android).
Just as in our previous dairy-free post, it’s extremely important to be aware of the possibility of cross-contamination when eating gluten-free. The easiest way to do this is simply by keeping an open dialogue between yourself and the wait staff and/or management. Doing this will give you the ability to ask questions and make an informed decision on whether or not an establishment truly does meet the standards for being gluten-free. In addition to your own guidelines, an advocacy group for the gluten-free community called Celiebo, has presented a certification program to make sure restaurants are as safe as possible for diners. In an article from Food Service Central, it says that “The Celiebo certification includes training programs, presentations and educational materials to be posted in kitchens detailing the specifics of gluten-free food preparation and ingredients to avoid. Certified establishments will also receive a window decal that states they are a Celiebo Certified Gluten-Free Restaurant™.” And while this certification is currently only being used in New York City, it plans to eventually expand.
In the meantime, if you’re on the go and curious as to where it’s safe to eat, you can rest assured that there are many options. Chains like Cheeseburger in Paradise, Bonefish Grill, and Outback Steakhouse (also Dairy-free friendly) all have a variety of options to keep you safe while letting you enjoy a wide selection. However, restaurants are not your only gluten-free on-the-go dining option. If you like sports, you’ll be happy to know that many baseball and football concession stands are also joining in on this dining revolution. Triumph Dining has some great coverage on dining safe while watching your favorite team including what’s offered at some individual stadiums like Tropicana Field and Busch Stadium.