Years ago, when I dropped my son off at camp, I mentioned to his camp counselors that he had a peanut allergy. One asked, “Are Goldfish and stuff safe?”
Want more info?
To get more information about peanut allergies, here are some helpful websites:
mommity.com/the-ultimate-list-of-peanut-and-tree-nut-free-snacks-for-school (double check that the snacks listed here are still considered safe)
nutphrees.com (offers all peanut-free and nut-free desserts. Sold in many Chicagoland grocery stores and has its own shop)
I wish my answer to them were that simple.
If you have a child with a life-threatening allergy, you probably get it. If you don’t, I hope you’ll read on, because chances are, you’ll have someone visit your house with food allergies (for a playdate, a party, a school project, etc.).
I am not a medical professional. I am, however, a mom of a child with a fatal allergy (peanut) and I have a fatal allergy myself (tree nut). I created this how-to to help other moms better understand the caution needed when serving food.
So what can you feed a child who has a peanut/nut allergy? You need to ask the parent. If you bought a snack you feel is safe, have the parent or child approve it—you may have missed that fine print stating, “May contain peanuts or tree nuts,” or “Made in a facility with peanuts/tree nuts.”
Here are some quick facts about foods containing peanuts:
Peanuts and tree nuts are different. Just because someone is allergic to peanuts does not mean he or she is also allergic to tree nuts (peanuts are a legume, not a nut). However, people can be allergic to both. Clarify with the parent what the child is allergic to. If a package says, “May contain nuts,” the company might have grouped peanuts and tree nuts together. If someone is allergic to a specific nut, foods containing other nuts are often unsafe, too, since nut companies might have used the same equipment for various nuts.
It is not sufficient to read the ingredients label. You need to look for a section often below the ingredients list (but not always) that states, “Contains peanuts,” “May also contain peanuts,” “Made on shared equipment with peanuts,” or “Made in a facility that also processes peanuts.” If peanuts are mentioned here, the product is not safe for someone with a severe allergy.
Never assume a food is safe. Many foods are made on shared equipment with other products the company makes. Plain M&Ms, for instance, are not safe for someone with a peanut allergy.
Companies are not obligated to have a warning label for cross-contact situations (made on the same equipment/in the same facility as peanuts). I recently bought granola bars that didn’t have a “May contain peanuts” label; however, I know granola bars are usually unsafe. I called the company and found out that the bars were made on shared equipment with peanuts.
Let the parent or child read the package. If you are hosting a party, it is much easier if you save the box the fruit snacks came in or the bag the snack-sized candy bars came in and show it to the parent. (Note: Individual wrappers often do not have that information.)
Different-sized containers or variations of the same product may be made in different locations/factories. For instance, I know of a brand of chocolate chips that has different allergen labels for white chocolate chips (may contain peanuts), mini chocolate chips (made in a facility that also processes peanuts) and regular chocolate chips (safe).
Realize that it’s not fun for the parent or child to have to ask if a food contains peanuts. I’ve had to do it for the last 30-plus years, and it’s still awkward.
Suggest that the parent pack a safe snack. This is an easy solution and can put you at ease that what the child is eating has been approved by the parents.
If the parent provides food, don’t give the child other food. Label reading is tricky, and one slip-up can be dangerous. I send a snack with my child so I know he will be safe. It scares me when he comes home and says the parent fed him a different snack.
Please realize the parent or child is probably not exaggerating about the child’s allergy. An anaphylactic reaction is life-threatening. Err on the safe side. If you’re not sure if a food is safe, be honest.
How to make your house safer
– If possible, avoid eating foods with the allergen the day before/day of the visit. If anyone in the family ate peanut butter, have that person wash his or her hands. Even being in contact with the food can cause a reaction.
– Rewash utensils, baking surfaces, etc., in case they were not washed thoroughly and could contain the allergen.
– Set out only safe snacks.
– Ask the allergic child’s parent to explain what to do in case of an emergency. I drop my child off at playdates with the protocol of what to do if he seems to have eaten a peanut, with an epinephrine auto-injector and with instructions on how to use it. Always have the parent leave a contact number.
Here is a list of foods that surprisingly are often unsafe (meaning they have a label stating the food was made in a facility with some form of possible cross-contamination):
– Chocolate chip cookies—both homemade and store-bought (many brands of chocolate chips are unsafe, making homemade cookies off-limits)
– Gummy anything
– Most candy bars
– Cakes and cookies from bakeries (including grocery store baked goods)
– Fried foods (some are fried in peanut oil)
– Gluten-free products (may use peanut flour)
– Many foods from specialty grocery stores (since they produce smaller amounts of the product, they more often use shared lines, so items you wouldn’t expect to be unsafe are, such as cereals, cookies and other boxed items)
– Bird seed (if doing art projects)
– Dog treats (some are made with peanut butter)