Monday, October 24, 2011

What Is BHT and Why Should You Care?

Today, in honor of Food Day, I took a hard look at all the things in my pantry that come in a box. Crackers. Kids' cereal. Popcorn. Cookies. Pasta. I've read these labels so many times, I should know them by heart already. Allergy-wise, they are safe. Nutritionally, some are better than others, I'll admit. There is one thing I see on the nutritional label that I don't know much about, though. It is called BHT and it is added to packages "to preserve freshness". Since I have no idea what BHT is, I turn to the internet to find out.

Here is what Wikipedia says: Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), also known as butylhydroxytoluene, is a lipophilic (fat-soluble) organic compound that is primarily used as an antioxidant food additive (E number E321) as well as an antioxidant additive in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, jet fuelsrubberpetroleum products, electrical transformer oil,[2] and embalming fluid.

Hmmm....an additive in embalming fluid? And in jet fuel? In a cereal box???

I'd like to know more, so after some research I find out that BHT (like its close relative BHA) is commonly used in the food industry as an anti-oxidant, preventing fats from becoming rancid and preserving food color, odor and taste. Not only it is added to packaging, but it can also be mixed directly in cereals, meats, butter, chewing gum, baked goods, shortening, dehydrated potatoes (chips), and even beer.

As unappealing as it already sounds, it begs the question: how safe is it? Does it cause allergic reactions? Well, yes, it can. Both BHA and BHT are suspected of causing urticaria and angioedema, although this is a rare occurrence, according to AAFA. Nevertheless, the Center for Science in the Public Interest does recommend to avoid BHT when possible, due to potentially causing cancer in animals. BHA, on the other hand, is "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" by the US Department of Health and Human Services and therefore should be avoided.

I guess I'll toss the Chex and the Wheat Thins and go on yet another wild goose chase at the supermarket, trying to find nut-free, soy-free, egg-free, sesame and sunflower seed-free, and now BHT-free cereal and crackers. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Food Allergy Study

Amy Hahn, a graduate student at UMBC, is conducting a research study on food allergy knowledge. Mothers of children (0-18) are invited to participate.

"The measure we are developing", Hahn says,  "will be among the first of its kind.  The results of this study will help pediatricians and allergists determine how best to supplement the information that parents are typically given when receiving a food allergy diagnosis. The development of this food allergy knowledge test will also allow parents to examine their own knowledge and determine whether they would like additional information regarding diagnosis, treatment, responses to allergen exposure, or other aspects of managing their child’s food allergies."

If you are interested and would like to participate, read more about it here.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Groupon Ridicules Kids With Food Allergies

Another unbelievable story of ignorance and callousness in regard to food allergies.
Groupon, a deal-of-the-day website that started in Chicago and went on to expand in hundreds of location worldwide, just isolated itself from the food allergy community by allowing this ridiculous post on their website:

The Groupon Kidz Quorner: Your Ultimate Tree House

Hey, kids who have unlocked the awesome secret of reading! Here's your guide to building the ultimate tree house, tree fort, or awkward tree duplex you share with your former best friend who changed during summer camp. Let's get started!
  • Find a tree in the backyard that can support your ambitious plans and the growth spurt your lying mother insists is coming "any day now."
  • A well-armed tree fort needs plenty of ammunition. Fill your tin buckets with as many collected chestnuts, pine cones, dog bones, unseasonal snowballs, and dad tools as you can find lying around.
  • A good fort layout is still available in the 1952 Dennis The Menace story arc entitled A Few Good Menace, where noted terrible boy Dennis the Menace starts a counterfeit money ring.
  • Ditch that outdated "No girls allowed" sign in favor of the modern "No peanut allergies allowed."
  • Why go up into a tree, when you could go down into a well and become a TV star?!

Speechless? So am I.
I was first made aware of its existence yesterday via Jodie Hommer, founder and leader of Spokane Food Allergy and Support Network. She contacted Groupon and requested that the offensive post be taken down. Groupon replied a few hours later, apologizing and claiming that the feature has been changed. I followed this link and apparently the post is still up. What do YOU think of it? 

Update: the post is still up and some of the comments on it are downright insulting. Apparently, parents of kids with peanut allergies don't have much of a sense of humor?!?! We're "taking it all wrong"? If only it were that simple.

Monday, October 3, 2011

On Chicken Allergy and IgE Testing

A couple of months ago our son had his annual food allergy check-up. After having four vials of blood drawn to test again for dozens of foods, we were excited to find out that he was outgrowing his chicken and turkey allergy. Turkey used to be a class 2 allergen - it came back a class 0. Chicken, initially a class 3 (it had sent us to the ER two years ago), was now a class 1. Well, class 1 is equivocal but he tolerates all the other allergens included in this class. Which made us hopeful that he could try chicken again. Very important to us since he eats very little meat (pork and beef), he is highly allergic to nuts, seeds, and legumes, and we always struggle to feed him an adequate amount of protein.

With these encouraging test results in mind, about a month ago we tried turkey. After just one bite of turkey breast, a rash appeared around his mouth and he said his tongue was "spicy". We immediately administered a dose of Benadryl and the rash subsided in 20-30 minutes. Fortunately, he did not develop any other symptoms, but the experience left us wondering about the accuracy of the test results.

Last night, we thought we'd try chicken. Same thing happened. One bite of chicken breast, immediate rash around the mouth, and he complained of burning tongue and stomach pain. We gave him Benadryl again, wondering if this would be the beginning of anaphylaxis. I was already going through the food allergy action plan in my head, dreading the fact that we might have to give him his first epinephrine shot ever. To our great relief, he responded very well to Benadryl and all symptoms disappeared in about half an hour.

These scary episodes reminded us that we can't rely on blood test results only, and that clinical symptoms trump everything when it comes to food allergies. If you haven't read it yet, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of the Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States: Summary for Patients, Families, and Cargivers (you can download an electronic version here or get a hard copy at our support group meeting, this Saturday - see sidebar for details).

Have you or your child had a similar experience? I would love to hear about how you dealt with the situation, either here in the comments section or at our group meeting. Please keep in mind that if you are familiar with food allergies and have had plenty of experience, you could greatly help someone else who is just starting down this path.