Keeping Allergens in the House

When someone you love is diagnosed with a food allergy, that diagnosis sets you off along a huge learning curve. (I typo’d that with “learning curse” first. Freudian?)

There’s learning how to read an ingredient label, discovering just how many foods contain the allergen, learning about cross contact, figuring out how to substitute the allergen when it’s an integral part of cooking, figuring out how to substitute nutrients when it’s an integral source of them, learning to navigate restaurants, learning to navigate playdates and other social situations, finding safe schools or daycares, training family members…. the list goes on and on.

One decision you have to make is whether to purge your house of all allergenic foods, or keep them in the house for the non-allergic to consume.

This can be the subject of heated debate. On one side of the coin, many will say that their loved one deserves one safe haven to retreat to, where there is absolutely no threat at all of having an allergic reaction. On the other side of the coin are those who profess that with proper caution, allergenic foods can still be kept around without compromising safety.

The side of the coin that you fall on is entirely based on your preference and comfort level, and whether there is concern that your loved one is airborne-reactive. It is a uniquely personal decision. There is no wrong answer to the question.

We do keep allergens in our house.

This began before the boys were born–I’ve never told hubby that I forbid him to bring in nuts. What I do expect is that he scrupulously clean up after himself and take all precautions to keep me safe. Hubby didn’t mind giving up tree nuts most of the time, but he does enjoy nutty desserts or Nutella on occasion.

When the boys were diagnosed, we continued with this pattern. We keep their allergens in the house and eat them on occasion, but are always careful to leave no residue. If you think about it, there are other dangerous substances in every household, and many that can also hurt or kill an unwary child. From cleaning supplies to bug poison to automotive supplies–kids will get hurt if they eat any of that, too. So we take precautions, locking these items up or storing them out of reach, and we teach our children that these items are neither food nor toys. We make them wash their hands if they touch it and sternly tell them to stay away.

The same is true of keeping allergens in the house. If you’re going to do so, you need to keep them out of casual reach and teach your children how to recognize what is safe.

Some allergens are easier to segregate than others. In our house, pretty much the only peanut product we use is peanut butter. That’s relatively easy to clean up, in part because we never cook with it. After making a sandwich we will thoroughly scrub the knife and plate, plus the counter and our hands/mouth, and generally we’re good to go. My husband applies the same precautions whenever he has Nutella (with the added precaution of having the boys eat Nutella outside, because they’re messier.)

Eggs, on the other hand, need to be cooked. Which means a pan and spatula, plus possible drips/splatters on the stove. And if the eggs are being baked, it also means all of the utensils, bowls, and surfaces that may come into contact with any raw batter.

When we were new at eggs, we decided to have breakfast for dinner one night. We made pancakes, bacon, and pan-fried potatoes for the little guy, and decided to add scrambled eggs for us. Hubby had gotten everything started on the stove, and then I came over to help keep things from burning.

I grabbed the nearest spatula and almost contaminated the potatoes with egg.

I mixed up which spatula was which–an easy mistake to make. After that incident, I went out and purchased a new spatula–one to be used only when we cook eggs. It’s bright orange, and Zax knows that the orange means “Danger! Do not touch the spatula or what is on the stove.”

Dedicated Allergen Spatula Food Allergy Superheroes

Having dedicated cookware can be very helpful when allergens will be prepared in the home. It reminds everybody which tools should be used when a dangerous substance comes out–and it helps prevent contamination if the dishes don’t get washed properly (I always double-wash anything that comes in contact with allergens.)

The boys are accustomed to seeing us occasionally eat things they can’t–and to occasionally eating things I can’t. I think knowing that they can be near their allergens without incident has helped them at school–they walk the lunch room with confidence, knowing that as long as everyone keeps their food to themselves, they will be just fine.

Again, the choice to keep allergens in the house or not is a personal one, but here are my summed-up tips if you choose to keep them around:

  1. Keep allergens out of reach
  2. Teach kids which foods are safe and which are not
  3. Double wash any cookware that touches allergens
  4. Carefully scrub all surfaces when finished cooking/eating
  5. Wash hands, mouth, and teeth (allergens can stay up to 4 hours in your mouth–especially remember this before kissing!)
  6. Use dedicated cookware to help prevent cross contact

Dedicated Allergen Spatula Food Allergy Superheroes rules

Stay safe, my friends!

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