Halloween is just around the corner. It's one of the most stressful events for allergy parents. Although there are a lot more companies today that manufacture their products in peanut free facilities, the same cannot be said about other allergens such as dairy and eggs. It's important to understand that there are no hard and fast rules about what is safe when it comes to Halloween candy. This is due to the fact that companies manufacture products at different facilities in different batches. What is safe in Canada may not be safe in the USA because the facilities may have different cleaning protocols for example. Also, what is safe for one child may not be safe for another. A peanut free chocolate bar is safe for someone with just a peanut allergy. However, a child with a severe dairy allergy could get violently ill after consuming a milk chocolate bar. So it's absolutely imperative to check the labels.
The golden rule of thumb when dealing with food allergies is to READ THE LABEL EVERY TIME. Do not take anyone's word that a candy is safe. The picture below illustrates some of the candy that I found that's dairy, egg and peanut free. That doesn't mean that it will be safe for your child. Depending on where you buy it from, it may be packaged in a different facility which could render it unsafe for someone with dairy, egg and peanut allergies. Check the labels on the packages. Check the manufacturer's websites. Take the extra step and call the 1-800 number on the package to find out if the candy is safe for your family.
Note that although the recent precautionary labelling regulations that require manufacturers to list allergens on the label are in effect, they do not guard against cross contamination. It is still completely voluntary to list information about cross contamination and manufacturers are under no obligation to do so. In addition, the type of candy you bought last year or even last month may have changed. Manufacturers can change ingredients without notice. Different sizes of the same candy are processed in different facilities so while individual size bags may be safe, jumbo size bags of the same candy may not be safe.
I believe that all families living with allergies should be able to safely enjoy trick or treating by planning ahead and taking some precautions. Here's an excellent article about Allergy-Safe Halloween Treating
written by Gina Clowes for Allergic Living
Have a safe and happy Halloween!
Every year, Santa and his elves come to the mall. He sits on his big comfy chair, surrounded by Christmas trees and large stockings full of treats. Families gather around with their kids and people wait in line for hours to take pictures of their children sitting on Santa's lap, talking to him and receiving candy at the end of the visit. Our little girl loved this visit and looked forward to it every year. This year however, she was disappointed, and so were we.
We went to the mall as usual, and Maya was so excited to see Santa, but could not go anywhere near him. Upon arrival to the area, we noticed that there was food everywhere and chocolate smeared on the ground, pillars and the walls. Apparently, the elves were doling out candy and chocolates to the kids while they were waiting in line to visit Santa. Normally, candy was given after the visit so that parents would escort the kids away and the chocolates were eaten elsewhere. This year, kids were hopped up on candy before they even got to Santa. I'm not entirely sure if Santa and his elves came up with that brilliant idea or if upper management at the North Pole issued a corporate wide policy change. In any case, what ensued was a disappointing experience.
What would normally be an exciting time for most families, especially kids, was an absolute nightmare for us and treacherous for Maya. Navigating the mall was like walking into a minefield. Everywhere I turned there was ice cream, chocolate bars, coffee, etc. even in sitting areas that were far away from the food court. I was trying to formulate a thought in my head - how to tell Maya that she cannot visit with Santa this year, because his suit is covered in milk chocolate residue, and his chair has little hand prints of candy stains. It is sad that a child should have to understand this sort of thing at an early age but there was just no way I could put a positive spin on this one. Honey, Santa is contaminated and we can't approach him without hazardous materials suits.
As I stood in front of Santa's house, held Maya's little hand and tried to absorb the magnitude of the danger I had just exposed my child to, I spotted an elf heading our way. But instead of talking to me, he simply smiled at Maya and pulled out a box of Smarties chocolates from the bag. Innocently, Maya put out her hand to grab the seemingly harmless gift and was startled by the loud "NO!" her father and I uttered in the same breath. The whole incident took less than a second. I was holding her hand, and using my other hand to keep kids away from her (with their chocolate covered faces and hands) as well as keep Maya from touching the walls that were also covered in smears of chocolates and coffee cups parked at the corners. In the same moment, my husband dove in to yank the chocolate out of her hand and remind her that she cannot have those because she is allergic to milk. I turned around to tell the elf that she is allergic and cannot have those. We proceeded to walk away when we noticed the elf behind us again and this time he pulled out a candy cane from the bag and gave it to Maya. Again, I took it out of her hand, as she cried, and I put it away and offered her a different kind of candy that is safe while her father tried to console her.
Santa, I know that this time of year you're probably busy getting stuck in chimneys and whatnot but I'm not at all impressed with the new policy, namely giving candy to kids before their visit. I don't want to be "shoulding" all over you but you "should" have considered at the very least, those who are allergic to nuts. And let's not even talk about the logistics of that decision and the repercussions. For example, isn't it a waste of financial resources to give all the kids candy without doing the necessary research first. There is insufficient evidence to prove that all those kids were nice. I'm certain that a small portion of them were naughty and deserved nothing but reindeer droppings (or coal). Not to mention, the lack of understanding we received from your elves (and other parents who rolled their eyes at me when I stated that Maya is allergic - those parents should be receiving droppings as well, perhaps even bear droppings). Even after I told the elf that she was allergic, he proceeded to give her something else that she could be allergic to. He just assumed that she is allergic to peanuts (and she is, but she's also deathly allergic to dairy and eggs) when he could have asked what her allergies are before giving her anything else.
I'm not asking for much, Santa, just for your staff to be a little bit understanding and for upper management to be a little more creative. Santa, why give food at all? Wouldn't a little toy trinket be safer and better for everyone involved? Or simply stickers, Santa; everyone loves stickers, even adults love stickers (when they don't have to peel them off the walls, floors, sinks, and other important areas).
Santa, I have been a loyal customer (and fan) of yours for the past 30 years and I feel that this latest incident has caused me to question your motives and the entire validity of Christmas. Before making any more policy changes, please take into account all your customers, not just a portion of them. My little girl is starting to doubt your existence (she's too young I know, but she's also quite clever - and your latest stunt did not help) and is not sure if you deserve a plate of cookies this year. Please pass my concerns onto the North Pole management team. Thank you for your cooperation and I look forward to seeing you soon with plenty of toys and no food.
Twilight Zone Central
Someone visited my site today and asked a question about cake decorations. I'm compelled to share the information I've collected because so many people have asked the same question and because that's just the type of person I am... collect and distribute, fast and efficient, overworked and underappreciated, but that's a story for another time. Right now we need to focus on those sprinkles. The ones I've been using for the past two years are made by McCormick Canada and are called Cake Mate.
After extensive research, the only brand that seems to be safe for dairy, egg, peanut, and tree nut allergies is Cake Mate. And don't even ask about the conversation I had with Wilton and the overly intelligent service rep who only answered each question after I repeated it twice; suffice to say, Wilton cake decorations are not safe. Okay, back to Cake Mate. Please be advised, Cake Mate made by Signature Brands in the USA is NOT safe. Some of their products contain nuts and eggs. I am not sure how they label their products. However, Cake Mate made by McCormick Canada is safe. A quick phone call this afternoon confirmed that they are still manufacturing their cake decorations, sprinkles and icings in a facility that is completely peanut and tree nut free. Also, eggs and dairy are not even processed on the same lines. In addition, McCormick Canada lists allergens on their products. Some of the Cake Mate decorations have egg allergy warning on them, but according to the McCormick Canada rep they are processed in an entirely different facility. So just make sure that the version of Cake Mate you buy, lists McCormick Canada on the packaging. It will also list Signature Brands because both marks are used under licence, but if it lists only Signature without McCormick, then you may want to call Signature to confirm that the product is safe.
Here is the information for anyone wishing to call McCormick Canada and confirm allergen listing: 1-800-265-2600. Oh and if you get conflicting information please let me know. We're all in this together.
Good luck and happy decorating.
-- Allergy Mom out --
Yesterday, we celebrated Maya's third birthday at the grandparents' house. This year was the first year that I actually made edible dairy, egg, and nut free treats. To make sure the place was safe for Maya, we decided to take care of the whole food/snacks/treats thing. I made everything from scratch, including the kids' lunches. It was a great party.
Both recipes for the cake and cupcakes came from Kelly Rudnicki (Food Allergy Mama). I used the Red Velvet cake recipe for the Dora cake, which was a huge hit with the kids because of the obvious theme, but the adults loved how moist it was and the flavour got rave reviews. For the cupcakes, I used Kelly's Vanilla Cupcake Recipe. Oh and the frosting was Kelly's recipe too. To round out the party I also made several cookies and other snacks. Among those were snickerdoodle cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and wildberry rugelach. My father-in-law fell in love with the chocolate chip cookies (so he's going to get a batch every time we visit). The snickerdoodles and rugelach were so popular that people actually took them home to snack on them later.As for the kids, it was a challenge for us to keep them from digging into the cake with their fingers. They could not get enough of the frosting. It was a miracle that I was able to take a picture of it before the kids started poking holes at it with their cute little pinkies.
No one believed that the food was dairy, egg, and nut free. Everything tasted better than the usual cakes and cookies that have eggs and milk in them. I was so pleased and of course my little girl was happy. She got to have her cake and eat it too, not to mention, the presents. We had one very excited little girl. Thank you Kelly! You helped me make my little girl's day and that is worth a lot to me.Food Allergy Mama's recipes are amazing and I have tried many of them. They all taste fabulous. I strongly recommend her book if you like baked goods. I cannot say enough about it. In the meantime, if you want to check out the individual recipes that I made for the party, click on the links below.Snickerdoodle CookiesChocolate Chip CookiesWildberry RugelachRed Velvet CakeVanilla Cupcakes with Frosting
Normally, buying a turkey is a simple task. This year however, a large group of manufacturers are offering pre-stuffed and buttered turkeys. I had a hard time finding a turkey that is allergen friendly. If you are looking into buying a turkey that is safe for your family, please make sure that you read the label. After an extensive trip to various stores, I've discovered the following:
They have frozen buttered and frozen plain. The buttered turkey obviously contains milk ingredients. The plain has a label on it that says "may contain milk and soy". I have seen some Butterball frozen turkeys that have no ingredient label at all. I chose not to purchase one for safety reasons. It is very likely that they produce both turkey types on the same line, so cross contamination could be an issue. For additional info, take a look at Avoiding Milk Protein and their correspondence with Butterball.
President's Choice Turkey (Atlantic Superstore brand)
At the local store, I have only seen the frozen ones that are buttered. The list of ingredients includes milk and soy.
Compliments Turkey (Sobey's brand)
At the time I called, Sobey's was completely out of plain turkey, but they told me that it's free of allergens. The compliments brand typically lists allergens and has a good allergy labeling system. If you happen to find one and read the label please let me know what they have listed on it.
I was told by them that they have only one type of turkey, but it does not have a list of ingredients. You would have to call the 1 800 number to get more information.
They have a complete listing of allergens on their web site. I bought the Flamingo Frozen Young Turkey. Their web site states that the turkey is free from the top 8 allergens. For more information take a look at their allergy info here.
Now, on to Christmas dinner...
If you want a moist and juicy turkey that is full of flavour, I recommend Chef Michael Smith's recipe for Turkey Brining. I've been making this recipe for the past few years and every time the turkey comes out incredibly moist and absolutely delicious. I brine the turkey and use Kraft's Stovetop Turkey Stuffing. It's dairy/egg/peanut free, but it does contain soy and wheat. I also use Idahoan Original Mashed Potatoes for the side dish, which is milk/egg/peanut/soy/gluten free. (Yes, I realize that real potatoes probably taste better, but sometimes you have to cut corners especially when you're crunched for time and transporting the entire Christmas dinner, dessert and all, across the province.) The following are instructions on how to brine a turkey from Chef Michael Smith (but remember READ EVERY AND ALL LABELS):
1. Place the turkey in the cooler upside down. Dissolve the salt and sugar in one gallon of cold water. Pour over the turkey and add three more gallons of cold water. Turn the turkey a few times to thoroughly mix the salt and sugar. Place the cooler in a cold place for four hours for a smaller turkey and as much as six hours for a larger one, no more no less. To help keep the brine and turkey cold toss in a few freezer packs.
- A fresh turkey, 12 - 25 lbs
- 2 pounds of sea salt (I use table salt)
- 2 cups of brown sugar (I've used white sugar and it turned out just as good)
- Lots of cold water
- A few freezer packs
- A large roasting pan
- 4 large carrots, 4 stalks of celery, 4 onions
- An accurate meat thermometer to gauge exactly when the turkey is done (absolutely essential)
- 3 cups of water, chicken broth or cider for the gravy
- 1 cup of whatever wine you are drinking (I replace wine with chicken broth)
- 3 tablespoons of corn starch
2. Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse well under cold running water. Thoroughly dry it with paper towels or clean kitchen towels. Remove any excess moisture and dry out the skin so that it will brown well.
At this point, I actually stuff the turkey with a mixture of Stove top stuffing and mashed potatoes. Then, I put 2 to 3 tablespoons of Earth Balance butter in a bowl plus 2 teaspoons savory, sage, or whatever herb/spice I'm in the mood for. I mix it into a paste and rub the turkey all over, making sure to go under the skin. Earth Balance butter is dairy/egg/peanut free. It is made out of soy but they also offer a dairy/egg/nut/soy free version for those allergic to soy. Once I am done with this step, I proceed with the recipe as stated.
3. Cut the onions in half and along with the carrots and celery fashion a bed in the roasting pan for the turkey to rest on.
4. Place the turkey in a preheated 400° oven. Roast one hour then, without opening the oven, turn the heat down to 300° and continue roasting for two to three hours longer depending on the size of the turkey. If you have a convection oven, only roast for 45 minutes first before turning down the oven heat. No other adjustments are needed.
5. After 2 1/2 hours, open the oven and check the temperature every 15 minutes or so (or you can avoid opening the oven completely if you have an oven safe thermometer with a digital output on the counter which I thought was really cool until I saw the wireless thermometers. Now you can cook a turkey and have it communicate to you from the oven while you are roaming!!). Continue roasting until the breast and thigh meat both reach 165°. Let the turkey rest covered with foil for 20 to 30 minutes before carving and then serve immediately.
6. Pour off most of any accumulated fat carefully reserving any juices. Add the liquid of your choice, the wine and the reserved juices then scrape the bottom of the pan to dissolve all of the browned bits. Dissolve the cornstarch in a splash of water and whisk it into the pan.
For dessert, I strongly recommend that you visit Food Allergy Mama and pick one of her fabulous & simple recipes to make. Better yet, buy her book; you won't regret it. Also, if you're planning on attending any holiday parties or gatherings, don't forget to take a look at the Holiday Safety Report on Halifax AAG's web site.
Set the table, put food on plate, and enjoy!!
Have a Safe and Merry Christmas.
UPDATE: Regal Confections produces Rockets but the candy is packaged in Canada in different facilities, some of which are not allergen free!! The candies themselves are safe, but the packaging is not. Therefore, you need to read the label very carefully to determine where it was packaged. The only safe Rockets that I know of are the ones sold by Walmart in the jumbo size packages during Halloween season. Those are manufactured and distributed by Regal Confections in Quebec and Ontario. I have contacted them to inquire about the difference. Rockets sold in grocery stores are distributed by the facility in Wolfville and are not safe for people with allergies! I put a phone call to verify, and was told that Rockets are produced in the USA and the candy is safe but that once it enters Canada, it is packaged and distributed by a facility that is not allergen free. This facility processes peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, and eggs, among other allergens. The person I spoke to in the Wolfville facility stated "Our workers may eat a peanut butter sandwich and then start packaging the candy so there may be traces of peanuts on the candy wrapper, and we also process peanuts and other allergens in our facilities in Canada." Additionally, the distributors do not have a may contain warning about this on their packaging. They said they would notify upper management. What prompted this was a grocery visit earlier today, and I noticed Sobey's has Rockets repackaged but they put a sticker on it with a warning that it contains traces peanuts, nuts, etc. So for all intensive purposes, the Rockets in grocery stores and the ones in department stores are two different products. Read labels carefully to ensure your child's safety. Have a safe Halloween!
In my quest to find safe Halloween candy for Maya, I have stumbled across something interesting. Regal Confections actually makes candy specifically dedicated for children with allergies. Some of their candy includes the Rockets line (also known as Smarties in the USA, very different from the Nestle Smarties candy covered chocolates in Canada) which makes rockets, as well as those candy necklaces, and candy money. They have an allergy statement on Rocket's web site. It is really worth checking out. Rockets are dairy free, egg free, peanut & tree nut free, gluten free, sulphite free, and soy free, except for Bubble Gum Smarties which has traces of soy lecithin. But what attracted my attention was the fact that they have a web page dedicated to their allergy statement. Not too many manufacturers do that.
I just thought some parents may want to know that there is a safe candy out there for their little ones.
Have a safe and happy Halloween.
According to the Allergy/Asthma Information Association, Halloween rates as one of the most stressful holidays for parents of food allergic children. However, children with allergies should be able to safely enjoy trick or treating by planning ahead and taking some precautions.
Some of the key points to address include talking to your child about how to deal with all the treats collected while trick or treating. It's important for your child to understand that ALL treats are prohibited, until Mom and Dad have thoroughly checked them to determine which ones are safe. This means no sharing of treats between friends and holding back on snacking while trick or treating. It's a good idea to feed your child a good and healthy meal before going out that night. This will help ensure that they are satisfied and will reduce the chances of temptation to eat candy.
I have heard that some parents exchange all the treats at the end of the night with a gift or toy. Several parents mention that they've had some success using that particular method. Also, try to take the focus away from the candy. Some parents prepare for Halloween by decorating their house and yard with spooky items and enjoy looking at what others have done for decorations. This could be very fun for the kids. They can even partake in the decorations. Some of my neighbours asked me what would be appropriate treats for Maya because they were willing to provide them. So I told them the tiny Sunmaid Raisins boxes are great. I have heard that some parents offer safe treats to the neighbours beforehand so that on trick or treating night they can give them to the allergic child. That is a great idea too.
Remember to communicate with your child's school or day care ahead of time to make sure that their Halloween celebrations will be safe for your child. I am a big fan of celebrating parties with non-food items, such as little toys from the dollar store, or holiday themed stickers. Suggest a non-food party and see what the school/daycare thinks of the idea. If they still want to go with a food-based party, then make sure that the food being served is safe for your child. Alternatively, you may want to send a safe snack for your child and remind the teachers about the dangers of cross contamination.
For more information visit the AAIA's page on Halloween. In the mean time here is a useful checklist from The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology:
Halloween fun for children with food allergies
On Halloween, parents of food-allergic children must be extra vigilant to ensure their child is not at risk of a reaction. The AAAAI offers these tips for creating a safe Halloween for food-allergic children:
Additionally, allergyfreehalloween.org has a list of allergy safe candy that does not contain any nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, or soy. Check out their web site for more information. You can further show your support by putting up a free printable cat or jack-o'-lantern sign on your door to let allergic children and their families know that you are offering allergy friendly treats for Halloween this year.
- Accompany younger children as they trick-or-treat and send older children out with a group of friends. Don't allow your child to trick-or-treat alone.
- Verify that adults or friends with your child understand his food allergies and what to do in an emergency.
- Make sure your child carries emergency medication along on Halloween night.
- Before Halloween, distribute safe snacks to neighbors and request that they be handed out to your child.
- Eat dinner before trick-or-treating to reduce urges to sneak a treat.
- Remember that small candy bars passed out to trick-or-treaters may have different ingredients than their regular-size counterparts. Even if a certain candy is safe for your child, the 'fun size' version might not be.
- Carefully check all treats' ingredients on packages or company Web sites to ensure there is no risk for a reaction.
- If in doubt about ingredients, throw the candy away.
- Work with your child's teacher to plan a school party involving non-food treats, such as stickers or novelty erasers. Or, pack treats from home that other students can give to your child.
- Instead of trick-or-treating, host a party that focuses on costumes, pumpkin carving, games and other Halloween-themed fun.
- Create a "candy swap" with siblings or friends so that allergen-containing candies can be traded for other, safe, treats.
- Teach your child to politely refuse offers of home-baked goodies like cookies or cupcakes.
- Consider participating in a charity trick-or-treat event to raise money for a good cause, rather than collect candy. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network hosts an annual drive to raise money for food allergy education and research. Visit www.foodallergy.org for more information.
Have a safe and happy Halloween.