I never thought I’d be that mom. You know the one. The mom that is chasing her kid around the park with a wet wipe, the mom who wipes the entire shopping cart down just to put a carriage protector on anyway, or the mom that reads every single label on the food the entire family eats. But that’s me. I am that over protective, ready for anything type of mom because I have to be. I wasn’t given a choice when I became a mom – there was no menu that read: “circle stressed or relaxed mom” as a preference. But in order to keep my daughter safe, I will be that mom every damn day.
So in being “that” mom, I am extremely aware of the ingredients that are put in Olivia’s food. In the United States, food labeling for the top 8 allergens, on most prepared foods, is required by law. For example, the list of ingredients will have the allergen bold, in parentheses or at the end in a ‘contains’ statement. Unfortunately, companies do not have to put whether or not the food was produced on shared lines with allergens or if they ‘may contain’ the allergen – these statements are completely voluntary. For kids that have very serious food allergies, producing food on shared lines with their allergen can bring about a deadly reaction so it is scary that companies are not required to disclose that information. This means that these foods may be cross contaminated with the food allergy, rendering it unsafe to consume.
The regulation of labels also only applies to the top 8 food allergies in the United States: peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, shellfish, or fish. This excludes the 9th top food allergen – sesame. So needless to say, food labeling has a long way to go, but believe it or not, the United States is better than most places when it comes to being transparent about what’s in the food we eat.
Since becoming a food allergy momma, I have gotten really good at reading labels. I remember when I first wanted to bake Olivia cookies so I went to the store and picked up some Red Mills gluten free flour. I was SO excited until I got home and read – in the smallest, white print – that is produced in the same facility as tree nuts. It was so small that I didn’t even see it in the store – despite having checked twice! Now that I am a seasoned pro at reading labels, I feel more confident that I wouldn’t make a mistake like that again. But still, there are times I find myself frustrated and discouraged regarding food labeling or lack there of.
Olivia has always been a tiny girl so in order to increase her calorie intake, her pediatrician recommended that she start drinking formula to supplement her diet. Due to shared lines and same facilities, there are no safe milks that Olivia can drink without risk of cross contamination. With her interest in breast feeding starting to decrease and the lack of milk options, I was open to the idea of giving her a supplement. I reminded the doctor of her food allergies and was reassured that they make formula for kids like Olivia! She went into the office and came back with three “hypoallergenic” options for us to try. She read the labels in front of me and stated that they only listed Soy as an ingredient that could be tricky. Lucky for us, soy is not one of allergies so I took all three formula containers home to try out.
When we got home, I decided to – of course – read the labels again. Even though the doctor assured me that they were safe, I know now from my experience with food allergies thus far, that you can’t trust anyone unless you read it yourself. I picked up the first formula called ‘Similac Alimentum For Food Allergies and Colic’ and started to read – and what do you know…the second ingredient listed was “CASEIN HYDROLYSATE [DERIVED FROM MILK]”. I was STUNNED. The second ingredient could kill my daughter and yet a doctor assured me that this was safe. And not only that, but the milk ingredient was hidden in about 50+ other ingredients, in the same font and type – nothing made this ingredient stand out or put up any red flags for people with allergies. I put it to the side and thought well, at least there are two other options. Picked up the next formula called ‘Nutramigen Hypoallergenic Infant Formula Powder with Iron’ and to my dismay – the same ingredient. This time is was the third ingredient but it listed “CASEIN HYDROLYSATE (MILK). At the bottom it stated “MODIFIED TO BE BETTER TOLERATED IN MILK-ALLERGIC BABIES”. Yet again, the milk ingredient was hidden among 50+ capitalized ingredients. This had me so upset. Yet again, another unsafe product for Olivia. For kids that are this allergic to milk, they cannot be exposed to their allergen. There is no “better tolerated in milk-allergic babies” for these kids. It needs to be complete avoidance but yet this was recommended to me by a professional. Luckily, the third formula seems to be safe enough to try, so I will let you all know what she thinks of it.
I was beside myself that my doctor would recommend formula and send me home with safe samples only to find that 2/3 could have really harmed her. And we LOVE Olivia’s pediatrician but this just goes to show the lack of knowledge and information that is out there about food allergies. This is a reminder to read every single table, ever single time. It doesn’t matter who tells you the food is safe, it doesn’t matter who prepared the food or from what store you purchased the store – you read that label every single time. Thank God I read this label before feeding it to my daughter. We need to continue to educate everyone around us – companies, professionals and people need to be held accountable. Food allergies are not a diet choice, but rather a serious disease and the solution is strict avoidance. We must continue to spread what we know, change policy on how companies label and what is required of them. We have the power to keep our kids safe – so just keep advocating.