Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Campino - Your Info Placement Sucks

Last week, I was mortified to find out that we had a potentially dangerous snack easily accessible to DJ in our house - Campino Yogurt Gummies. I had opened the package more than a month ago, with the remainder chip-clipped and sitting in the cupboard, right beside DJ's snack basket. Several times in the last couple of weeks, he had grabbed them, and asked for one. Each time, I said no and simply put them back.

Then, last week, my mother and father-in-law baby-sat for the day. DJ wasn't feeling well, and neither my husband or I were in a position to take another day off. Again, DJ tried his luck with the candies, and asked Grandma for one. Luckily, she read the label and caught what both of us had previously missed; a warning that the candies could contain peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds.

I distinctly remember reading the label when I pulled the candy out of my Christmas stocking; I also remember my husband saying it was challenging to find peanut and nut free treats to fill it with.

Yikes. So how did this product end up in our house with two people that supposedly read every label every time? Some mighty strange allergy info placement.

While I'm not abdicating either of us from responsibility (and believe me, we both felt terrible about it) Campino's placement of the warning was so odd, I'm not that surprised neither of us saw it. The product ingredients were listed in English on the back of the package on the left-hand side. The French ingredients were listed immediately below. Neither language included an allergy warning immediately below the listed ingredients, where you would normally find it. Instead, the allergy warning was on the right-hand side of the package, underneath a product description. I'm not sure if I'm remembering correctly, but I'm pretty sure the warning was in English only. I'll double check and report back later.

This is obviously a lesson for both of us. I look at the ingredients list and immediately below for any allergy warnings. I don't examine the whole package. From now on I will.

In the meantime, I will be wary of any candies made by the family company, Stork.

Has anybody else seen products with labelling like this, where the allergy information is located in a different spot than the ingredients?

Thanks goodness DJ didn't actually have any of them and a shout out to my mother-in-law for not assuming everything in our house was safe and reading the label. If not, DJ may have inadvertently suffered a potentially dangerous reaction.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Talking PA

Since day one, we've talked to DJ about his peanut and tree-nut allergy. Given his young age, at this stage we're really just trying to install an understanding that he can't eat nuts and that he has a very serious allergy. Nearly every time I'm cooking, I re-read labels in front of him and tell him how I'm making sure there are no nuts. We do the same thing in the grocery store, and I make a big deal about showing him that I'm checking all food to make sure it's safe.

Because he is so very young and rarely out of my care, there is an almost non-existent risk of someone feeding him. Still, lately, I've started trying to explain how he can never take food from others, saying he must say no and that they must 'ask my mommy first'

Recently, when I asked him what he would say if someone asked him if he wanted to eat nuts, he veered off course. Normally, he promptly replies with our practised answer "No nuts, I'm allergic" But this time, he said "Yes, nuts are yummy yummy. I like nuts."

I quickly snapped back that he must never eat nuts, and holding his pudgy little hands in mine, I told him he could become very, very sick, even die.

I'm almost embarrassed to write this post, thinking about my over-reaction and how I may have frightened DJ. Of course, he doesn't understand death. Our beloved 14 year-old American Eskimo Stella recently died, and he tells me nearly daily how is going to hug and kiss her better.

This article I just read in Allergic Living struck home. Clearly, we will have to find ways to make DJ understand just how serious his allergy is while not making him over-anxious.

Over the last year we've really learned that this allergy is manageable. With a little research, vigilance and communicating the right balance that will keep him safe yet still let him enjoy life is sure to be a challenge.

Monday, April 19, 2010


I recently met another PA kid mom, who tipped me off to Terroni. As we chatted about the challenges of eating out with a severely allergic child, she mentioned how many great experiences her family has had at this smallish (4 locations) Toronto chain. I've long enjoyed the pizzas at Terroni's, but hadn't even thought of it as an option. Mainly, it didn't register because every time I've eaten there in the last couple of years, it's been overwhelmingly busy; and the last thing I want when eating out with DJ, is wait staff that's too busy to take my concerns seriously. But now, with a recommendation in hand, we will definitely be trying out Terroni the next time we're up for a night out.

Mostly, it was great to hear about how another family deals with this allergy and still manages to live life normally - and by normally, I sort of mean eating out. It also got me thinking about all of the other safe places that are out there that we're bypassing, for whatever reason.

That's a call for suggestions! Send them my way. And thanks.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A McDonalds Scare

When I saw the news that McDonald's had introduced its two new McMini sandwiches in pesto and spicy Thai, I felt dismayed. I immediately associate both of these terms - pesto and Thai - with nuts and envisioned no longer being able to count on McDonald's for a safe treat.

Of course, before DJ's peanut allergy was diagnosed, I was determined to keep him away from McDonald's and similar fast food places in general. My husband and I rarely ate at them before and with Toronto's awesome selection of cheap places to eat, it seemed like we could easily find tastier and healthier food at nearly as low prices.

Of course, all of that has changed. With limited safe choices, and DJ's unabiding love for nuggets, it's become somewhat of a go-to in certain situations, like when we're on the way to the lake.

Anyways, I was relieved to see there are no peanuts or nuts in either of the new McMini's. The nutritional content is available on the website. Yippee.

Research Falls by the Wayside

Even though I did tons of research before we left, emailing potential restaurants to suss out safe options, we didn't eat at even one of them! I had even went as far to print out the locations of several of the bigger chains where we intended to eat, including Wagamama and Browns.

The reality was though, once we were there, we rarely found ourselves in exactly the right spot when we wanted to eat, and there were so many restaurants to choose from we were always able to find something suitable.

Even the first night, when we set out for Covent Garden, we didn't make it to our intended destination - Browns. The restaurant had provided me with a confident reply to my questions, and assured me we would eat there safely. Still, as we wandered through the area, looking at our different options we ended up at the Salisbury pub, less than a two minute walk from Browns.

Several times, we saw a Wagamama location in passing and I would call it out. It sort of felt like the Big Ben/roundabout scene in National Lampoon's European vacation. Still, we never ate at one.

So was my research a waste of time? I don't think so. By having at least a dozen restaurants we could eat at, it gave us the confidence to leave our apartment in the morning knowing there were safe places to eat - whether we choose them or not.

By the way, several restaurants that I emailed never got back to me. I'll highlight them - including the lamest response ever - in another post later.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Armouries Restaurant - Tower of London

The gusty winds and intermittent rainfall were the perfect backdrop to our visit to the Tower of London. The terrible weather made the place seem even more gloomy. Still, we were chilled to the bone after wandering around the site and decided it was time for a bite to eat. While we had packed snacks for DJ, eating outside simply wasn't an option and we headed into the New Armouries Restaurant on site.

The cafeteria style resto offered up a yummy looking selection of savoury pies, sandwiches and a few hot plates. While everything looked delcious, and we were starving, we were concerned about its saftey. A line-up built behind us while we asked a myraid of questions. Still, the server was patient with us and went to the back of the kitchen to speak with the manager, who quickly came out to answer our questions. No...none of the menu items had any peanuts or nuts used in the recipes, and all of the items were made fresh on the premise. I asked about the potential for there to be traces of nuts in the deep fryer and was again told that there was very little possibility since no nuts were used in any of the items, with the exception of some of the desserts, none of which came near the deep-fryer.

After holding up the line sufficiently, we decided to split a fish and chips with mushy peas. There were no problems - unless you count DJ flinging his yogurt all over a woman sitting nearby. On the unlikely chance she ever reads this - thanks for being so patient while I wiped a considerable amount of yogurt off the back of your sweater!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Salisbury Pub

After a long first day in London, spent hitting some of the more popular sights, like Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, we headed to Convent Garden on the advice of our concierge, who told us the area had a great selection of family friendly restaurants. Browns, one of the restaurants I'd researched and had a good response from was in the area, so we headed out thinking it would be our most likely destination.

After leisurely wandering through the area, reading several posted menus, we ended up stopping at Salisbury Pub. The fine print at the bottom of the menu was what originally drew us in. Something to the effect of how they take food allergies seriously and a suggestion to speak with the manager to voice any potential concerns.

My husband stepped into to assess the situation, and after a detailed talk with the manager felt confident we could eat there safely. He was assured there were absolutely no peanuts of other nuts used in any of the freshly made menu items, which accounted for nearly the entire menu. At the same time, he was cautioned about trace elements in the ingredients and was assured that should we order any item that was not prepared from fresh ingredients on the premises, the ingredient list would be checked and we would be advised accordingly. We ordered fish and chips - both of which were prepared on site.

Of course, because it was a pub, we were unable to take DJ in, and ate instead on the patio. While DJ noshed on the fries, he declared the fish 'too spicy.' It wasn't; instead it was battered perfectly in a delicious crunchy coating. Served with freshly made tartar sauce and mashed peas it was a perfect - sand safe - first dinner in London.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sticky Toffee Pudding

While we may not have been able to indulge in any of the delicious sounding desserts on many of the menus while we were in London, we were able to pick up a few real taste treats at some of the different shops.

Fortnum & Mason was a total fave. I could have spent hours sifting through all of the goodies on the two food floors of this grand department store, a fixture on Picadilly since 1707.

In addition to a mighty pricey jar of potted Stilton (which was well worth it and already gone!), I also picked up a Cartmel Stick Toffee Pudding. I became an avid fan of this delicious dessert when travelling in Australia and order it any chance I get. While it was certainly disappointing to have to bypass it at most restaurants (I did order it once in a pub where I was assured it was baked on the premises with no nuts in sight) I was happy to see it was one of the few baked items we could safely purchase. I only wish I'd bought a couple of them!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Interpreting Labels

We're more than used to scanning labels here to identify safe products. Even though I know there is a review underway to make labelling even more comprehensive and open up more food choices to allergy sufferers while reducing risk, I feel like at least I understand what the labels mean. In London, we had some real confusion over what different labels said and how to interpret them in terms of safety.

For one thing, the actual ingredients on many items were not listed. Instead, there was an allergy label. In one instance, for example, I picked up a meat pie at a Marks & Spencer's food store. It read:
  • no nuts used in recipe
  • no nuts used in facility
  • cannot guarantee no nuts

To me, that seems somewhat clear, and I would consider the product safe. The 'cannot guarantee' warning seems like a simple blanket statement to avoid liability. In this specific case, I didn't purchase it, but was just looking at different labels.

However, other labels brought up some real questions and concerns and neither my husband nor I knew what to make of them. For example, many products had labels that read:

  • no nuts used in recipe
  • manufactured in a nut environment

Does that mean the product is produced on the same line? In that case, I would consider the product unsafe. However, it could also mean that there are simply nuts being used in other products, but not manufactured on the same line.

To me, it sort of seems like very similar to the 'may contain' warning, but is somewhat more ambiguous and therefore, at least to me, more confusing. When a label reads 'may contain' I simply consider it off-limits. But I'm pretty sure that we probably allow consumption of foods in our house that were manufactured in a nut environment. Why? Because they don't have the peanut-free symbol. That's my interpretation of the situation anyways.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Air Canada Indifference

Normally, we book our flights online. It's been years since I've called an airline directly, but this time, I insisted my husband speak directly with Air Canada to ensure they knew well in advance about DJ's peanut allergy. Not only did I want to ensure his safety, I wanted to be able to sidestep any issues like the one this Calgary women faced when flying back from Mexico. She was asked to leave a flgith from Mexico last month after asking flight attendants to not serve nuts on her flight.

Admittedly, I think it's somewhat self-centred to think an airline is going to change thier menu at the last minute on the request of one passenger; procuring food for dozens of passengers at the last minute would be a huge logistical issue.

Still, I wanted to be prepared so we mentioned the peanut allergy and spoke with our booking agent in detail. We were told to remind the clerk at the check-in counter and again, to remind the stewardesses once we boarded. We were assured our issues would be well-noted on any flight information.

When we checked-in, we mentioned DJ's peanut allergy. The clerk was surprised and said there were no notes on our file. Again, right before boarding I mentioned the same thing; again, we got the same response. There were no notes on our file.

Once on baord, we pulled a stewardess aside and mentinoed our concerns. She asked what we wanted to do about it. Well, really, what did we want? I'm not sure. I don't think it's realistic to ask other people not to eat snacks they've brought on board, and since the airline wasn't serving any peanuts, we were somewhat at a loss to answer her question. In the end, we simply stated we wouldn't be taking any offered on-board food.

To note: We did have a bit of an issue taking DJ's snacks on-board given the 100 ml. liquid restrictions. several of his yorgurt snacks were above the limit as was his orange jello and juice boxes. We explained the sitation though and were allowed to keep all of his treats.

On the return flight, we didn't bother mentioning the allergy, and simply declined any snacks.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Back From London!

We're back from London - safe and sound after a great week spent exploring. I've got tons to blog about, from the flight (Air Canada) to wonky labelling, to a couple of really great restaurant experiences. Most importantly, we had no problems keeping DJ safe. We were able to find plenty of safe places to eat, and having the apartment really came in handy. With more than three years behind us since our last trip, it was awesome to get out of and see the sights. DJ made it so easy; he loved seemingly every minute of our trip, making it easy to keep him (and ourselves!) happy. Already I'm thinking about how I can finagle another get away.