Food Allergy Frequently Asked Questions
How do I wean my child on to food?
- It is recommended to begin weaning your child on to solid food from age 6 months. This is to allow adequate time for your child’s digestive tract to develop sufficiently to process solid foods.
- In the beginning introduce one new food at a time. Foods may then be combined several weeks in to weaning.
- Begin by introducing simple root vegetables such as sweet potato or carrot. Introduce one ‘bitter vegetable’ every day for one week and then repeat this the following week e.g. broccoli, parsnip, asparagus, beetroot, kale. The addition of chickpeas and lentils is especially important if you are breastfeeding as they are rich in iron. Ensure that all vegetables are well cooked and pureed sufficiently. Serve food at room temperature or lukewarm.
- Avoid adding sugar or salt to the vegetables.
- Allergy Ireland recommend that you begin to introduce nuts from 7 months of age and before the age of one if possible. This can significantly reduce the risk of nut allergy. Avoid honey until age one.
- Try to avoid introducing a new food while your child is unwell or suffering an eczema flare as this may increase the risk of food allergy. This is especially important in the case of allergenic foods such as nuts, fish, shellfish and egg.
I have heard that lists of "safe" products are not recommended. Why not?
Relying on a list of "safe" products is not recommended because ingredients and recipes can change without warning, thus making it impossible to keep an up-to-date list. Ingredients can sometimes vary depending on the product size (i.e. regular and mini), or manufacturing location. The safest policy is to read the ingredient statement for all products every time you make a purchase.
Lists are left in drawers and they do not encourage the food-allergic individual or their carers to always read the label.
Can products with "may contain" statements be consumed by those with food allergies?
It is not recommended, as this statement is included when the food manufacturer feels there could be a risk of contamination. Cross-contamination during food preparation, processing and packaging does occur and when a product is purchased the consumer has no real idea how great that risk may be. It is like "Russian Roulette", maybe the package bought last week was fine but the product bought this week "may contain" the specified allergen. It is safest to heed the warning on the product.
Can products with "may contain" statements be consumed by non-allergic children in preschools and schools in the presence of children with food allergies?
It is recommended that food allergic individuals totally avoid the food they are allergic to. It is reasonable for non-allergic children to consume foods that "May contain…"around the allergic person as long as there is adult supervision and strategies are in place to minimise the risk of a reaction, e.g. a "no food sharing" rule, hand-washing after eating, etc.
Nut / Peanut allergies
The following foods can cause problems for the nut/peanut allergic person when eating out and should be avoided unless they can positively confirm there is no nut/peanut protein present:
- Chinese and Thai dishes (even soup!)
- Baked goods (pastries, cakes, biscuits, etc.)
- Sauces (e.g. chilli sauces)
- Toppings and gravy. Peanut sauce has also been used as a secret ingredient for marinating chicken.
Hidden egg and milk protein
Always be aware of foods that have a shine to them. Egg and milk can be used to give food this glazed appearance, e.g. bakery items.
Fish sauce can be used as a substitute for soy sauce.
Food additive 322 - lecithin
Most commercial lecithin is obtained from soybeans. Other sources are egg yolks and leguminous seeds, including peanuts and maize.
Beware fresh food
Many butchers and fresh food outlets now have ready-to-cook products such as satay skewers or seasoned foods that contain egg and/or milk powder. These allergen-containing foods may very well be sitting next to the plain foods or prepared on the same surfaces etc. When buying fresh food (chicken, meats, etc.) be aware that shop assistants may have been handling foods that present a risk to your child. To be certain your food is not contaminated request that the shop assistant put on a clean pair of gloves. Also make certain the food you buy has not been lying beside foods that are likely to contaminate the food you are buying.
- Casein maybe used as a binder in meat products and "restructured" salmon or imitation seafood.
- Worcestershire sauce may contain anchovies and/or soy.
- Beware of bakeries - there is no labelling so you cannot be sure of content. Bakeries pose a high risk of contamination due to open displays, etc.
Trying a new medication or food
When giving a child a new food or medication, do so earlier in the day so you can keep an eye on your child.
Allergens in the house
It is much easier to manage life at home if the allergen is removed from your house; however, this is sometimes very difficult, especially in the case of egg and dairy, for example.
- If you do have the allergen in your home, wash contaminated kitchen utensils separately in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher.
- Use hot, soapy disposable paper towelling to wipe surfaces that have had the allergen on them. This allows removal of the allergen without contamination of the everyday sponge or washcloth.
- Use separate sponges (colour coded) for washing up to reduce risk of cross contamination. Do not store sponges together.
- Use a plastic basket in the fridge to contain allergic foods, e.g. milk, eggs, so the child knows not to touch the foods/products in the basket and can learn to recognise the products.
- Use separate oil for cooking with risk foods.
- Fish food can trigger reactions in seafood-allergic people. Some fish food contains shrimp meat and other seafood.
- Canned/dry pet food does contain allergens. Check labelling of your pet food.
Takeaway food and restaurants
- Be aware of foods that are cooked in the same oil as risk foods (e.g. fish crumbed with egg, cooked in the same deep fryer as chips).
- If you are having a BBQ away from home cook your child's food on foil to be sure no other food comes in contact with it.
- Consider purchasing your own portable BBQ to ensure no allergen comes in contact with your child's food during cooking.
Parties and Special Occasions
- Keep suitable party cake slices individually wrapped and stored in the freezer. When you need to send the child to a party/special occasion/school celebrations etc., you can choose a piece from the freezer. Try to be prepared for the unexpected "special" occasion - keep frozen, labelled treats in freezer at home/school for treats/birthdays.
- Special occasions and celebrations constitute increased risk for food anaphylactic individuals. There is an increase in food consumption and away from home activities. Be aware that with all the rush and excitement of social gatherings, others may forget about your special food needs.
- Be prepared to take extra precautions with checking foods offered or placed within reach of your child.
- Christmas/Easter presents may need to be double-checked for that little packet of "goodies" that has no ingredient label.
- Consider agreeing to take turns caring for your child while at social occasions. This will help give both parents a chance to socialise and relax with friends and family, knowing that their child is safe.
Visiting farms/ animals, parks etc.
- Always check the contents of animal feed for allergens, especially if your child is hand-feeding animals, e.g. peanut has been found in cow feed and bird feed.
- Activities at farms may include collecting eggs and milking cows. If your child is milk or egg allergic try to organise a different fun activity.