Know someone with a food allergy? Be a PAL

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food allergyby Gloria Payne, DNJ

Did you know that almost 12 million Americans have a food allergy? About one out of every 25 American children under the age of 18 has a food allergy. Scientists have discovered that in the past five years, the existence of peanut allergy in children has doubled.

Did you know that there are approximately 150 to 200 food allergy-related deaths each year in the United States?

With the increased prevalence of food allergies, you probably will prepare food for someone with a food allergy, dine with someone with a food allergy or be a friend of someone with a food allergy.

It's not your duty to be responsible for someone else's health, but increasing your awareness of how to assist someone in preventing a potentially life-threatening food allergy incident or help in an emergency can be comforting to a person who has a food allergy.

Despite the best effort to avoid the food to which a person is allergic, accidents happen.

A true food allergy occurs when a food protein or other large molecule enters body tissues. Most proteins from food are dismantled to smaller fragments in the digestive tract before absorption. Some, however, enter the bloodstream before fully digested. Once inside the body of an allergic person, the foreign molecules trigger a reaction from the immune system similar to the defense it launches against any other antigen or substance that the body deems a foreign body.

The body protects itself by releasing antibodies, histamine, or other defensive agents to attack the invaders. In some people, the result is life-threatening.

Avoiding allergens can be tricky because they often sneak into foods in unexpected ways. For example, a chicken breast (an innocent food) may be breaded (wheat allergy) and dipped in egg (egg allergy) before being fried in peanut oil (peanut allergy).

As of 2006, food labels must announce the presence of common allergens in plain language, using the names of the eight most common allergy-causing foods — peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soybeans, fish, shellfish, and other tree nuts.

For example, a food containing "textured vegetables protein" must say "soy" on its label or "casein" must be identified as "milk protein." Food producers must also prevent cross-contamination during production and clearly label the foods in which it is likely to occur.

In a recent study, 68 percent of teens with allergies indicated that they wish their friends knew about their allergies because it would make their lives easier.

An understanding of food allergies is necessary in order to help. Two excellent Web sites are dedicated to helping people understand food allergies. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network is a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing public awareness and education and advancing research (www.foodallergy.org).

With 2.3 percent of American teens coping with potentially life-threatening food allergies, a teen Web site, www.faanteen.org, gives support, strategies to cope with allergies, stories and a newsletter. For friends, there is the PAL (Protect a Life) program. It gives friends simple steps for emergency situations.

To be a PAL this Christmas, ask your guest if they have a food allergy. If they say yes, ask for suggestions for completely safe foods they can consume. Don't make your guest take risk. Read all labels, especially spices, condiments, and sauces. Don's cross-contaminate. Chopping vegetables on a cutting board that has been used for cutting shrimp could cause the party to end abruptly.

Be a PAL and choose food safety for all your Christmas events.

source - The Daily News Journal