This week is Food Allergy Awareness Week! The truth is if you spend any time with my family you will become more aware of food allergies regardless of the week. I do try to spread a little extra allergy information to those who don’t live with it on a daily basis though during this special week each year.
A little over 2 years ago, I gave my twins their first bite of peanut butter. One gobbled it down and the other instantly told me his “mouth hurt”. That bite, up to the moment when the Emergency Room nurse yelled at me to stop talking to her because she was trying to save my baby’s life, were the most terrifying moments of my life and LIFE has never been the same.
Catboy, like most people with food allergies, can’t eat like most people do. Not only can he not eat any foods that contain his allergens, he can’t eat foods that are produced in a facility where those allergens are present, due the potential risk of cross contamination. How would a person even know that – right? Well, Catboy doesn’t eat any foods that mom or dad haven’t called or emailed the company that manufactures them.
Every. Single. Food.
Companies are not required to write that “may contains” notice you see on some foods – that’s voluntary…and when you have an allergy to something that isn’t considered one of the “Top 8 Allergens” by the FDA like we do, that ingredient doesn’t even need to be written on the label. It can be covered by their writing “natural flavors” or “spices”.
So what does this have to do with my love of Disney?
Well, we had already taken the children to Disney 2 times before this happened and I dreamed of taking them every year of their life, but now with life threatening food allergies we really didn’t know how we would ever travel anywhere or eat out anywhere ever again.
I was very fortunate to find a Facebook group, founded by Trish Gavankar, called Disney Chefs Rock Food Allergies. The title of the group is 1000% correct. Disney Chefs absolutely ROCK food allergies. Disney is committed to making sure guests with food restrictions have a safe and enjoyable vacation 100% of the time. After hearing from the other members of the Facebook group and their experiences and their helpful tips I felt confident we could head back home to Disney.
When I made my dining reservations I had them note our allergies on our reservation. About 2 weeks before our arrival date I emailed their Special Diets Team to tell them where we were dining and what our allergies were. Then every time we checked in at a restaurant we told them the allergies again. Communication is always important. We always ask for a chef to come to our table and we discuss safe options for my son. We let the chef know about how we avoid for cross contamination and they are very knowledgeable about this (the Facebook group has also armed me with information about specific brands that are usually used at Disney, so I can call for myself when I feel I need to).
We have been very fortunate so far and have had great experiences. The same holds true for the counter service restaurants. I always ask to speak with a manager due to our “uncommon allergy”, but most restaurants even have a special allergy menu available to let you know what could be safe for you. The food cart staff doesn’t seem to be as knowledgeable about the products, but there is an allergen binder available with complete nutritional information for guests to look at and decide for themselves.
So, this is our new allergy life. I am so thankful, that my already favorite vacation destination magically became our saving grace as a place for us to go and not have to worry as much as usual about finding safe food for our son!
And then last year, wouldn’t you know it…Disney partnered with Mylan, the makers of EpiPen (the epinephrine auto injector carried by many with life threatening allergies) to have EpiPens available in Disney parks. They’ve also created this resourceful website called MY ALLERGY KINGDOM, which I recommend you checking out even if you or someone you love doesn’t have allergies. 1 in 13 children these days has a life threatening food allergy and that statistic is growing, so I’m sure at some point down the road food allergies will touch the life of someone you care about.
Here are some links to the sites and programs I mentioned:
Information about Food Allergy Awareness Week, from FARE (click here)
Disney Chef’s Rock Food Allergies Facebook group (click here)
Rock Food Allergies Consulting (click here)
My Allergy Kingdom (click here)
Disney World EpiPen locations (click here)