You have got to be kidding me!

My first exposure to the new fad of fruit and vegetable allergies came, surprisingly enough, not through the food industry publications I normally read, but having stumbled across “Peas” listed in the food intolerance section on a specification for a product that I was writing.

My first reaction, after typing “No” in the “Contains” column on autopilot was – “You’ve got to be kidding me!  Peas, what’s next!?”, and the next reaction was a mild outrage as the implications of this hit me.  Truly, what does that mean for the future – and in my mind’s eye I saw looming panicked consumer demands for legislation to label and segregate all or most the fruit and vegetables.  In my horrified thoughts, I saw the mainstay of our health and diet treated as dangerous contaminants and unwanted on many food producers’ sites, excluded from ready meals as potentially harmful to health, and, as a result, leading to the consumption of less variety and quantity of fruit and vegetables overall.  But, as it was a single incident with just one specification, I dismissed it as a strange quirk of that particular company, and figured that it was added to their document as a result of some consumer inquiring whether whatever they make had peas in it or not – and thought no more of it for a few days until I ran across no less than two articles regarding the issue.

“The charity Allergy UK told FoodNavigator.com that they are seeing more cases of oral allergy syndrome (OAS), which is an allergic reaction to food limited to the lips, mouth and throat.
Fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts are common causes and foods that are more likely to trigger it include celery, carrots, tomatoes, apples, peaches, pears and hazelnuts…”
(Source http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science-Nutrition/Fruit-and-veg-allergies-could-outstrip-peanuts)

The article went on to state that these “Oral Allergy Syndrome” diagnoses are becoming more common than the already (too) commonly diagnosed, and that the numbers were climbing epidemically.  Great, just fantastic.  What the recession-hit economy and industry need most is another dose of barely-founded scare – and from what I can tell, founded mostly on kids’ refusal to eat fresh produce and demand for sweets instead.  No, I am not dismissing all the diagnoses nor the validity of immune testing, by any means.  What I am questioning is whether something this minor should be influencing the “safety” regulations and due diligence reviews in the food industry.  After all, if we list every single food that someone cannot tolerate (or just can’t stand, like I can’t abide hard-boiled eggs), and then try to accommodate everyone, the food industry will end up having to process every single grain, vegetable, and any other type of edible matter separately because of the media fads which have, over the past century, told us many valuable well-researched health ‘truths’ such as: “hydrogenated shortening is cleaner and better for you than lard”, “eggs are good”, “dairy is bad”, “eggs are bad and full of cholesterol”, “dairy is good for your bones”, “fat makes you fat”, “red meat gives you cancer”, and I could go on and on.  The point is that human beings have been eating all sorts of [unprocessed] foods like meat, dairy, eggs, nuts, fish and fresh produce for hundreds of thousands of years.  And while our technology has now advanced to being able to detect even the slightest immune response to an unfamiliar antigen (most likely due to under-exposure during early years, caused by parents frightened into thinking that those most traditional and commonplace of foods can and will have deadly consequences), does that mean such food should be excluded from one’s diet and regarded as something to be excluded from food manufacturing sites as well?

If you read the list of major allergens, it includes: eggs, dairy, gluten (wheat, barley, etc.), fish, molluscs, crustacea… I could go on.  So if you avoid all those (and avoid feeding your child those along with all those terrible greens which may cause the Oral Allergy Syndrome, gods forbid!), what do you have left to eat?  Bland potatoes fried in refined vegetable oil?  Yeah, that is a healthy foundation for one’s diet, to be sure!

Perhaps we should all simply swap to eating yeast slurry.  It’s not been proven to be “bad” for us in any way, and could be chemically supplemented to provide proper micronutrients.  Maybe we could get it in IV packs so we’d not have to actually eat the gross stuff—of course, if we did, then there’d be no issue with Oral Allergy Syndrome, now, would there?

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7 thoughts on “You have got to be kidding me!

  1. The reality of life for some of us-is unfortunately-increasing allergies and allergic responses. Im not talking about those ‘allergies’ where people can eat a ‘little bit’ of the substance and those ‘allergies’ diagnosed by holding vials in your hands or checking to see what shows up in a hair analaysis. Im talking of those of us dealing with lifethreatening allergies that can cause anaphylaxis, and also the very problematic oral allergy syndrome (oas) which unfortunantely can also cause, along with lip swelling and other oral symtpoms, swollen throats.Its not a case of fussy children not liking their vegetables-its real life lip swelling, tongue swelling or throat swelling. For those of us with (or with children suffering from these conditions) labeling exactly what is in a product can mean a rare chance at having a ‘convienience food’ ie one not made from scratch. It can also mean the difference between an allergic reaction or not. My child has amongst other things a life threatening allergy to sunflower-this will often be listed as an ingredient as ‘vegetable oil’. So for us to eat ‘Bland potatoes fried in refined vegetable oil’ would never be an option usless we had phoned the manufacturer and found out exactly where the vegetable oil has come from. Allergies (real ones) are on the increase and are not due to ‘under exposure’ during the early years. There is no need for the every day person to avoid the top 8 allergens or those that may cause oas-but for those of us that ARE dealing with these and DO need to avoid them, then the exact labelling of ingredients is vital to every day living. It makes our everyday lives somewhat easier and a little bit more normal. We can only imagine being able to go to the supermarket and get everything we need in one easy shopping trip because it has all been labelled with exactly what has been put in it….ahhh I love to dream of this day-then perhaps we could go out for a spontaneous meal at a resturant and simply ask if the meal contains any of the ususual allergens we are dealing with-rather than making numerous phone calls the week prior to firstly establish if there is anything my 7yo can eat and then making sure there is no contamination on the night. Ahhh but we can dream. Think of us next time you are asked if a product contains peas-they are from the legume family which also includes peanuts and for many of us really ARE a problem.

  2. As I have pointed out numerous times, I by no means mean that people with anaphylactic-level allergies should not be given any consideration. Nor that the big-eight allergens should not be labelled. In fact, part of my daily work IS making sure that they do get labelled so.

    However, it is my opinion (and take it as you like) that it is the responsibility of the individual with such conditions (mild or severe) to ensure that she or he does not eat things which would harm him or her. My point is that I do not like to see the entire food industry forced to cater to a very small minority which, in my view, should be eating from scratch due to their special needs. The “precise” labelling which you so desire is simply not practical for most products, since information about every fruit and vegetable which may or may not have come into contact with food in question simply would not fit on the label.

    For that effect, there exist phone numbers on said labels, which an affected individual can call for clarification from a professional such as myself. In fact, I gladly research and answer queries of this sort on a daily basis.

    I do not believe in making the society at large bear the price (monetary) of trying to cater to every food sensitivity which anyone may or may not have–and the price for professional staff, packaging, and associated issues is a very real monetary one which would come out of the pocket of everyone, not just you.

    There are shops that cater for people with specific dietary needs, and even most supermarkets have isles devoted to that sort of manufactured foods these days. Forcing the entire food industry into this is, frankly, selfish. The very term “convenience food” refers to its convenience–not safety, in general. Unless you shop at above mentioned places which are specifically made to cater for people like yourself and your family.

    Moreover, I do not preach anything I do not practice myself. I am metabolically sensitive to sugar, which is all-pervasive in modern convenience foods. So therefore, I cook from scratch or read labels very carefully in order to avoid it. It is my belief that I am responsible for doing so, not the industry. If I can do it, so should others be in my view.

  3. If anyone has an individual problem, it is that individual’s responsibility to take care of it.
    There is no god-given right for everyone to have everything everyone else has. Allergic? Sorry, but no regular food for you. It sucks, but I didn’t pick your genes or fed you wrong when you were a child, so I don’t see why my food should be forced, by law, to be more expensive just because you don’t want to be responsible for making sure what you eat is actually edible for you.

    The second problem with listing every goddamned thing that may or may not go into every single product, is Information Overload.
    As the amount of information you have to sift through increases, in order to perhaps find the one bit that is vital to you, the risk of missing something vital increases exponentially.
    By listing every one-in-a-bazillion allergen on everything, you actually make it a lot harder for the people with life-threatening one-in-a-thousand allergies.

    Nature isn’t fair. Play the hand life has given you, like everyone else on this planet, and stop whining about it.

  4. Veronika-“…The “precise” labelling which you so desire is simply not practical for most products, since information about every fruit and vegetable which may or may not have come into contact with food…..” I may have misunderstood your article-I thought you were asked if it ‘contains’ peas not if there was a contact issue.

    I would never expect or want to know everything that it may come IN CONTACT with-only what is actually IN it. The rest as you say is all too much information. If we know WHAT is in it then we can make safe informed choices.

    “….So therefore, I cook from scratch or read labels very carefully in order to avoid it…”-but if its not labelled as the specific ingredient that you are sensitive to then it would not be helpful to you ie if it is labelled something like (eg only) ‘energy’ you wouldnt know if it came from sugar, protien or fat-as far as you are concerned for your specific sensitivity this is useless info. You may say that you wouldnt buy this product but if you have very limited choices or varieties then this info can be very important.

    Nemz-…”The second problem with listing every goddamned thing that may or may not go into every single product, is Information Overload….”-dont read it if its a problem to you. Its very helpful to many people.

    . I wasnt actually intending to whine about it-its something we deal with on a day to day basis-sometimes swollen lips sometimes trips to hospital with a swollen throat-sometimes just an annoying rash.
    “Allergic? Sorry, but no regular food for you…” We stopped eating regular food long ago!” The discussion is about labelling of food and why from our point of view if everything that is actually in a product is labelled our lives could be somewhat safer. (not everything that it may be in contact with) For example-the flour I buy to make my bread from scratch could list -wheat and barley flour rather than just “flour”. The vegetable oil I use to cook in from scratch could say canaola oil or sunflower oil instead of ‘vegetable oil’. The mixed herbs I buy to make pasta from scratch could say basil, oregano and garlic rather than “mixed herbs”.
    Im not whining about things-I would just like to see my 7yo grow to be an adult Unfortunately in the meantime he still needs to eat and I still need to cook for him.

  5. Caz, may I ask in which part of the world you are living? Your email backtrace suggests Australia, but I know those are not always correct.

    I am writing from an EU legal perspective, and here, anything that is IN the product above the level of processing aids, including all additives is already labelled. Oils are labelled as the type of oil they are, and flour lists all ingredients if it is more than just wheat.

    My general outrage is at the consumer pressure to make general-use industrial sites free from X, Y, and Z, regardless of whether these X, Y and Z are even major allergens. By pressure, I do not mean a legal requirement (yet), but considering that many companies are already pressured to limit the products they produce (or segregate production at high cost to the industry) due to consumer pressure from lobbying groups to have something-free anythings, and demand those as their god-given right from the industry. I would not mind that so much either, however, if the industry ups the price on their products as a way to finance the human resource, packaging and redevelopment costs such a move would entail, the consumer rights groups howl (not to mention the retailers).

    The point of this rant was that there is no such things as free lunch–when a higher level of service is expected, in product safety and labelling, it is as true as anywhere else, for all it seems to be taken for granted by the consumers.

    As to “OAS” and its severity–I need to find the second article to do with the issue, but the point I tried to make, and perhaps was not clear enough about is that while some allergies do have severe symptoms (like your child may well, for example), most OAS and even “food allergies” are overdiagnosed because zealous parents listen too much to media scares and drag their chidren to doctors for testing. At which point low-level sensitivities are often found and “diagnosed”, thus upping statistics unnecessarily beyond all reason. And creating more hype, and thus generating more resentment–which, in itself, is not doing those who are real sufferers any favours.

    Also, if you need help or advice regarding your 7-year-old, please feel free to ask questions and I will happily try to answer. That, too, is part of the purpose of this blog. I now got the contact form working under “Pages” section.

  6. Hi-yes australia. I totally agree with you about the ‘overdiagnosis’ and unnecessary food restrictions that parents put their children on because of (genereally) non mainstream ‘allergy’ testing-.It does make life very difficult for those of us dealing with life-threatening allergies-it is not uncommon to tell someone that my child will have an epipen with him when he visits and to have them reply-oh yes I can understand-little johnny has a touch of dairy allergy and is lactose intolerant-all self diagnosed of course or diagnosed by an ‘alternative’ practitioner using vials in each hand to measure the allergic response to each food. The gluten free diet is another fad that is gaining great momentum-great for those suffering from coeliac disease in that because it is now such a ‘trendy’ diet to be on that they now have so many many more choices than were around in years gone by. But why put yourself or your child on such a restrictive diet that may be medically unnecessary ?(its obviously medically necessary for a small group of people such as those with coeliac disease etc but the others??).
    There are obviously many differences in the standards and legal requirements of food labelling in different countries-my problems are basically from anaphylactic reactions to foods that are not in the ‘top 8’ and therefore the manadory labelling here does not apply (ie it can be a much more vague description ie veg oil for sunflower oil, grains or malt instead of barley etc)
    It then becomes even more problematic when I have on a number of occasions phoned the manufacturer to check specific ingreients to be then told they are not present. Only on further specific questioning eg ‘what grain does the malt come from’ they then check more carefully and say oh-yes it does contain barley (or whatever).
    OAS is new for us (the last 6 months). It began with approx. 20 episodes of lip swelling over about 6 weeks. Scary at the time in a child at risk of anaphylaxis as this is often the first sign of a nasty reaction. It is becoming more diagnosed and recognised and is apparent in those with pollen/grass allergies. The pollens in the fruit/veg are very similar in structure to those that they are allergic to, and so can cause reactions that range from a local tingling in the mouth, lip swelling, itchy throat or on occasions (in our case) severe throat swelling-generally though it is mild and more nuisance value than anything else. Generally the fruits and veg can be eaten if they are cooked or peeled so it should NOT be used as an excuse not to eat veges!
    thanks for your help!

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