Food Allergy Counseling

Food Allergy Counseling
Sloane Miller, MFA, MSW, LMSW, Psychotherapist; Specialist in Food Allergy Management, Speaking At Mylan Specialty / EpiPen Event (© Noel Malcolm 2013)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

NYC Council Expected to Pass Lappin Bill

UPDATE: "Bill passed at the (very delayed) meeting yesterday by a vote of 46-2."

Here's NY1 video of press conference.

Literally hot off the email press, the New York City Council just informed me that this bill is expected to pass this afternoon! I'm thrilled! One step closer to safety for everyone!

(Below is the press release)

Council to pass life saving measure for food-allergic New Yorkers: Lappin bill would increase awareness among food preparers and handlers

For the average New Yorker a simple mistake by a waiter is an inconvenience. If you order decaf and the waiter brings you regular, it might keep you up all night. However, for the 300,000 New Yorkers who suffer from food allergies, a similar mistake could be fatal.

At today’s meeting, the City Council is expected to pass Council Member Jessica Lappin’s legislation that will require restaurants and other food service establishments to display a poster that provides important food allergy information to their staff.

“This is literally a life or death issue for millions of Americans,” Lappin said. “We need to make sure that food preparers in New York City understand the dangers and how to prevent fatal attacks. Deaths from food allergies are preventable if people are educated. This bill would help do that.”

Despite the importance of education in preventing food allergy reactions, a survey conducted by the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in 2007 found that of the 100 restaurant managers, chefs, and servers they surveyed, only 42 percent had received any food allergy education. Twenty four percent thought that it is safe to consume small amounts of an allergen; 25 percent thought that removing problem foods—like nuts or shrimp—from a finished dish would make it safe; and 35 percent believed that fryer heat destroys allergens.

The poster, which will be available in multiple languages, will highlight the most common food allergens, as well as provide information about how to avoid cross contamination and what signs to look for to identify an allergic reaction. The poster will be displayed in a conspicuous location that is visible to food preparers and food handlers.

“This is a small and simple thing we can do, but it has the potential to save lives,” Council Member Lappin said.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Allergic Girl & 2009 International Restaurant & Foodservice Show

Where I'll be on Monday!

The 16th annual International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York is March 1-3, 2009 at The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, New York, NY.

SPECIAL SESSION: Monday, March 2, 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM, Room 1C01

Food Allergies: How To Capture This Growing Market, presented by:

-Sloane Miller, MFA MSW LMSW, President, Allergic Girl Resources, Inc.

-Deb Scherrer, Vice President of Educational Programs, The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network

-Chef Franklin Becker, Executive Chef Abe & Arthur's


The International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York is produced and managed by Reed Exhibitions, the worlds leading organizer of trade and public shows and owned and sponsored by the New York State Restaurant Association . For more information call (888) 334-8705 or visit, International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York

Monday, February 23, 2009

When to Take This Allergic Girl by the Hand

Due to scheduling conflicts, I missed Allison’s bachelorette party and shower. So I invited her to a special dinner, just we two. I took her to a spot where I had been a few times before, where they were helpful with my allergies and the food was yum.

I did my routine: I called ahead, identified myself when I entered the restaurant and general manager Oscar and I made fast friends. At every step, the restaurant said they were aware of my requests and prepared to serve me an Allergic Girl safe meal.

Once we sat down, our server, who was being extra careful with my requests, let it slip that tonight’s chef was “worried” about my arrival. A worried chef equals a worried Allergic Girl. The server was doing his best to be responsible and communicate what he was hearing from the kitchen and I appreciated the efforts of everyone front and back of house, but by the main course, it became clear that the lines of communication had broken down.

In short: we were told that the cabbage had nuts and my dish would be made without it; however, my lovely hen showed up with a layer of cabbage underneath and the GM followed soon after.

“I was told the cabbage wasn’t safe for me,” I asked, puzzled.

“It’s fine. I’m 1000% sure,” he said.

“But I was told the cabbage was made with nuts. I’m confused. How can I eat this”

“Who told you that?” he asked

You can see where this convo was going: nowhere fast except down scary miscommunication lane.

Allison said, “Don’t eat it.

I'm certain my face registered some fear.

The manager who was still standing there, said: “Do you want to see the chef? Let’s go see the chef.”

He literally took me by the hand into the spotless kitchen downstairs. I met Chef Robert who was expediting orders. He smiled broadly and reassured me that the cabbage only had caraway seed (like another yummy Austrian red cabbage I ate recently) and that everything was safe. I breathed a sigh of relief and returned to the table to eat.

And yes, everything was delish and totally safe, no reactions to anything.


Now, I imagine some of you would still be freaked out and wouldn’t have been able to eat. I know because I’ve been there: when your trust in a restaurant feels ruined and you just can’t bring yourself to eat. And that’s okay. If that happens, if you don’t feel safe for whatever reason, then don’t eat. Never take the risk.

However, after cutting through the miscommunication, after meeting the chef, after seeing the spotless kitchen, enough trust was restored for me to be able to dine. It was solidified the next day when GM Oscar emailed me: (sic) “Please email me next time you come in so I take all your fear away before you enter the restaurant.”

Nice follow up.

Bottom line: miscommunication happens and mistakes will happen. How you deal with them, how you restore trust in the dining experience and how a restaurant handles the exchange are all factors in being able to dine successfully with food allergies.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Polenta Pizza, New York Times

The Bittman is at it again. Making easy recipes that are slyly but totally GF. Love it. This one, pizza on a polenta base, I think I need to make immediately, lactose-free though, natch.

Cookie Magazine, Food Allergies

Cookie Magazine has a nice list of resources for parents of newly diagnosed food allergic kids.

Nice job Cookie!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Successful Peanut Desensitization Program, UK

A BBC report out of Cambridge University about a successful desensitization trial is potentially promising: “A group of children with peanut allergy no longer have to worry about severe immune reactions after taking part in the world’s first successful peanut desensitization program. The research, carried out at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, involved the patients eating daily doses of peanut flour.” It's early days in this kind of work so we shall have to see.

UPDATE: I knew this story looked familiar and not like new-news. This was confirmed by an email from an allergist buddy who says: "What these studies do not overtly publicize is that most, if not all, of these kids repeatedly reacted at lower doses, so there is some question of safety (though all eventually tolerated the dose escalation)...Similar data exists for milk and egg as well--can increase threshold to exposure, but not a cure to allow at will ingestion. Maybe one day we will get there, but we are not even close right now."

So no "at-will" experiments over the weekend, please.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Peanuts on Airlines

CNN reports: “The return of peanuts to the snack menu at Northwest Airlines this month has prompted a spasm of protests from travelers with allergies.”

What Northwest Airlines says.

What does FAAN have to say? Essentially, file a compliant.

Allergic Living's helpful airline chart.

A recent plane/nut experience from Elizabeth Landau of

And this Allergic Girl asks: what about those of us allergic to tree-nuts? These peanut bans do nothing for us. Just wondering.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Massachusetts Passes Food Allergy legislation

“No chef is too busy to talk to you about a child’s life.”—Ming Tsai, People Magazine


Food allergy advocate and Executive chef, Ming Tsai is featured in this week’s People Magazine. Why? Because he helped push legislation in Massachusetts that by 2011 will help facilitate food allergic diners’ continued safety.

Rock on, Ming Tsai!

This paves the way for other states including my dear New York. It’s happening. It’s great. Keep on advocating everyone.

More details:
--FAAN announces what other states are doing.
--The Mass Bill.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Kefi Restaurant, NYC


That’s the word that first comes to mind when I think about my dinner the other night at the bustling Kefi Restaurant. There’s been a lot of chat about Chef Michael Psilakis and restaurateur Donatella Arpaia's latest expansion, for good reason. Kefi's prices are very reasonable for NYC; the food delicious and the chef is top notch which equals a winning combination. That’s all great but what’s more important to us, the food allergic community, is the level of professionalism that this kitchen employs and which directly translates to their ability to handle special requests, even on a busy night.

How it went down:

Before our reservation last week, I did my "Cheers" thing, including going early in the week. We had a Tuesday 830pm res, not usually the busiest night of the week, even in NYC. I arrived early and there were diners outside Kefi Restaurant waiting for tables and more inside; rows and rows of tables filled with chewing diners and filled plates and wine being poured. It was orchestrated happy restaurant chaos. With a little over 200 seats, Kefi typically does about 500 covers a night; during restaurant week, they did about 700, I heard. That’s serious biz in a good economy but during a recession, it’s the stuff of potential restaurant legend. However, that kind of ordered chaos was a little stab to my allergic heart, especially last week when I was Reactive Girl (probably due to oral allergies). I thought to myself, “Oh brother. How am I going to stay safe?”

To start with I was with two of my safe-girls: Francine and Shari, both food industry stars and both AG supportive. Yes! When Francine arrived, she knew the manager and introduced me. Get this, he recited my allergies back to me. Double yes!

How it sounded:

"Hi Kostos, lovely to meet you. I’m Allergic Girl and I called ahead to let the kitchen know about my allergies. But I wanted to check in with you as well."

"Yes, you’re allergic fish, shellfish, nuts and dairy and wheat intolerant. No problem, we’re ready for you."

How it felt:

Wow. The little stab melted into a pinch. I still had the server to talk with, the food to order and eat but what a fantastic start. I felt special but not “special” and most of all, I felt my requests were heard and I was a welcome patron.

We sat down at a cozy downstairs table. The room has a rustic, taverna-feel and the noise level was not as deafening as the ground level. Sweet Gianni introduced himself as our server; I gave him the AG run-down in a polite, friendly and easy-going manner, carefully spelling out my needs. He answered, “I’m your guy; I specialize in allergies.”

More yes! I gave him my AG list and we had some detailed back and forth about the ingredients of different dishes and cooking techniques, e.g. the meat is cooked on same grill as fish. Gianni was super knowledgeable about the intricacies of Executive Chef Michael Psilakis’s creations and thus able to expertly guide me to a dish that would be AG safe and easy for the kitchen to turn out with the other 200 orders they were cooking simultaneously.

I ordered the lamb shank with a side of plain steamed white rice and I could have licked the plate--lamb shank is a favorite of this former vegetarian. All that was left was the bone. As you know, I don’t usually order dessert, even sorbet, because very often the spoons/scoopers are not 100% clean. Gianni sent out some comp’d sorbet for dessert, explaining that he personally scrubbed the scooper to ensure that it was AG safe. Thanks G!

Everything was handled so well I said to Gianni, “So what should I order when I come back next and you’re my server?” As this was toward the end of service, about 10pm, Gianni went over the entire Kefi menu, dish by dish, with me. The Cypriot sausage sounded particularly scrumptious. Who passed by at that moment but the sausage maker and grill guy, Chef Dave. He told me ALL of the ingredients of my future dish, all AG safe sounding.

In short, on this inaugural visit, Kefi Restaurant impressed this hard-core restaurant veteran, foodie and life-long Allergic Girl. Every step was professional. The staff communicated clearly with me and obviously was communicating with each other. I felt welcomed and cared for; the atmos was warm, the food was delicious and inexpensive. It was a good reminder how a professional kitchen should work and what we should expect as diners with special requests.

Kefi Restaurant
505 Columbus Ave
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-0200

Sunday, February 15, 2009, Kissing with Food Allergies

I meant to get this post up before V-Day but no matter; kissing happens year round.

Lucky us.

As a non-allergic person Helena Echlin on tackles this subject and comes up with some general advice.

For those single and dating Allergic Girl readers, what strategies have you come up with? Here are mine in this link.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Soy Almost joy

I started an elimination diet in May 2005, almost four years ago--jeez. It was for massive stomach disturbances. It took two full years for my stomach to come back to anything even close to normal. Two years of not cheating, ever. And almost two years after that I’m still on it because it works and my tum is still not 100%.

But I’ve gotten curious as I’ve gotten better. Which one of the foods that I eliminated [dairy, wheat, soy, processed sugar] is the true food intolerance culprit that keeps my stomach roiling, knowing full well that it could be all?

Soy has been a big question. I was a full-on veggie for 17 years without any soy issues. So why all of a sudden would soy be problematic? I cut it out with everything else but a few months back I tried Jo-sef’s GF cookies. Soy flour is a major component and after sampling (read: gobbling down) too many samples, my stomach said soy flour was seriously no good.

OK, but what about soy lethicin? No issues there that I've noticed in any of the GF cookie samples I've tried like Home Free.

Soy oil? No issues.

And this past weekend at a private WFD Family event, the restaurant made us CBK cupcakes with vegan margarine, Earth Balance: the major ingredient of which is soy.

The cupcakes looked soooo good that I thought, ok here is a real test. Lemme try this icing made with soy marg, rice milk and CBK frosting mix—worse I have a tummy ache Monday but at least I’ll know.

And guess what. Nada, nothing, not one tummy rumble. So soy marg is ok. Soy flour is still a “wha?” as in I’m going to stay away.

Score one for soy marg.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

No Puppy Love

So I’ve been allergic to doggies since I was a toddler. Allergic as in hives if they lick me, sneezes/eyes watering/chest tightness if someone with dog hair on their sweater hugs me, and full blown asthma if I don’t get out of the room fast enough and away from any of the above. I’ve worked very hard to stay away from animals and thus stay away from unnecessary allergies and asthma attacks.

As I’ve gotten older, I thought I seemed to be less reactive, less sensitive to the kitties and the doggies. I tested this thought (hope) the other night, hanging with a cutie neighbor and his equally adorable lab mix, Apollo, both pictured here.

I hung out for about 30 minutes talking and avoiding doggy kisses, already feeling wheezy and sneezy. It wasn’t until my neighbor, who had been playing with Apollo and letting him lick his face, it wasn't until he hugged me and gave me a kiss goodnight that real trouble started.

Very quickly, my face became pockmarked with red, itchy bubbles and large swathes of hives; my right eye almost hived shut. My chest became tight, reactive; itchy and wheezy. I woke up with hives still (!) and wheezing. This is all to say that I've now had a chance to try the new HFA inhaler, which I will stay on for a few days to knock out the wheezing.

And my experiment? Empirical evidence strongly suggests I'm still quite allergic to doggies. So I can knock that off the list of things to try again for a while.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dairy-Free Hot Cocoa

Seems I’m not the only one thinking about how to make a dairy-free hot cocoa. (In my case, lactose-free).

Melissa Clark of the New York Times writes about her quest to make her husband some dairy-free hot cocoa; she ends up using coconut milk.

"Fudgy, decadent, slightly bitter from the cocoa and very, very creamy, it was a cup of hot chocolate good enough to serve to my lactose-free Valentine. And that’s really saying something."

Coconut is safe for many of us with nut allergies, however it was just declared a tree-nut by the FDA. Why I don’t know but if you have any question about your nut allergy and coconut, check with your allergist.

Monday, February 09, 2009

What I Did Last Friday

So at Fairway on Friday and saw a new food product. Ricera, rice yogurt. I tweeted it as well. You know how I am about trying a new thing a week. So I bought one, had no allergens posted, just made out of rice, and organic at that. Had a taste, didn’t like it, threw it out.

Then within the hour my throat started to itch. Not lips, not tongue but definitely throat and inside ears. Huh. Allergic or getting a cold? Sometimes it’s really hard to tell the difference. The NYT did a brief article on that recently.

“Then there are hallmark symptoms of each. Allergies virtually always cause itchiness, in the eyes, the nose, the throat, while a cold generally does not. Telltale signs of a cold are a fever, aches and colored mucus.”

I think this is was an allergic reaction. I didn’t end up getting any cold symptoms and my throat is still not 100% but recovering slowly. How odd! There's nothing in the stated ingredients of this product that I’m allergic to. The only thing I could find was that the inulin is made from Jerusalem artichokes but I would think it would be SO processed that that shouldn’t mattered and as far as I know I’m not allergic to sunflowers which is what the JA really is unless I have a new allergy.

Ah, the mysteries of life.

I’m fine just a little perplexed. And you can bet no more Ricera for this allergic girl.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Food Allergy Misdiagnosis, New York Times

This New York Times article,"Telling Food Allergies From False Alarms" By TARA PARKER-POPE is a must read for everyone, just what I’ve been talking about here and here and what we touched upon at Sunday’s Worry-Free Dinner.

More than 11 million Americans, including 3 million children, are estimated to have food allergies, most commonly to milk, eggs, peanuts and soy. The prevalence among children has risen 18 percent in the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the increase appears to be real, so does the increase in misdiagnosis...While the blood tests can help doctors identify potentially risky foods, they aren’t always reliable. A 2007 issue of The Annals of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology reported on research at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, finding that blood allergy tests could both under- and overestimate the body’s immune response. A 2003 report in Pediatrics said a positive result on a blood allergy test correlated with a real-world food allergy in fewer than half the cases...“The only true test of whether you’re allergic to a food or not is whether you can eat it and not react to it,” said Dr. David Fleischer, an assistant professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health.

Read the whole article here.