Food Allergy Counseling

Food Allergy Counseling
Sloane Miller, Food Allergy Counselor (Picture © Noel Malcolm 2013)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Don't You Trust Me?"

My father and stepmother follow the raw diet religiously, so their kitchen is one tree-nut factory: nut milks, sweet nut balls, nutmeats and nut salads. They are nurtz for nuts. For this allergic girl, their kitchen is a potential minefield. When I visit their home, I do my best to further minimize risk by bringing my own food, keeping it segregated in the fridge, and generally washing and rewashing a lot of dishes and hands.

Of late, dad has been buying this organic raw honey. It’s crystallized, spreadable and beyond delicious. He buys it in bulk, in a carton of six big tubs and offered me some. This past Father’s Day weekend, I brought a quart jar to fill up with honey. (Always fun to “shop” at the parents’ house.)

On the counter top (next to lots of open packages of tree-nuts) there was an open tub with deep groves left by the bowl of the spoon scooping out luscious portions of honey for their morning green tea consumption.

I took out a fresh tub from the carton in the pantry and asked if I could open it to take a portion from there.

“Sure”, my dad said. “But why not use the open one?”

“Because you put your used spoons in there.”

“Yes, but just spoons for tea.”

“But what if you ate some nuts and then used a nutty spoon to dip into the tub?”

“But we don’t do that.”

“Never? Ever? You’re saying you never ate some nuts using a spoon and then used that nutty spoon and dipped it into the tub?”

It was an irrational question, I know, and not really probable but it was my deepest fear. I was thinking of the few occasions when he absentmindedly has offered to cut me some watermelon after popping a few Brazil nuts in his mouth without washing his hands. Not neglect per se, just not focusing.

“I don’t think we’ve ever done that”, he said. Then the T bomb: “Don’t you trust me?” He was teasing with a grain of truth.

“No,” I smiled. “Not with this. As it’s all the same to you I’m going to open the new honey and take some with a clean spoon.”

"OK," he said.

I did and it was delish.

But my dad’s question has lingered. Did I go a step too far in saying, “I don’t trust you with this”? Or was that a legitimate precaution? Especially given the lack of hand washing history and/or all the tree-nuts everywhere? At what point does risk management become global distrust? Can a person with food allergies ever let their guard down? Even with loved ones?

Big questions, I know.

I wonder readers: what would you have done? Would you have taken the honey from the already open but potentially contaminated container? Or would you have held your ground for a new fresh container? Is there a third option you can envision?

30 comments:

Meghann said...

I know you did exactly the right thing, and I would have done, and always do, the same things.
I am always super-vigilant myself, and after the first 't' word discussion with friends, family members, co-workers, etc., it never is a problem. I tell them straight up how sick I will get (fortunately I'm not anaphylactic (sp?), but I get very sick for days, even weeks). I tell them it is NOT a personal attack on them, their food or way of life, I just don't want to be negatively reminded of our visits every time I have to run to the bathroom from getting sick!
You did the right thing :)

christinemm said...

I would have grabbed a clean spoon without all the discussion and then washed it myself (to save them the work). No offense but I've never heard of spoon-reusing like that. We use new spoons for different foods.

The conservation of washing one spoon or saving a bit of water and soap could have caused an allergic reaction by accident, not worth it.

A similar food safety issue albeit not allergy is that my elderly in-laws had different ideas for food safety and preservation than what scientists & government recommends. They would leave pizza on counter overnight and for multiple days including that with meat products for a topping and eat it for days. I lost all debates over my request to refrigerate it. This was an issue when I was vacationing with them and sleeping in their home/eating their food and also when visiting them for a meal and they'd try to serve me this unrefrigerated but reheated left over pizza.

They refused to believe any bacteria would grow on room temperature food for overnight or up to three days.

I just gave up the battle and declined to eat the pizza when served. Not even worth the discussion after a while, repeated year after year.

delightfullyglutenfree said...

I know people like to use that word a lot, but it is NOT a trust issue. They don't have live with your food allergies so it is not always on their mind. People do things absentmindedly, and (at least in America) most people eat (and prepare food) absentmindedly.

Jennifer said...

I think it's the only way to handle it. I have actually given my wheat allergic son a wheat tortilla in the chaos of dinner time (fortunately he's not anaphylactic to wheat). When it comes to life threatening allergies, you cannot be too careful. This is why we do not keep nuts in the house. For sure people think we are snobby or paranoid, but I'll live with that rather than having to deal with a reaction.

Vicki W said...

I would have done exactly what you did and I even do that at home sometimes. DH and I have often have two fo the same thing open - his with possible contaminations and my pure one. Everyone in my family has seen the ugly results of accidental allergic reactions so no one questions any more.

potentialandexpectations said...

No, I don't think there's anything wrong with saying "I don't trust you." It is what it is, and if his behaviour is lax enough to make you nervous, then he needs to at least be aware of that. He's a big boy, and it's not like you' were saying it to hurt him.

I don't trust my mother with my daughters -- and not just about their allergies (ie, the time she put my 18-month-old down in a parking lot and then turned her back on her while she unloaded the shopping cart and was then shocked to find she'd wandered off amongst the cars... augh!!). It was just getting worse and worse and worse until I finally blew my stack and told her that my husband and I had discussed it and we just did not trust her to be alone with her own grandkids. She sobbed -- it hurt her so much -- but it was absolutely necessary. This was serious stuff and she was just skipping through life all la-la-la... and putting them in danger. I was sorry to hurt her, but she needed to know how we felt, so that she could change her behaviour.

And, from that point on, she did start taking things more seriously. Well, ok, the very next week she did arrive with a birdfeeder and seed to hang on our porch for the girls, and she did pour half the seed across the porch as she did it, and it did CONTAIN PEANUTS...! But, after that she started to get a bit better. If I hadn't said anything, she wouldn't have had the opportunity to change.

Don't feel bad and don't give it a second thought. With food allergies, trust is more than just a courtesy -- it's got to be justified. You couldn't justify it because you dad's own (historical) behaviour. So you opened a second jar. The action itself really is no big deal, but the honesty of it was perhaps something he needed.

Snow White said...

I would have done the same thing. Although it's tough for non-allergic folks to understand, those of us with allergies think about all the possible cross-contamination scenarios, and I am right with you -- I would have asked for a fresh container, knowing the risk would be much less to me.

9to5to9 said...

I probably would have skipped the honey. I've had similar situations with my in-laws turn into an unnecessary hoo-ha in the past to want to deal with the hassle. They don't understand cross-contamination - and even with a new, clean spoon the honey could have been contaminated already, if I'm reading the scenario correctly. They're not alone in their lack of understanding. I've had people ask why I can't just take the sausage off the pizza and eat it anyway - I'm anaphylactic to pork.

What gets me is when we bring our own food - my son is anaphalyctic to several things as well - and still get the "don't you trust me" reaction. No, I don't. Not when I've run into so many people who simply don't understand.

Gab said...

I think you absolutely did the right thing. Better safe than sorry!

Gretchen said...

I've gone round and round with my mother-in-law on the trust issue.

Several years ago, she gave my then 2 year old daughter a banana nut muffin (both of my children and I are allergic to tree nuts). Fortunately, my daughter said, "Grammy, I can't eat this!"

Recently, my mother-in-law bought several pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream to make sundaes at a family get-together, then promptly set about scooping out a portion for her husband. She contaminated two of the three "safe" pints before I stopped her. If it was just me, that's one thing. It wouldn't have been a big deal - I just wouldn't have had any ice cream - but both of my kids share my tree nut allergy. If I hadn't said anything (or worse, if I hadn't been in the kitchen to see what she did!), she would have scooped the kids' ice cream using the same spoon, from the contaminated pints, and who knows what would have happened.

The way she reacted left me feeling like I should apologize to her, but I don't think I should have to apologize for protecting my children. She says that she gets cross-contamination and the seriousness of our allergy, but she certainly doesn't demonstrate a real understanding of the situation. So I don't trust her, and whether she is offended or not, that's how it has to be.

Allergic Girl® said...

wow everyone. what a response. thank you for sharing. i see we are SO not alone on this complex issue. :-)

Charlotte said...

You definately did the correct thing. When someone balks at me not trusting them I bring it back to it being a life threatening allergy - in a nice way - and that usually suffices. I am allergic to foods like chicken and eggs as well as celery, sesame seeds, oranges and grapefruits and I have to grill people as to what is in food - I cannot tell you how many times my own family has almost inadvertenly poisoned me. You can never be too careful. I hate when people get so offended. I once had dinner at someone's home who definately double dips spoons and was offended when I said yes I want sour cream for my potato but then did not use it because there was some red stuff in it (she thinks it was hot sauce but not 100% sure). Well I was not 100% sure I would not have a reaction therefore I passed.

Yasmine Galenorn said...

This is so not a trust issue, it's a life-or-death issue for some people. I'm lucky, my allergies are not quite so severe, but I try to remember that they can shift at any time.

You did the right thing.

Yasmine

Chemical Kitchen said...

you definitely did the right thing. in a situation with a long argument, my gf and would just take the honey (or whatever) and give it away to someone who can eat it later. it's just easier not to argue. my parents eat nuts like it's their personal life mission to eat as much as possible, but we have thankfully not had to deal with refusing to eat their food (yet).

my family also makes a big deal about having peanuts around my cousin who was recently diagnosed with several food allergies. her peanut allergy is not as severe as her tree nut allergy, but god forbid they be asked to not bring pecan pie to family gatherings.

i think (as gross as it sounds) the only way to make someone without food allergies understand cross contamination is to compare the allergen to dog poop. they would puke on your shoes if you told them to just pick the dog poop out of their pizza and eat it anyway....

Food Allergy Queen said...

Sloane, you absolutely did the right thing. When choosing between a life-threatening situation and hurting someone's feelings, uh, I'll vote for hurting someone's feelings. Some people take it as a personal affront that they're not "clean" when in fact they don't understand how serious this is. Luckily for me, not life-threatening, but still serious!

My mantra is that people are certainly allowed to be ignorant, but not at risk to me. My family sometimes are the worst offenders too, if it helps ("Can't you just eat a little?"). :)

ChupieandJ'smama said...

I've told both my parents and my in-laws that "I don't trust you" in regards to my son. I've tried not to hurt feelings but both have shown in the past that they don't always "get it". They don't live with it every day like we do and reusing a spoon is an easy thing that can happen. You did the right thing. Your dad loves you and he understands.

Terri said...

As the mom of a nut allergic kid, I would want my daughter to do exactly what you did, at my house, or somewhere else. Even at the risk of offending someone who doesn't understand, her health is more important. The great thing for you, is your dad does understand and loves you so he can grin and ask the question.

Don't let your guard down. And perhaps overly cautious is good considering the ramifications if not. I don't think it's distrust, you do trust and share with others how to learn to trust.

jgarbers said...

My son has a bunch of food allergies, and if there's ever a question whether there might have been contamination, we just say that we always err on the side of caution. If the issue of "trust" comes up, I'd say something like "of course, but it's so easy to get distracted with the kids around, and I know you'd feel awful if something did happen, so let's just be safe."

Raugiel said...

Get the new container! Even folks who care a lot about alergic spouses/siblings/friends/children can forget important allergy information, contamination prevention techniques, or even what you did with that spoon 20 minutes ago. Its not the same if its not your own health on the line. No reason for anyone to be offended, but you have to take care of your own health.

Li loves David said...

I would have done pretty much what you did, only I probably wouldn't have been so nice about it. LOL! I have to spend so much time explaining myself and my food issues to strangers, I have no time or patience left for family members who should "get it" by now. But I'm in a bad mood today...another day I would probably be nice again. Maybe. Anyhow, good for you for sticking up for your health!!!

DesignsByBari said...

you absolutely did the right thing. when there is a life or death issue you don't worry about hurting other peoples feelings, even your pareents. you know, you are your strongest advocate and even your parents are not going to be as careful as you will.
My 8 year old is the allergic person in our family (tree nuts) and he is getting to be more vigilant than I am!
Don't ever let anyone shame you into being unsafe!

The Mrs. said...

I would have done exactly as you had. I've questioned my parents a couple times and they're very good about it (the inlaws not so much but hey). When it comes down to it my primary responsibility is less about their feelings and more about protecting my son (hes allergic to nuts and eggs). All in all I think people understand and if they dont, well, lucky them for not having too.

Deb said...

I would have done what you did. I don't think it was quite right for the "trust" word to even come up.

As someone who has to avoid sugar I constantly get,"It only has 1 tsp of sugar per so and so amount of other ingredients." Well, that 1 tsp of sugar can make me break out and be miserable!

Until the other person (relative, friend, colleague) truly goes through the experience of being sick from an intolerance to foods or has a scary reaction to a food or chemical they can't really understand how playing it ultra safe is about survival, sanity and health!

cbird said...

I ,too, would have done the same, i.e. opened the new container. It's been five years or so since I was diagnosed with celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), but only about a year since I learned to answer the "trust" query (and other questioning comments) apologetically. I just say a variation of: "I don't take chances. Not worth, trust me." And when I DO get glutened? Hoo boy, I show that nasty DH rash to EVERYONE I know, so they can keep the consequences in mind for next time they're wont to ask: "Don't you trust me?"

Further, but briefly:

1- I use the poop analogy too - and am amazed at how many people STILL don't get it after I break it down. Go figure.

2- I'd think that people who are religious about any way of eating, in this case raw, would be more sympathetic to the rigid constraints of certain eating habits.

3- I grew up with spoon-lickers, i.e. people who lick a spoon thoroughly and call it clean enough to dip into another food. Don't be fooled, many seemingly upstanding folks do this; reason #537 to always open a new jar!

Poker Chick said...

I really have nothing to add as everyone said it all. We have this issue with the granparents (in laws) all the time. It's worse because they're just as ignorant as others - except they THINK they're sensitive to it and obviously they care so you end up letting your guard down a bit because you don't want to make them feel bad - but like others said, politeness has to go out the window if health and life is as stake - that's just the way it is.

Diana said...

I would have done the same thing. Ultimately, you're responsible for your own health. You can't set that aside to make other people feel better about themselves.

Angel said...

I would have done the same thing. My 7 yr old son's the one with ana. allergies (nuts, eggs, dairy) and it took my mom awhile to really understand the scope of how deadly one mistake could be. I really understand having to be hypervigilant.

I have drug allergies (discovered a new one the other day @@) so I have an inkling of what he has gone through with his 2 allergic episodes (fortunately neither life-threatening).

hillary said...

I don't think you were out of line and this is why.
My husband is Celiac. His mom is Celiac she was disgnosed 29 years ago he was 5. When he was diagnosed we learned lots of things we shared with her that she was doing "incorrectly" and she has since made the entire house GF and even owns a baking mix line.

BUT

EVERYSINGLE time my husband eats her cooking he gets sick. Very sick and I mean EVERY time.
Now she doesn't even bring gluten into the home anymore but somehow she makes him sick. She wears she doesn't use anything with palm oil the only other thing he has a gluten reaction to but because of this I don't trust her. I ask whats in everything.

Sarena Shasteen said...

Oh, I can't tell you how many times I have had to deal with this, especially with my in-laws. The bread crumbs in the dairy free butter or the regular butter in my preserves. They don't get it. It is so frustrating. I always put out different serving utensils for everything and they still double dip. It is completely understandable and you should have done exactly what you did! Although, I am glad that you said it so I don't feel so "crazy"!

RLR said...

You were not out of line. I have a 3 year old with peanut and egg allergies. We also avoid tree nuts. While I am always delighted with friends and family who ask us to read labels, I am equally astonished by family that buy cookies and candies for my children and then OFFER THEM to the kids BEFORE we read the label. Our entire family goes nut-free, so my son knows to ask if it's safe for his sister. In most cases, it's something we will not allow. While I know it is probably disappointing to them, they are well aware of the precautions we take. I've learned that I can't let it bother me.
Kudos to you for opening the new container.