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)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

ServSafe Allergens: Online Food Allergen Training Course

This is really exciting news. The National Restaurant Association [NRA] in partnership with Food Allergy Research & Education [FARE] has created an online training course for both front-of-the-house staff (i.e. chefs, line cooks, cooks, dish washers, hourly workers) and back-of-the-house (managers and servers) on how to better understand and accommodate guests with food allergies. (If you don’t know The National Restaurant Association, they are the operator of the ground breaking Massachusetts mandatory food allergen training program that went into effect in 2009.) Here’s more about the ServSafe Allergens program from the FARE website.  Here are some Frequently Asked Questions from the NRA website about the ServSafe Allergens Online Course.

ServSafe Allergens Online is a first: a nationally available, non-mandatory food allergen training course and certificate program from a two nationally recognized leaders in food allergies and food service operations. This program is a potential game-changer for those of us who dine out with dietary restrictions, as it will offer a consistent training module across all states. I have seen a sneak peek of the online course and it contains medically correct information as vetted by FARE.

As the ServSafe Allergens Online Course is a non-mandatory course for food service operators, we, the food allergic community, can help food service operators by letting them know we want them to get trained in serving guest with food allergies. Below is the press release from the NRA. For more information, read the NRA ServSafe site.


National Restaurant Association Partners with Food Allergy Research & Education on New Allergen Awareness Program

(Chicago) The National Restaurant Association today announced the launch of ServSafe Allergens Online Course, a new online training course from the creators of the highly regarded ServSafe food safety program designed to help restaurants address food allergens. The education tool was developed in partnership with Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), the nation’s leading food allergy nonprofit organization.

"The National Restaurant Association has been working diligently over the years to responsibly address the issue of food safety in restaurants, including food allergens," said William Weichelt, Director of ServSafe for the National Restaurant Association. "We are excited to partner with FARE on ServSafe Allergens to educate our restaurants and their employees, helping our members accommodate their guests' food allergies or other dietary requirements."

Weichelt added, "As always, we strongly encourage guests to talk to restaurant staff about their food allergies, and discuss concerns and alternatives to make their dining experience safe and enjoyable."

“Food allergies are a potentially life-threatening disease affecting up to 15 million Americans,” said John L. Lehr, CEO of FARE. “We are proud to partner with the National Restaurant Association to launch this critical training program that will help restaurant personnel better understand the needs and safety precautions required when serving guests with food allergies. Ultimately, this program will help ensure a safer, more enjoyable dining experience for individuals and families who are managing food allergies.”

The ServSafe Allergens course is designed to help both front-of-the-house staff and back-of-the-house operations better understand how to accommodate the growing number of guests with food allergies.

The course is part of the Association’s ServSafe Program of comprehensive education materials created to develop a strong, skilled industry workforce. Through the ServSafe Food Safety program, the National Restaurant Association is the leading source of food safety training and certification for restaurant and foodservice industry professionals for nearly 40 years. To date, more than 5 million ServSafe certifications have been issued.

Visit to learn more about the program, and watch a video overview. For resources on dining out with food allergies, visit FARE’s website

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer Camp for Food Allergies: Camp Tag, Summer 2013

The below is from a colleague, Eleanor Garrow about Camp TAG. (NB: This blog post is not an endorsement of the camp, its staff, training allergen policies or procedures in any way).  The registration for Camp TAG is July 19, 2013 and more information from Eleanor Garrow is below:

Camp TAG (The Allergy Gang) is a 5-day, full-day camp for ages 4-12, July 29 - August 2, 2013. The camp will be held at Tall Pines Day Camp in Williamstown, NJ. It provides a safe place for children with food allergies (including eosinophilic disorders and asthma) and their siblings to have fun with no worries about having an allergic reaction, as well as give them an opportunity to meet other children who share the same conditions and know they are not alone. There is also a full time nurse on site at all times. All snacks will be provided by Enjoy Life Foods. Camp TAG will also have an educational session during the week for parents who want to learn more about food allergy management in the school setting while the campers are in session. The education session will be led by Eleanor Garrow.

Thank you to all of the sponsors that have helped make
Camp TAG possible this summer: Enjoy Life Foods, Sanofi, Nutricia, Tall Pines Day Camp, and Chef It Up.  Please learn more and register by visiting us at The deadline to register is Friday, June 19th, 2013.

Food Allergy Consulting: “Country Girl meets Allergic Girl”, Rootstock

In June, I was interviewed by the warm, funny and incredibly dynamic, Theresa Marquez, Mission Executive of Organic Valley. Here’s a picture of me and Theresa in the Beat Street Studio – we serendipitously wore matching outfits! 

Photography copyright Richard Bock for Organic Valley, 2013
Meanwhile, earlier that week, we dined at the Strand Bistro with Chef Kelvin at the helm.  Chef Kelvin is a graduate of the C-CAP program (where I went to speak with graduating culinarians about food allergy management), a Chopped contestant, a food allergic dude,  all-around nice person and fab chef. He was kind enough to stop by our table and say hello (and also cook my special meal and bus it to the table!). Here’s what Theresa thought about dining out with this Allergic Girl

"It turned out that Sloane had called ahead of time and the chef himself  (a healthy young, handsome man with fabulous tattoos) delivered a most delicious meal specially prepared for Sloane.  Can you find fun in your food allergy condition? You bet! In fact, those who are wanting to cook great food for your family and friends with allergies – it’s an opportunity to adventure into new ingredients and new dishes."

Photography copyright Richard Bock for Organic Valley, 2013

Thank you, Theresa Marquez and Organic Valley for an incredible week!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

6 New Food Allergen-Friendly Foods Coming to the Market: Fancy Food, Summer 2013

BBQ sauce. Popcorn. Flavored waters. Special salt. Fancy honey.  Caramels. And chocolate, always chocolate.  These were the themes I saw within the over 5,000 booths and three floors of this year’s Fancy Food Show at the Javitz convention center last week.

Heading into the Fancy Food Show at the Javitz convention center
At Food Fete, a press-only event around Fancy Food Show (one floor, 61 vendors), I had a chance to talk more in depth with manufacturers about what is coming down the pipeline for them, how they handle allergens and what, if any, their allergen policies or certifications might be.

Food Fete all a-buzz
Some of the more intriguing items I discovered at both shows.

Bequet Caramels at the Fancy Food Show stopped me in my tracks and it said nut-free on their sign, which is a rarity in the conventional sweets world. When I asked why they were making their caramels in a nut-free environment, their representative said because so many people are allergic, they wanted to make a safe for all treat.  I’m looking forward to trying those! (Here's their allergen information, please note: Bequet Caramels are dairy-based.)

Gluten-free is still a hot topic and more and more stalls at the Fancy Food Show and Food Fete are claiming that their items gluten-free but with either confusing labeling or claims of certification with proper labels. Take Pepperidge Farms, for example. I had a chance to talk with them at Food Fete and they have launched a new series of products that are gluten-free which their representative said were made in a gluten-free certified facility. However, gluten-free was only mentioned once, on the back, near the nutritional labeling and there was no certification information.

Front of the gluten-free goldfish puffs - notice no GF mention

Back of the gluten-free goldfish puffs bag. No certification symbols and one mention of gluten-free.
I’m waiting to hear more from the Pepperidge Farms team about what this all means. As it relates to tree nut and peanuts, the Pepperidge Farms team representative emailed to say this: “If your concern is with Peanuts and Tree Nuts, at this point in time, none of our Goldfish Crackers (excluding Goldfish Grahams), Bread, Hamburger and Hot Dog Rolls, Croutons, Stuffing, Turnovers, Garlic Breads and Puff Pastry products currently use this ingredient. A few of our Cookie and Layer Cake products do contain Tree Nuts, but no Peanuts.” (Note: there is no information on the Pepperidge Farms corporate website about allergens, and the GF items aren't on there yet.)

Back at the Fancy Food Show, Sam Mills makers of Pasta d’Oro (gluten-free, corn-based based used in many New York City restaurants) has a whole line of other gluten-free pasta-based foods. No information on the Sam Mills website but here’s a picture; they do exist.

At Food Fete, Amy’s showcased their newest items: a dairy-free coconut-based ice cream with four new offerings. Not at all nut-free but might be a safe option for you dairy-free folks. Here’s more about Amy’s and here’s their extensive allergen policy and information.

At Food Fete, Organic Valley showcased some grass fed beef hot dogs – yum. I have a sample of those in my fridge right now waiting to be tried.

At the Fancy Food Show, Wild Garden hummus is shelf-stable and tree-nut free and they come in single packs; there are no tree-nuts in the facility. We all need safe travel foods, this might be an option for your family. (Note: They do contain sesame seeds.)

Thank you Fancy Food Show and Food Fete for showcasing hardworking food manufacturers!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Food Allergy Diagnostic Testing: Myths and Facts from Kids With Food Allergies

I get this question a lot: Which tests did doctors use on me to diagnose my food allergies. To which I reply: “None, I ate the food and had a swift and severe reaction.” Eating a food and either having a reaction, or not, is still the best diagnostic tool there is. Food allergy tests, skin or blood, may (or may) corroborate history but food allergy testing at this stage, is not a predictor of severity. However, there is still a lot of confusion around food allergy diagnosis on both the patient-side and sometimes even the allergist-side.

This brief article by David Stukus, MD on the Kids With Food Allergy website clearly and concisely explains the fact versus fiction about food allergy testing: "A positive test result for food allergy is not, in and of itself, diagnostic for food allergy. These tests are best utilized to help confirm a suspicious history for IgE mediated food allergies. They have high rates of falsely elevated and meaningless results and are not useful screening tools."

See more on the Kids With Food Allergy website.

Also, you can download the free patient food allergy guidelines published by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease website to go over with your board certified allergist.

Thank you, Kids With Food Allergy for this incredibly useful information and to Dr Mike Pistiner, author of (another excellent, free resource) for bringing it my attention on Facebook.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Food Allergy Consulting: Speaking with the Graduating Students of the Careers through Culinary Arts Program

Last week, I was honored to speak with 45 culinary students from around New York City. They are part of a program called Careers through Culinary Arts Program which augments high schoolers who attend vocational culinary schools with internships, access to further culinary training, job training, college advising and scholarships. The Careers through Culinary Arts Program stated mission: " Careers through Culinary Arts Program’s mission is to promote and provide career opportunities in the foodservice industry for underserved youth through culinary arts education and employment."

We met on the grounds of the Institute for Culinary Education, formerly the Peter Kump school, where I had taken a cooking class immersion into French technique back in the early 90s. (Cooking tip: how you can get perfectly moist roasted chicken with crackly skin every time? Separate the skin from the flesh gently and rub butter on the raw chicken flesh before roasting. Works every time.

We talked about food allergies and their definitions; myths and perceptions and best practices for the both the front of house and back of house staffs. Many of these students will become prep cooks, line cooks, sous chefs and many hope to become executive chefs. Food allergies are not taught in cooking school regularly; there is a short section in the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe course (a few pages long with accurate information) but that is not a mandatory course for anyone who works in food service. (NB: National Restaurant Association is coming out with a national program for managers about food allergies this month. Stay tuned for more details.)

Not surprisingly, in the group of over of 45 eighteen year olds, atopic disease was prevalent: several had allergies, several had asthma, many had eczema and a few learned that they had Oral Allergy Syndrome. Three students had diagnosed food allergies, all with typical IgE mediated symptoms (facial edema, throat closing, hives, wheezing) from various ingredients. One student had an antibiotic allergy, again fairly common, but she had never heard of anyone else with a medicine allergy before.

When asked at the end what they learned about food allergies that they didn’t know before, they said:
  • Anyone can be allergic to anything at any time
  • Food allergies are on the rise
  • Food allergies are real and serious

Thank you,  Careers through Culinary Arts Program for the opportunity to speak to these young minds and put a face to food allergies!

Monday, July 01, 2013

Food Allergy Counseling: Interview with Rachel Begun, MS, RDN

When you have a diet that must be restricted of certain items because of a medical condition, it’s vital to know what you cannot eat as well as what you can. That’s where a Registered Dietitian can help. I’ve talked about consulting with Registered Dietitians for years on this blog and in my book, Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well with Food Allergies (Wiley, 2011)  However, not all Registered Dietitians know nor understand food allergies, celiac disease, food sensitivities or food intolerances. That is why it’s extra vital to make sure your consult a Registered Dietitian knowledgeable in your medical diagnosis.

Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in gluten- and allergic-related disorders, is an expert in celiac disease from both professional and personal experience. I had a chance to interview her about living her best gluten-free life.

Allergic Girl: Briefly, tell us about you, your practice and your specialty?

Rachel Begun, MS, RDN: I am a registered dietitian nutritionist living with celiac disease.  My business consists of three pillars: counseling patients with gluten-related disorders and food allergies; consulting for the food industry and health organizations in a variety of ways, from research and development, to program design and implementation, to product and service positioning to marketing and communications; and public speaking, writing and media spokesperson work.  

AG: Briefly tell us about your personal history and diagnosis with celiac disease?

RB: Most people think I became a dietitian because I have celiac disease, but actually I was a dietitian long before being diagnosed. Like many, I was misdiagnosed with IBS and lactose intolerance for many years.  My symptoms gradually became worse and hit an extreme in Winter of 2008.  I was well-versed in food sensitivities and thought I might be having an issue with gluten. That's when I went to see my gastroenterologist and started the testing process to detect for antibodies to gluten and then an endoscopy to take a biopsy of my intestines.

AG: What are some common misconceptions about celiac disease?

RB: People think that because you don't have an immediate reaction to gluten that the consequences of eating gluten are not serious.  The reaction to gluten can take several hours to days and is quite debilitating for many for several days.  In addition, the long-term consequences of celiac disease can be serious, including anemia, osteoporosis, other auto-immune disorders, infertility and even intestinal cancers.  

AG: What are the three most common questions you get from clients about a maintaining a gluten-free diet?

RB: The most common questions are about how to find safe gluten-free options in the supermarket and when dining out and traveling, as well as how to eat to overcome nutrition deficiencies due to malabsorption or lack of nutrients in the gluten-free diet.  Every person lives a different lifestyle with different eating patterns and preferences.  I work with each individual to help them achieve their best gluten free life.  

AG: What is your one top tip for someone newly diagnosed with celiac disease?

RB: I actually have two top tips.  Focus the diet on whole, naturally gluten-free foods. This is the best way to help heal the intestines and get on the road to recovery. Next, learn basic cooking skills so you can prepare healthy gluten-free foods at home and be prepared when gluten-free options may not be available.

AG: What are your three top resources for easy, whole food-based, gluten-free recipes?

RB: Delight Gluten-Free magazineGluten Free Living magazine, Carol Fenster's gluten-free cookbooks. 

AG: What’s your one splurge?

RB: A really good gluten free cupcake.

AG: Final thoughts?

RB: Many people think having to go gluten-free means that you can no longer enjoy good food.  That is simply not true!  In fact, many people find that their eyes (and taste buds) are open to a whole new array of foods they may have never tried before.  With an open mind, going gluten-free can expand one's culinary options.

Thank you, Rachel Begun, MS, RDN for all that you do!