Everything may contain nuts

images-7I’M BASHING this post out super-speedily. It demands much more time and effort, but until I can manage a proper write-up please may I direct you to the short but powerful blog post below, by ‘I Bake Without’?

There is a huge row ongoing on social media between families with allergies and Tesco. Very recently it has become apparent that the supermarket is slapping ‘may contain nuts’ warnings on everything from vegetables to fruit juice. It’s too convoluted to go into how utterly shit Tesco has been in responding accurately and coherently to consumers’ complaints about this. At first, the customer care staff confirmed that, yes, from now on ALL products would be slapped ‘with may contain nuts’ warnings. Then there was a huge and furious outcry. Then the bigwigs stepped in to issue a denial.

I’ll post more about this as soon as I can. But please have a look at this and see what you think:

http://ibakewithout.com/2014/04/04/why-must-we-fight-for-good-allergy-labelling/

 

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Yes peas

DID IT! Passed our hospital green pea challenge! Three pots of peas scoffed before lunch and all is good. We now have to wait 48 hours to ensure no delayed reaction, then come Saturday we can embark upon a pea frenzy. I think the key to our success this time was the dress code. I can strongly vouch for the curative powers of a top hat.

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FreeFrom Food Awards – top picks

Unknown-9THREE YEARS ago on Mother’s Day my then five month old had his first allergic reaction and was dashed to hospital in an ambulance. Some bloody Mother’s Day.

But last night I was a guest at the FreeFrom Food Awards and it set me thinking how amazing it is that, three years back, I had no clue about allergy and no part to play in its weird old world whereas now I am privileged to know a wonderful circle of people who share a common cause.

From the fellow allergy parents with whom I’ve swapped tips and pilfered recipes and ad hoc support, to the specialist paediatric dietitians who have doled out their advice in late night Twitter discussions, the hard-working teams at the Anaphylaxis Campaign and Allergy UK, the people who work in industry but take allergy seriously enough to make it their mission to improve services (I’m thinking of Wan Mak at Sodexo and others), the fellow allergy bloggers, and the people like Russell Johnson of Incognito Cakes, who I met last night and who has four kids, a full time job and a wife who is allergic to wheat and dairy, and who spends his evenings whipping up gluten, wheat, dairy, egg and soya free cakes and cake mixes in his kitchen in Derby.

Last night, his company rightly scooped a ‘highly commended’ in the Foods for Children category for its Cheeky Little Monkey cake mix.

Then, of course, there is the omnipresent Alex Gazzola, aka @healthjourno, who is something of a Coeliac disease and food hypersensitivity guru and a dedicated campaigner against all quackery, not to mention one of the core team of people who make the FreeFrom Food Awards such a growing success.

Now in its seventh year, the event is the brainchild of the formidable Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, founder of the Foods Matter allergy and intolerance websites. She and Cressida Langlands set up the awards in a bid to “encourage and reward innovation and excellence” in the ‘free from’ market and, judging by the increasing number of entrants and the heaving crowds at last night’s party (heartening to see heavy hitters from the big supermarkets among the guests), her efforts are having serious impact. Later this year they will be launching the inaugural FreeFrom Eating Out Awards, which we can only hope will revolutionise allergy provision in the restaurant industry in the same way.

Anyway, for the past two years I’ve been chuffed to be invited to be a judge at the awards, which basically involves sitting around eating cake and shouting at people who want things with nuts in to win.

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Well, that’s a slight exaggeration, but I haven’t made any secret of the fact that I’ve been really keen to see more products that cater for multiple allergies scooping the big prizes.

Two years ago Michelle introduced a specific ‘nut free’ category to address this need. Frustratingly, while there are many really wonderful entrants across the board, there is still a paucity of genuinely nut free entries. Is this because there aren’t enough products out there, or because manufacturers aren’t putting themselves forward?

So, as a judge, when I come across a gluten free pasta brand that has nominated itself as a ‘nut free’ product (as this year) I think that’s just taking the piss. It’s like an apple being nominated in the ‘not a banana’ category. I gave them marks like this:

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But there were some great entries, too, to whom I gave marks like this:

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Anyway, here is a full list of all the winners and below is my own pick of the best products – most for for multiple allergies – from the FreeFrom Food Awards 2014:

Pan’Artisan pizza bases, breads & dough balls

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This company makes conventional pizzas, breads and more for schools and food service, all in a nut free factory. D’you hear that, schools and cafes and service stations and public attractions? Huh?

Meanwhile, Pan’Artisan’s gluten free pizza bases scooped ‘highly commended’ in the Foods for Food Service category. I had a munch and they’re good – crisp base, slightly chewy, a little sweet like the Venice Bakery UK bases (see below) but I’d happily eat one.

While the gluten free bases contain nothing but rice flour, potato starch, olive oil, cane sugar, tapioca, yeast and salt and the bulk of the gluten-containing bread products are little more than wheat, water, rapeseed oil, yeast and preservative they haven’t been able to give me any more info on potential traces from the likes of egg, sesame etc so I’m chasing that. But at the moment I really love these people. If your local school or cafe hasn’t got an allergy safe bread or pizza option, tell them about Pan’Artisan. www.panartisan.com

Venice Bakery pizza bases & flatbreads

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I can’t hail Pan’Artisan and not Venice Bakery, whose seasoned gluten free pizza bases won the Innovation Award. Gluten, egg, nut, sesame, dairy and soya free, with a good chewy, crisp texture and longish shelf life, what’s not to like? www.venicebakery.co.uk

Bfree plain bagels

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These aren’t for us as they ‘may contain’ nuts and are made with pea protein but you’ve got to credit a bagel that’s gluten, egg and dairy free, as well as low in sugar. These new bagels were co-winners of the Breakfast Foods category with judges hailing the “great flavour”. Best toasted. www.bfreefoods.com

Focaccia per Tutti

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Well, let’s be honest, this is focaccia “per tutti” except for those with nut allergies (again). But this Italian bread – overall winner of the awards – is brilliantly free from eggs, dairy, gluten, wheat and soya, so fair play to them. They just contain ground almonds, which from our point of view is a bugger. www.focacciapertutti.com

Big Oz cereals

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I love Big Oz cereals because they are one of the few gluten AND nut free cereal makers around. Their chocolate buckwheat flakes with raspberries took ‘highly commended’ in the Nut Free category but the range extends from brown rice puffs through millet flakes and honey pop corn puffs. www.bigoz.co.uk

Ilumi ready meals

ILUMI Line Up 1_0I’ve raved about Ilumi ready meals before. Egg, dairy, gluten and nut free meals ranging from curries to soups and stews, made from 100 per cent natural ingredients with no preservatives, additives or sweeteners AND vacuum packed for a long shelf life and no need to refrigerate… They quite rightly took the non-veggie Ready Meals gold medal with their Lamb Rogan Josh, and the Nut Free category with their Kerala Chicken Curry. www.ilumiworld.com

The Black Farmer sausages

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When Sidney was still allergic to wheat these were a boon for parties – gluten and wheat free but also free from egg, nuts, sesame and all. The chipolatas (great for mini sausages on sticks) landed ‘highly commended in the Meat-Based Ready Meals category. www.theblackfarmer.com

Just Love Food Co cakes

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It’s notoriously tough to find a nut free celebration cake, so this company’s party confections were deservedly ‘highly commended’ in the Nut Free category. You can find them in the major supermarkets and online. Of course, I only wish they were dairy and/or egg or gluten free, too. But I would say that. www.justlovefoodcompany.com

Fun Foods 4 All Bob the Builder pasta shapes

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These gluten, wheat, egg and dairy free pasta shapes are super-cute for wheat free kids and scooped ‘highly commended’ in the Children’s category. www.funfoods4all.co.uk

Nairn’s Gluten Free Biscuit Breaks

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Love these and am SO pleased they won the Best Scones, Sweet Biscuits and Cookies category, not least because they are one of the very few products ticking loads of allergy boxes. Gluten, egg, soya, nut free biscuits that taste really properly like digestives. (Dairy free, too, but manufactured on a line that also handles milk, annoyingly.) Come in little individual packs, so perfect for snacks on-the-go. www.nairns-oatcakes.com

For more on the FreeFrom Food Awards 2014 see here.

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Dear Lollibop

lb-logo-2014Tickets for the Lollibop Festival go on sale this Friday. Now in its 5th year, the under-10s jamboree started in my local park and has ballooned to become the UK’s largest children’s festival. This year it’s being held at Hatfield House, and I would like to take the tots. But I would also like organisers to think about catering for food allergies, so here’s the email I just sent… 

Hi there

I have a quick catering query that I hope you might be able to help me with. I have a child with multiple food allergies and am writing in a personal capacity but also on behalf of a great many parents who are in the same situation.

Will there be allergy friendly catering options available at the Lollibop festival? I don’t just mean gluten free options, but options that cover the most common childhood allergies of nuts, eggs, dairy, soya etc too.

If not, I wonder if this is something that you might be willing to discuss? Latest research suggests that food allergy occurs in as many as 1 in 20 children, so there will be a significant proportion of visitors to the festival who will have these special dietary needs. If they are like me they will bring food with them but to find somewhere that DOES cater safely would be incredibly well received and blaze a trail for other child-friendly venues and events.

I look forward to hearing from you

We’ll see what we get…

 

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‘Demystifying Oral Food Challenges’

oral-food-challenge-gold-standardJUST a quick link here to a very helpful, step-by-step guide to oral food challenges from the Kids With Food Allergies Foundation. It hails from the US but maps out how to prepare your child and what to expect. Thanks to Dairy Free Baby and Me for the tip.

I particularly like the point about how a reaction (i.e. failing an oral challenge) can be a learning opportunity: until last week, Sidney had never even eaten any egg, so the notion of being allergic to it was entirely abstract. While not particularly pleasant, he now knows that eating just a small amount can make him feel unwell – perhaps enough for him to recognise an allergic reaction should it happen again.

Well worth a read.

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The Allergy Appointment Day Special

Unknown-3WHILE Sidney has been going to see his “Dr Bob” ever since he was six months old, it’s only been during the last two or three hospital visits that he has really understood what is going on.

Until our most recent round of skin prick tests, he would sit cheerily on my knee tinkering with toys and never showing any upset.

This latest time, with Sidney a full year older than the last, we had caterwauling from the outset – but not to the needles. It was the height and weight machines that had him fleeing.

In the end, he dealt admirably well with the skin pricks (the TV in the nurse’s room helped).

Other people – adults – have told me that having positive reactions feels like “amplified nettle rash that you’re not allowed to touch” and yet, despite the big lumps springing up across his arm he played ‘shop’ happily enough with the hospital’s toy till, had us read stories to him and fiddled with his Peppa Pig fuzzy felt.

It was still a long morning and a lot for a little one to put up with. So on the way out I picked up a Mr Greedy book from the hospital shop as a ‘well done’ for being so brave, and for tea it was his favourite bolognese with ‘butterfly’ pasta, followed by a Kinnerton (nut free) chocolate lolly.

What treats does your little one get on Allergy Apointment Day?

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Nearly. But not this time.

gjon-mili-star-hurdler-jim-humphrey-showing-off-his-high-hurdle-formGAH, WE fell at the final hurdle. We failed the baked egg challenge.

It was so close. Over the course of the morning, Sidney managed a whole muffin with no reaction and we were five minutes from being given the all-clear to go. In fact, the nurses had written his letter confirming a successful trial and we were gathering our coats when The Hive appeared. Continue reading

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The challenges of an egg challenge…

images-3TOMORROW we are going into hospital for a ‘baked egg challenge’. This means that Sidney will be fed a pre-baked, egg-containing muffin in incremental doses to see if he reacts.

Apparently 80 per cent of egg allergic children can tolerate baked (i.e. “extensively heated”) egg. Continue reading

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Easy Egg Free Pancakes

Egg free, nut free (optional: dairy & gluten free)

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This so, so easy pancake recipe was given to me by the wonderful @ChubbaNia on Twitter, who I first came across when she was trading as Nia’s Foods, a one-woman free from baking outfit. Continue reading

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An open letter to Henry Dimbleby, author of the School Food Plan

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FROM September, the Government is to fund free school meals for every infant and primary school child in England. The groundbreaking policy is the brainchild of Henry Dimbleby, founder of the food chain Leon and author of the compelling School Food Plan.

There are excellent reasons for this, many of which are outlined here. But for parents of young children with food allergies, the policy has yet to prove itself.

There have been a few brief kerfuffles on Twitter over exactly how catering for allergies fits into the plan. To his immense credit, Dimbleby has responded to many of these questions personally and asked me and other ‘allergy parents’ to email him with our concerns. So here’s the letter that I sent to him: Continue reading

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