How to grocery shop when you have food allergies
Navigating the grocery store aisles can be overwhelming for those who suffer from food allergies. Luckily, there’s a new app available to help decipher potentially harmful ingredients in packaged food items.
The ShopWell app scans the bar codes on food containers and quickly identifies potential allergens. It is designed to help consumers make smart choices and even recommends new foods that fit within their allergy restrictions.
This new dietary guide could help the estimated 15 million Americans who suffer from food allergies, says Dr. Raymond Pongonis, who is on staff at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., and specializes in allergies, asthma and immunology for both children and adults.
“Food allergies are a dangerous condition for an increasing number of people,” says Dr. Pongonis. “While there is no current cure, strict avoidance of allergenic foods and preparedness to treat an anaphylactic reaction can reduce the risk of a bad outcome for persons with food sensitization.”
This potentially deadly disease affects one in 13 children. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include itching or swelling around the mouth, lips, tongue or palms and soles of the feet; vomiting; diarrhea; abdominal cramps; hives; trouble breathing; sensation of airway closure; and dizziness or lightheadedness due to a drop in blood pressure.
In order to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction, manufacturers are required by federal law to list the top eight allergens on food labels when they are included in the ingredients. The top eight allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, dairy, fish, shellfish and eggs. While this can be extremely helpful, consumers must also be aware of the fact that allergens can also be called by different names; lecithin is another name for soy, flour for wheat and whey for milk.
Since people with food allergies must avoid specific foods that trigger a reaction, Dr. Pongonis suggests the following tips to make grocery shopping less stressful:
- Shop the perimeter of the grocery store where the whole, natural foods are located. But remember that “organic” does not mean a food is allergen-free.
- Always read labels in processed food. Manufacturers frequently change ingredients, so it’s extremely important to read labels every time you purchase an item, even if you’ve eaten it 100 times.
- Watch out for delis and bakeries that do not highlight allergens in products. Check with staff before making a purchase.
- Avoid eating food from the salad or hot food bar due to the potential for cross contamination.
- Create a food allergy action plan in case you accidentally eat an allergen. An allergist can help you design a plan. Don’t leave home without emergency prescription medications such as an EpiPen or antihistamines, in case you run into trouble. Remember that Benadryl is not adequate treatment for moderate to severe anaphylactic episodes.
About the Author
Johnna Kelly, healthe news contributor, is a manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. She is a former newspaper reporter and spent nearly 10 years as a public relations professional working for state and county government. During her time as a communications staffer for the Illinois General Assembly, she was integral in drafting and passing legislation creating Andrea's Law, the nation's first murderer registry. In her spare time, she volunteers at a local homeless shelter, enjoys traveling, photography and watching the Chicago Bulls.