Father of 3 Food Allergy Kids Created App to Find Allergy Friendly Restaurants

AllergyEats is the leading web based guide to finding allergy-friendly restaurants nationwide. I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Antico. He shares why he founded the site and how he handles dining out with three children with multiple different food allergies and how he feels mainstream restaurants respond to food allergic diners.

What inspired you to found the AllergyEats Website?

About 10 years ago, my wife and daughter were out of town, leaving me and my 2 food-allergic boys to enjoy a “guy’s weekend.”  I wasn’t as well-practiced in managing my kids’ food allergies as I am now, though I knew how to protect them (and, of course, how to use an epinephrine auto-injector).  On Saturday night, I took the boys out to eat around 7PM (first mistake – prime time).  We went to one of our “go-to” restaurants, but the wait was 75 minutes, so we moved on.  At our second “go-to,” the wait was about an hour.  Same as our third.  We didn’t want to wait that long anywhere.  Unfortunately, I had run out of “go-to” restaurants and realized that I wasn’t terribly comfortable determining on-the-fly if a restaurant could accommodate our boys or not.  We ended up driving for about 2 hours – the boys crying in the back of the car – until we ended up at a “greasy pizza joint” that had egg-free pasta and could serve both my kids.  But as I was driving, and reflecting on the many times my family has gone an hour or two trying to find a restaurant we’d be comfortable at – be it in a big city like New York or a smaller town like Lack Placid – I kept saying to myself “I wish there was a guide! I wish there was a guide!”  Being in the business world for 15 years, at that point, I realized there was an unmet need and a market of food-allergic diners and their families that really needed such a guide.  So 2 years later, when I left my job in the financial markets, I decided it was time to start AllergyEats and fill that void.

What allergies do your children have? 

I now have 5 children, 3 of whom have food allergies.  My 19-yo son has had a tree nut allergy his whole life, experiencing 2 anaphylactic events (not including the few we didn’t understand before he was diagnosed – we got lucky!).  My 16-yo daughter has no food allergies.  My 14-yo son currently has allergies to tree nuts and sesame.  He has outgrown eggs entirely – baked and raw – and even outgrew peanuts.  He also has EoE (eosinophilic esophagitis) that reacts to dairy.  My 9-yo son has no food allergies.  And my 7-yo daughter has had an egg allergy her whole life, with – so far – no sign of outgrowing it.

What is the main goal of the AllergyEats website and app?

There are two primary goals of AllergyEats.  The most important, of course, is to provide a valuable tool to the food allergy community that hopefully makes the dining out process easier and more comfortable by providing them with crowd-sourced information showing which restaurants have been better choices than others for food-allergic diners.  The secondary goal is to reward those restaurants that make the effort to properly accommodate our community and thus incent other restaurants to take the appropriate steps themselves.

What is the biggest challenge that you see facing people with food allergies who want to dine out?

The biggest problem is accepting that there is ALWAYS risk – no restaurant is perfect (though One Dish Cuisine may cause me to re-think that) – and making the decision about whether you can accept that or not.  It’s not easy – anaphylaxis can be terrifying, even when you know you have your epinephrine with you.  Of course, you want to minimize your risk by choosing an appropriate allergy-friendly restaurant, which is where the AllergyEats app and website come in.  And, most importantly, YOU have to do your part by: a) never dining out without epinephrine, b) ALWAYS disclosing all your allergies to your server (and possibly the manager or chef), and c) visually inspecting your food as best as possible before eating it.  I’ve found that the “bad events” that happen at restaurants usually involve a breakdown of responsibility by BOTH the restaurant and the diner.  We need to take care of our end of the bargain, so those 3 points above are critical.

Are mainstream restaurants taking food allergies more seriously than they have in the past?

Absolutely.  It’s becoming harder and harder to ignore with so many restaurant diners disclosing food allergies, and even the stingiest of restaurants/chains will eventually understand the spending power of the food allergy community and those they dine with.  I find that smaller, nimble chains seem to be on the front-end of the wave.  Many independents are there too.  The laggards tend to be larger chains, though that is by no means universal.  AllergyEats publishes a list of the Top 10 Allergy-Friendly Restaurants in America each year (coming at the end of February this year), and you can see that there are large chains that do “get it”, though the average score – from AllergyEats users themselves – is generally much higher for the smaller chains.

What are the biggest obstacles a restaurant has to overcome if they want to provide allergen safe meals?

The biggest obstacle is also the simplest – commitment.  It truly is that easy.  Whether the owner of an independent restaurant or the CEO of a chain, that individual’s attitude toward accommodating food-allergic diners will set the tone for all employees.  The training is easy.  The financial burden is minimal.  The disruption to operations in making appropriate changes is almost nil.  So it all comes down to commitment.  Find me an owner who cares about food allergies and I’ll show you an allergy-friendly restaurant.  The reverse is also true.  Find me a CEO who pooh-poohs food allergies and I’ll show you a chain that isn’t safe for our community.

Is there a way for mainstream restaurants to be trained in handling food allergies?

Absolutely.  There are very basic programs online that, while they won’t make a restaurant very allergy-friendly, they will incrementally increase the knowledge of a restaurant’s staff.  But there are also bigger, all-encompassing programs as well for those restaurants that are ready to make the all-in commitment.  The one that is making the most headway is AllerTrain.  AllerTrain does on-site training and well as train-the-trainer programs for larger chains.  They are training restaurants, colleges, entertainment venues, and more.  They do have online modules as well, but the most comprehensive training is provided face-to-face, generally onsite.  Outside of AllerTrain, there are independent trainers as well.  And many restaurants develop their own programs from the knowledge or experience of key employees.

How many times a week do you dine out with your allergic children?

We don’t shy away from dining out.  When we’re home, we usually go out about once every two weeks, though about once each week in the summer.  However, we travel a lot.  We have family in 4 different cities, we like to vacation, and our kids – like so many others – are involved in a ton of activities, some of which have us doing overnight travel.  We also now have to visit our oldest son in college!  When we travel, we eat out most nights.  So I guess my best estimation is that we eat at restaurants probably 50 times a year.  We probably order in another once per week.  And while we certainly have our “go-to” restaurants at home and in some of our destinations, we do like to explore and gain some variety where possible.  So, using AllergyEats of course, we find new favorites as we go.

How do you handle vacations with three of your five children having food allergies?

We’re old pros at this!  After 19 years, we’ve developed a routine.  Really, though, we generally do not have problems dining out.  Using AllergyEats, we do our homework in advance.  Sometimes we have to take a flyer on a restaurant that’s not yet rated on AllergyEats.  Either way, we periodically come across a restaurant that we just don’t feel comfortable can keep our kids safe and we politely leave before ordering.  But that’s rare and we no longer have to search for an hour or two to find a restaurant like we used to.  We find most restaurants want to accommodate our food-allergic kids, so we just have to work with them regarding what they have, what is safe, and how to prepare it safely in the kitchen.  I’m happy to say that in all our years of travel and dining out, “the system” (the dual responsibility of the restaurant and ourselves) has only broken down once, exposing my middle son to dairy.  And the mistake was 100% on our end.  Certainly, other restaurants have made mistakes, but not without either us or them catching the errors in time.  So think about it – our family has had hundreds of meals from restaurants without a single mistake on their part that hasn’t been caught!  Of course, our epinephrine auto-injectors are with us wherever we go and we usually have some basic food like soy nut butter and crackers in our room for a quick, safe snack.

How do you educate schools to keep your children safe?

Fortunately, I haven’t had to be a pro at this.  The primary/middle school my kids have attended from age 3 through 8th grade, Inly School in Scituate, MA, is extremely allergy-friendly.  They won an award from FAAN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network), one of the precursors to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), in 2011 for food allergy excellence.  All staff members are diligently trained and the processes and procedures in place are great.  The school has become known for this and actually brings in some students BECAUSE they are so allergy-friendly.  As the kids have moved onto High School and now College, we’ve found that these schools generally have a program and set of rules in place.  They aren’t as safe as Inly School, by any means, so our kids have to be smart about keeping their epinephrine with them, asking the right questions, taking proper precautions – basically, they have to do what they’ve learned and seen my wife and I do for all these years.  And so far, so good.

How do you handle it if there is an accident and one of your children needs to use their Epi-Pen?

Fortunately, in all these years, we have only had 2 incidents that needed an epinephrine injection.  The first was a tricky delayed onset reaction.  I say tricky because our kids react to many of their allergies without anaphylaxis, needing only Benadryl to ultimately feel better.  In this case, my oldest (with a tree nut allergy only) ate a chocolate ball at a nut-free event.  His throat started to itch, as it does when he has non-dangerous oral allergy syndrome from exposure to some fruits, but this one was a little worse.  Regardless, with us thinking the food was nut-free and the signs pointing to OAS, we went with Benadryl.  Unfortunately, the symptoms weren’t improving.  One could definitely say we should’ve used the auto-injector then (if not earlier), but we actually tried another dose of Benadryl.  Same result.  I prepared my son until he eventually made the decision for us.  “Hit me.”  Boom.  Immediately, he felt better.  (Turns out he had a biphasic reaction – a second anaphylactic event in the hospital – so we were very lucky we finally took the appropriate action.)  We believe, by the way, that the chocolate ball was cross-contamination with tree nuts.  A year later, while teaching at a farm camp, this same son thought he might have accidentally ingested something with tree nut residue in it.  He wasn’t sure, but was feeling symptoms.  Realizing how easily and quickly the epinephrine auto-injector worked the last time, he didn’t hesitate to use it himself.  In hindsight, and while we can’t be sure, I don’t think he was having an allergic reaction – I think anxiety symptoms made it hard to tell.  Yet, either way, he did the right thing.  When in doubt, use the epinephrine.  It is generally considered a very benign treatment that can rarely do any harm to you.  And do not wait as long as we did in that first event.  Anaphylaxis can spiral out of control quickly, even if delayed, and getting epinephrine in the body early is critical.

Do you blame yourself when an accident happens? What emotions do you go through?

Of course I do.  Isn’t that true when anything goes wrong with one’s kids?  In fact, forgetting food allergies for a second, I’m constantly wondering how ALL my past and current actions are affecting the lives of my kids.  (I hope that just makes me a good father and not a lunatic!)  However, I understand that I’m human and mistakes happen, so while I feel terrible and guilty, I apologize to my son or daughter and move on.  They understand that these things happen too.  It stinks, but it’s life – and we all need to accept it.

What would be the ideal dining out situation for you and your family and do you ever think you will feel totally comfortable dining anywhere.

Fortunately, we’ve had many, many very comfortable restaurant meals, but that is also a product of our long experience.  We’ve been doing this long enough to know the best questions to ask and to “read” the staff’s responses well (verbal and physical).  In the optimal case, we would find a restaurant known for their ability to accommodate food-allergic diners (yes, you know where we find them), have a conversation with the staff that shows a real proactive zeal for wanting to satisfy us, and have them proactively reaffirm all the steps they took when the bring the meal (separately or clearly marked) to our table.  That all said, we do still have some “on edge” experiences where we believe the restaurant can accommodate us, but we’re not entirely secure with their food allergy knowledge.  In those cases, we usually have to walk through their menu and their process in the kitchen step by step to ensure that – even if they don’t have broad food allergy knowledge – they will be able to make safe meals for our kids.  Our epinephrine is always with us!

Do you think the general public will ever have a thorough understanding and respect for the serious nature of food allergies?

I hope they never have to – because that would mean a cure is found before broad public acceptance has a chance to take place!  But realistically – because unfortunately we have to accept the fact that a cure is nowhere in sight – yes, I do think the general public will eventually have a healthy respect for the seriousness of food allergies, if not a broad understanding.  Let’s face it, most people in their 40’s and younger today probably know someone with food allergies.  And for the younger cohort in particular, once they actually get to know someone with food allergies, they tend to be compassionate and accept the seriousness of food allergies.  Further, recognize the surge in food allergies that has taken place in our kids over the past 20 years.  Logic would suggest that almost all people 20 years old or younger have grown up with or gotten to know friends with food allergies.  Our kids are more accepting than our older generations; thus, I think the trend is our friend and broader acceptance is taking place every day.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to widespread respect and understanding of food allergies?

Time.  The younger generation gets it, and each day they become a larger part of the population.  The older generations are also coming into contact with food-allergic individuals more and more each day, with many of them accepting it as well.  I’ve seen the acceptance improve dramatically over my family’s 19 year journey.  It will continue.

What advice can you give to parents of a child with newly diagnosed food allergies?

Do your best not to panic by recognizing that millions and millions of parents have been in your shoes.  Yes, this can be terrifying – we all love our kids more than ourselves – and it can feel overwhelming, but as you start this journey you’ll soon learn that it’s manageable, even if not always (or ever!) comfortable.  Each step has it’s challenges – shopping for safe food, eating food made by a family member or friend, dining out, starting your child in school, going on vacation, having your kids eat out with friends, eventually going to college, etc. – but you take each of these steps one at a time.  Support groups like Kids With Food Allergies Foundation (www.kidswithfoodallergies.org) can be a big help in the beginning, as can local support groups, and online forums.  Of course, finding friends and acquaintances who have been down this path can be extremely helpful as well.  Realize too that, as you proceed down this path, you need to teach your kids all along the way, preparing them for their ultimate independence.  Of course, rule #1?  Never find yourself without epinephrine nearby.

What do you see in the future for AllergyEats?

For now, our focus continues to be on attracting new visitors to our app and website, and building our database of ratings.  A lot of people in this world aren’t online raters in general (I’m one of them), but we have to impress upon these individuals that our food allergy community is all in this together and that each new rating someone adds on AllergyEats makes the app and website even more valuable for future food-allergic diners.  (And yes, I AM a rater on AllergyEats, of course.)  Like many other small businesses in the food allergy space, we’re also trying to execute a business model that can generate a profit (or at least breakeven) since we’re not a non-profit and can’t attract grants and funds in the same way.  If we’re successful in doing so, the opportunity for AllergyEats to expand both vertically and horizontally is awesome.  Our platform lends itself to many, many other options.

I am so grateful that Paul has developed this site to help us find allergy friendly dining spots. Please check out the site!  Click Here for AllergyEats website

paul-antico

Cheeri-Oh-Nos, Not GF Says Canadian Celiac Association!

In the summer and fall of 2015, I spent a lot of time blogging about the sloppy processing and testing of General Mills “Gluten Free” (GF) Cheerios. Not only are they not using certified GF Oats, they are using sub-par testing methods to make their”GF” claim! Hence the nickname that I gave them; “Cheeri-Oh-Nos”! The Canadian Celiac Association has just advised those with Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity not to eat them.

What happened and why have I been perpetually banging my head against the proverbial brick wall for over a year? How can this be so?  You just won’t believe it, so here is the re-cap and update.

Basically, the problem is that General Mills (GM) is using contaminated oats and “shaking” them in order to get off the offending wheat, rye and barley. Then they are using a testing method known as “means testing” to get their final ppm. A product must test below 20ppm to be called Gluten Free. So, if they make a batch of cheerios, they will  take out several samples…if one sample is 21pm, one is 80ppm and one is 5ppm..they would combine those to get the actual parts per million. Then they would keep adding in batches at lower ppm to get their 20ppm score. That is dangerous because in the end, you can mix them together over and over but there is still a high likelihood that some or many boxes will test higher than 20ppm.  The big problem is that they were not testing the final batch or boxes.

This practice resulted in many Celiacs getting sick and complaints to the FDA. Eventually GM had to recall 1.8 million boxes of GF Cheerios.  How can this be? Well, it is simple folks, the FDA does not mandate testing or a particular method for testing..they suggest that each company regulate themselves.  Yup, GM is NOT looking out for those with Celiac Disease or allergies to wheat, rye and barley!

A regular (celiac) customer came in last month and told me that his blood levels were elevated and he was having stomach problems and could not figure out why because everything he is eating is GF. He told me he would be going in for new endoscopy and biopsy in the next few weeks. I asked him, to tell me what he was eating for breakfast and he said “GF Cheerios”.   I asked when his issues started…he said around that time. He was shocked when I filled him in on the happenings. I directed him to my blog articles from last year and suggested he also do a google search and read what Gluten Free Watchdog has been saying and also suggested he remove the “GF” Cheerios and see how he does.

If you are a Celiac, Gluten Sensitive, or have an allergy to wheat, rye or barley; you are playing a game of Russian Roulette if you are eating GM’s GF Cereals.

Many of us have been outraged that the Celiac Associations in the US have not been more vocal about this. Last month the Canadian Celiac Association recommended that those with Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity not eat them.  Gluten Free Living Magazine just wrote an article about this. Click Here to Read Article

bang head here

 

 

“Class 2 Food Allergy”; Oral Allergy Syndrome

It is that time of year again. Fresh fruits and vegetables are in abundance; customers come in and must avoid certain raw fruits and veggies.  Last year I posted in our newsletter, blog and facebook page about Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) and decided it is time to post it again after I saw this great chart (at bottom) in an Allergic Living Magazine article. (written by Colleen Seto).  Oral allergy syndrome is also known as Pollen Food Syndrome and is considered a class 2 food allergy because it is linked to specific raw fruits and vegetables, spices, and even nuts or seeds.

It effects those who have allergies to trees, grass and ragweed. Basically the immune system will recognize the protein from these certain fruits and veggies as being the pollen protein and then a reaction will occur. It starts by being allergic to pollen and upon inhaling it; then progresses when they body starts reacting to foods that share similar proteins with the pollen. Making the food allergy secondary to the actual pollen allergy.

I have many environmental allergies and had to take allergy shots for a few years when I was younger. I definitely notice mild OAS when I eat things like raw bananas, strawberries and some apples. (I also notice an issue when I consume Stevia; a sweetener from the leaves of the Stevia plant, part of the sunflower family.)  According to the article; the reaction is usually immediate and it can start with itchy lips, tongue, throat, and can cause swelling.  It usually is mild and subsides when the offending food is in the digestive system where the proteins are broken down. However, cooking the food thoroughly will break down the protein so ingesting is not a problem.

OAS can be hard to diagnose because a reaction to a ripe fruit is more severe than to an unripened fruit.  Between 30 and 70% of the population with a birch pollen allergy have OAS, however, most have only mild reactions. Some can experience vomiting, cramps and diarrhea while only 2% have an anaphylactic reaction like swelling of the throat, hives and trouble breathing. (Nuts, celery, peaches and apples tend to be linked to the more serious reactions)

See chart below and Click Here to Read Full Article

Oral Allergy Sydrome

 

Today Show Makes Fun of Nut Allergies & Epi-Pens

Well, considering that this is food allergy awareness week; I was even more horrified to see this clip from the Today Show. Matt and Al not only make fun of food allergies in this clip, they go so far as to bring in the Epi-Pen. I can’t help but wonder why they decided to make light of nut allergies and Epi-Pens.  They easily could have made fun of sugary or high carbohydrate items and then made light of the insulin that a diabetic needs.  Why is this happening? At the end of this post, I have symptoms and a great photo you can use to raise awareness.  See video clip below:

click here for short clip from Today Show

Quite frankly, I think this is happening because food allergies are not taken seriously and the same goes for Celiac Disease.  This is seen all the time when people make fun of the gluten free diet. This is the first time where I saw two grown men literally make fun of nut allergies and epi-pens. Everyone is entitled to free speech…and I defend that right, therefore, I don’t take this personally.  What Matt and Al said in this segment says more about them then it ever will about those with food allergies.  However, that being said, it is a bad example to set for others and I am worried that food allergies will continue to be marginalized. Is it because there was no sign on the buffet that said “contains gluten” and that is why they did not go after the gluten free diet? I have some insight into why I think this is happening.

In our gluten and allergen free cafe, I see people coming in every day claiming a gluten allergy and claiming food allergies.  It is work to try to figure out what we are really dealing with.  There are people who don’t like mustard so they declare it an allergy and have us shut down a kitchen line and keep everyone else waiting longer to be served. We serve them their meal without a pickle and we get an angry customer. It turns out that they just “don’t like” mustard and they wanted the pickle that is made with whole mustard seeds!  The difference is that we are equipped to deal with many allergies…mainstream restaurants are not. When I talk with other mainstream restaurant owners they say that just about every 5 tickets they are having an “allergy” flagged.  They don’t know which is an allergy and which is a sensitivity, so it causes many problems for them because they are not set up to deal with this on a regular basis.

The problem is that we have customers who come in for the first time who have minor food sensitivities or who are on an elimination diet and they claim an “allergy” too.  We have to determine what is what.  Our kitchen would need to be shut down and cleaned on every other order if we were not detectives at the front counter.  Trust me, we can usually tell the difference between food allergies and someone new with food sensitivities; but we still have to ask many questions to be sure what we are dealing with. Then, if needed,  we educate the customer about what we do and what is an allergy and what is a sensitivity.  Nothing makes us happier than when a customer comes in and says: “I may have food sensitivities and I am on an elimination diet and I need to avoid these foods right now”.  My thought bubble is : “great, and thank you for not faking a serious food allergy”.

On Mother’s Day I was talking to a nice couple from New Jersey and they said, “we knew nothing about food allergies until our child had a serious food reaction”. The awareness and the seriousness of food allergies is just not out there in the mainstream. My biggest fear is that this type of marginalization of food allergies will continue; making it harder for those with legitimate food allergies to be taken seriously.

We all have to do our part to raise awareness about the serious nature of food allergies.  We need to start in our own personal circles of influence via our facebook pages, twitter pages, schools, workplaces, etc.  Please join me and start spreading awareness today; let’s change the tide together! Below are signs and symptoms from FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) for mild and severe symptoms. Also, it describes how a child might describe what they are feeling.

If you’re introducing a new food to your baby, keep an eye out for these symptoms:
  • Hives or welts.
  • Flushed skin or rash.
  • Face, tongue, or lip swelling.
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea.
  • Coughing or wheezing.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Mild symptoms may include one or more of the following:
    • Hives (reddish, swollen, itchy areas on the skin)
    • Eczema (a persistent dry, itchy rash)
    • Redness of the skin or around the eyes
    • Itchy mouth or ear canal
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Stomach pain
    • Nasal congestion or a runny nose
    • Sneezing
    • Slight, dry cough
    • Odd taste in mouth
    • Uterine contractions

Severe symptoms may include one or more of the following:

  • Obstructive swelling of the lips, tongue, and/or throat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Turning blue
  • Drop in blood pressure (feeling faint, confused, weak, passing out)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • A weak or “thread” pulse
  • Sense of “impending doom”

Severe symptoms, alone or in combination with milder symptoms, may be signs of anaphylaxis and require immediate treatment.

How a Child Might Describe a Reaction

Children have unique ways of describing their experiences and perceptions, and allergic reactions are no exception. Precious time is lost when adults do not immediately recognize that a reaction is occurring or don’t understand what a child is telling them.
Some children, especially very young ones, put their hands in their mouths or pull or scratch at their tongues in response to a reaction. Also, children’s voices may change (e.g., become hoarse or squeaky), and they may slur their words.
The following are examples of the words a child might use to describe a reaction:
• “This food is too spicy.”
• “My tongue is hot [or burning].”
• “It feels like something’s poking my tongue.”
• “My tongue [or mouth] is tingling [or burning].”
• “My tongue [or mouth] itches.”
• “It [my tongue] feels like there is hair on it.”
• “My mouth feels funny.”
• “There’s a frog in my throat.”
• “There’s something stuck in my throat.”
• “My tongue feels full [or heavy].”
• “My lips feel tight.”
• “It feels like there are bugs in there.” (to describe itchy ears)
• “It [my throat] feels thick.”
• “It feels like a bump is on the back of my tongue [throat].”
If you suspect that your child is having an allergic reaction, follow
your doctor’s instructions and treat the reaction quickly.
Scroll down for a great poster you can copy and paste to your social media!
Learn more through FARE Click Here
child with food allergies

 

Which Spices are Safe to Use?

Spices

One of the most common questions I get from newly diagnosed customers with food allergies or Celiac Disease is “Which Spices Are Safe To Use?”  I always encourage everyone to do their own due diligence. However, back in the fall of 2014 and the middle of 2015 there was a huge panic in the food allergy community. Rightfully so; especially for those with life threatening Peanut Allergies.  It seems that a huge supply of Cumin was highly contaminated with peanuts.  Many companies were recalling and a few were not!

Here at ODC, we us McCormick Spices when we need dried spices, otherwise we use fresh. McCormick assured me that they were not affected.  Why weren’t they affected?  Because they have good manufacturing practices.

I was thrilled to see a follow up article by Allergic Living Magazine.  They put out requests for information to 10 different spice companies. However, only 3 companies responded. It is not surprising that the 3 who responded are the companies that I and most of our customers use when we need spices. They are: McCormick, Frontier Co-Op and Spicely Organics.  The following link is to the section of the article that shows you what each had to say and some information to help you find safe spices; Click Here

To see the big list of recalled spices during the cumin recall; Click Here

To read the entire Allergic Living article with all links; Click Here For Full Article

Be safe out there gang!

 

 

Canadian Study: Why GF/AF Food Costs More!

A Canadian study looked at the increase in cost for GF (Gluten Free) foods in grocery stores and it will blow your mind! If you or a family member have been recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease or Food Allergies you have probably noticed how much more you spend in the grocery store.  Also, you may notice the increased cost when dining out (if you are able to dine out safely). This is something I hear about from customers who are new to GF (gluten free) and some who just like to complain first and think later.  Most with serious food allergies can’t eat anywhere safely, unless they come to One Dish Cuisine Cafe, Deli & Bakery and they don’t ever complain about the prices because they understand what it takes to do what we do in order to safely feed them.

I was reading the Celiac Disease Digest newsletter from Children’s National Medical Center and they referenced a study done in 2008 by Canada’s Dalhousie Medical School. They looked at 56 ordinary grocery items that contain gluten and then they looked at 56  GF versions of the same products. All of the GF products were more expensive. On average, they were 242 % more expensive!

gotta be kidding me

My reaction exactly;  but wait, there’s more! I know that our food is more expensive than mainstream restaurants, but we are nowhere near 242% more expensive because we price our products as low as we can and we don’t make near the profit as a mainstream restaurant. If that was true in my restaurant; we would be saying “That Reuben will be $41.00 please”. They did this study based on the cost of food in grocery stores.

I will give you a couple of examples:

1lb of chicken wings here costs $11.99 and a local restaurant in Maryland charges $10.99 for their allergy filled and gluten filled wings (we are about 9% higher..nowhere near 242%). The local restaurant sells their gluten and allergen filled Reuben for $11.99 including fries.  We sell our Reuben Sandwich for $14.99  (add fries to it and the cost is $17.99 or 20% more because of the homemade GF/AF bread & hand cut fries and handmade condiments, etc.)  Mmmmmm….

Our Reuben costs   20 % more                      Our Wings cost        9 % more

Yup and our last price increase was in January of 2015, more than a year ago and some customers stopped coming because it is too expensive. We are nowhere near 242% higher than other restaurants!  But each week you pay an average of 242% more in a grocery store.

According to the study, the average cost of a GF product was $1.71 and the average cost for the gluten filled counterpart was $.61. Unit cost was based on 100 grams. Hence; 242%.

The study cited the following as the main reasons that GF/AF Products cost more:

Here are some of the factors that increase costs in gluten-free manufacturing:
  1. Thorough and regular cleaning of factories, which increases production costs
  2. Less competition due to a limited number of manufacturers that meet production standards
  3. Gluten-free foods are often made with more expensive ingredients such as brown rice flour, amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat; some also contain special sweeteners such as honey, agave, or coconut sugar
  4. A limited supply of gluten-free products, available only in stores with higher margins
  5. Simple supply and demand; until more people are diagnosed with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or prefer to purchase gluten free foods for other reasons, the products will remain limited.
Can J Diet Pract Res. 2008 Fall; 69(3):147-50. Gluten-free and regular foods: a cost comparison. Stevens L1, Rashid M.
But wait, there is still more. Last week I was reading a post on a GF Facebook page and they were talking about the need for more completely GF restaurants and many of the comments were…”we need GF restaurants but please don’t price gouge us”.  I thought to myself, “are you kidding me”…we don’t price gouge anyone! We only feed between 1 and 5% of the population and every day is struggle to keep prices so you can afford to eat and we struggle to get people in the door….we serve a small sliver of the population. We don’t have the luxury of falling back on the high mark up that accompanies alcohol sales. Alcohol does not need to be labeled for gluten or any allergen, it is not regulated by the FDA, so we don’t have it here.
At Home Challenge: Pull open that drawer where you keep all of your Carry Out Menus and see for yourself. Reality Check; look at the prices on our menu (on our website) and compare them to your local gluten and allergy filled restaurant and see how we compare to their gluten/allergen filled food and any “GF” item they may offer without any guarantee. We are nowhere near 242% higher as you see in a grocery store.
You will see the biggest price difference on items that involve breads, pizza, pastas and baked goods because of the high cost of GF flours.  Look at what you pay for a small GF Pizza in the freezer isle or from a “I hope it is really GF Menu” in a mainstream restaurant:
$ 11.99- 10″ Round (79 sq inches; .15 sq inch)
  for pre-made frozen pizza and hope it is GF at a hot fired oven place.
$7.99- 8″ Square (64 sq inches; .12 sq inch)
  for square pizza & hope it is GF at this place known for its’ rectangle pizza.
$ 16.49- Rectangle 9x 12  (108 sq inches; .15 sq inch)
  for One Dish Cuisine and you have leftovers.
It costs nothing in one comparison or 3 cents more per square inch in the other comparison in order to eat a safe pizza at our completely GF/Allergy Friendly Cafe, Deli & Bakery.  So, when I hear someone say we are “price gouging”, I want to bang my head against the wall!
When you walk into a completely GF Restaurant you are no longer in the “land of gluten and honey”!  In our case we are completely free of most allergens and we have two separate kitchens using about 2x as much square footage as a mainstream restaurant kitchen, 4 times the amount of ovens and refrigerators & freezers, 3 or 4x the labor cost because we have to make everything in house to ensure it is safe. We make our own bread, and desserts, make our own salad dressings, croutons, sauces, slice our meats fresh and we hand cut our own french fries because we can’t buy them commercially without a coating of gluten or soy on them.  A 25 bag of wheat flour costs about $8.50 and our specialty GF Flour cost about $30-$35 per 25lb bag.  But wait, there is more. We take the worry out of dining out for you.
Many of you have seen me discuss prices in previous newsletters. I thought this study was great information to share, especially because the study was done by someone other than  me. In closing, I hope you will rejoice that we don’t have a 242% mark up in our cafe, deli and bakery; if we did that Reuben would be  $41.00! P.S. I need a blown up version of the photo below to put on my office door; it just might come in handy.
 bang head here

 

Drink the “Drano”; Dining Out Part 2

Last week I told you all about the anxiety I was going through prior to meeting an elementary school teacher and classmates out for dinner in Annapolis.  In this post I will tell you all how I handled the situation and then touch on the stigma that we all live with when it comes to Celiac Disease, Gluten Sensitivity, or Food Allergies and how we can get the message across about how serious our illness is to the “doubters”. (We get to the “Drano” which is a blue liquid, toxic, drain de-colgger at the end)

I arrived early at the Thai Restaurant and talked with the waitress. I told her about my experience a couple of years ago.  She said they get a lot of requests for GF meals and that they use clean pans and utensils but can’t make any guarantee that my meal will be GF. Then she added that she has been there for a year and a half and has never been told that they got anyone sick.  I asked her if they see many people with Celiac Disease and she said that the majority are just making a “dietary choice” and not Celiac. I explained that I have Celiac and I did get sick last year and that a person who is just making a “dietary choice” probably would not know if they were exposed to gluten or not.  I told her that I appreciated her honesty but could not take a chance dining there. She clearly understood me and the seriousness of my situation.

My friends arrived and we enjoyed some wine. When it came time to order I just explained that I have Celiac Disease and it is not safe for me to eat there and that I planned ahead and ate at home.  Everyone understood, one “teared up” and I explained that it is no problem for me and I just want to enjoy everyone’s company. That was the end of that and we all had a great time.

I thought about how lucky I was that this went so smoothly and was so thankful that I did not hear any of the nonsense that we all have heard from family and friends at one time or another. We have all heard the term “drink the Koolaide”.  Well, I have my own term “Drink the Drano”. Below are the insane things we often hear from doubters followed by my standard answer that I give. Many of you have heard me say this in my restaurant and in previous articles. People are very “visual” I have seriously considered carrying a little plastic container of blue dish soap with me. It would be my prop of “Drano” and would come in handy in every situation. (see photos at bottom)

“Just a little won’t hurt you”“Really? Drink this Drano first and let me know if it hurts you”

“What is the worst thing that can happen?”“Drink this Drano and find out”

 “It won’t kill you”“Drink this Drano and let’s see how you make out”

“I am a vegetarian; I know how you feel”“Drink this Drano and let me know if this is how you feel when you don’t stick to your vegetarian diet”

“Are you trying to lose weight?”“Drink this Drano and tell me if it would be worth avoiding at all costs”

“I heard that is a FAD.”“Drink this Drano and let me know if avoiding it will be a FAD or a way to avoid illness for you”

“I read on the internet that you can have sourdough bread and wheat grown in Germany”“Drink this Drano and let me know if you want to buy into that nonsense”

“How can you survive without bread” “Drink this Drano and you will see why not eating bread is the only way I can survive”

“It is gluten free; there is no wheat in it.” (Chef to Celiac who was questioning why there is Barley Soup on the GF Menu..yes; it was real barley in the soup). – Run to the nearest exit!

I chose to make a stand for myself and for all of those with Celiac Disease and Food Allergies by telling the waitress that it was not safe for me to eat there!

What are your thoughts? Will you make a stand? Would the “Drano Challenge” help you when your Celiac/Food Allergies or Gluten Sensitivity are not being taken seriously?  Feel free to leave comments here on the blog.