News

Allergy awareness: Food for thought and action

 | April 13, 2011

Approximately 1.3 million Canadians have allergies at risk of being anaphylactic, a severe life threatening allergic reaction. It’s essential they carry auto-injectors of epinephrine, such as EpiPens, to defend themselves against an allergy attack.

Sun Peaks resident Patricia Garnham is one of those people. Diagnosed with numerous food allergies at 19, she lives with the reality that the food she eats might kill her. Armed with her EpiPen, cards outlining her food restrictions, and careful communication with restaurant chefs, Garnham can eat at many restaurants, but she’d like to see better training in the food service industry for patrons like herself.

A recent dining experience in Kamloops solidified this want.

“As soon as I put (the food) in my mouth, my mouth felt really hot, like a chili; I was short of breath, rashy. It’s almost like an alternate reality en route to going unconscious,” said Garnham.

Garnham was able to self-administer her epinephrine, and although the event itself was anything but positive, the eventual outcome with the restaurant was. She spoke with the restaurant’s management and was asked what could be done to make things right. Garnham responded, “I’d really like your staff to take it more seriously.”

In conjunction with Laura Bantock, Anaphylaxis Canada’s western region director, Marilyn Allen, Anaphylaxis Canada’s facilitator and consultant, and Sun Peaks Resort Corporation food and beverage manager Bobbe Lyall, food industry training sessions on allergies and intolerances were set up in Kamloops and Sun Peaks this March.

“Quite honestly, it wasn’t a great turnout,” says Garnham, “but we have to get the ball rolling.”

There’s no standardized certification for food service industry training related to allergies and intolerances, so it’s up to individual employers to initiate training.

“This kind of training is important for all food services enterprises,” confirmed Bantock. “Risk reduction is of paramount importance, far better to avoid a reaction by good allergen risk management strategies than to have to try to deal with a profound medical emergency and put an individual’s life at risk.”

This is especially important at Sun Peaks because of its distance to a hospital.

Allergies and intolerances are certainly talked about in the food service industry. “There’s so much misinformation out there about what allergies and intolerances are, so it’s important to get really good information and be able to take it and train our staff with it,” said Lyall. “We’ve always had a really big training program with our staff on allergies and awareness.”

Laws and policies are springing up throughout Canada mandating safe schools where anaphylaxis plans must be in place. Bill 3, or Sabrina’s Law, requires anaphylaxis safety plans in Ontario schools. Since it was passed in 2005, similar policies have been adopted by the B.C. Ministry of Education. Additionally, food allergy organizations, the food industry and Health Canada have been working to amend Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations which regulate the labelling of priority allergens on food packaging. These changes have made life easier for individuals suffering from food allergies.

“I don’t have plans for another session at this time, but after going to this one, to be honest, I think we’re going to make plans,” said Lyall. “It was more informative than we even could have imagined. To have all of my managers walk out with ‘Oh my gosh, now I’ve got even more’ it was a really positive experience for everybody. I think now we’ll have to make sure we invite them up again.”

Check out www.anaphylaxis.org.

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