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food safety

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Humans Are Pooping Plastic

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Got your attention? Thought so. 😉

If you’re thinking, What does poop have to do with food allergies? First, food allergies affect our health and diet, which implicates our digestive tract. Number two, research is increasingly looking to the gut for answers around the rise in food allergies. For these reasons, we thought the topic was a-poo-priate. 💩

This past summer, Austrian researchers reported that the deluge of plastic entering our environment is now entering our stool. That’s right—plastic has been discovered in 114 aquatic species90% of seabirds, and now, evidently, in us. 

As part of this first-of-its-kind study, researchers followed eight volunteers from a handful of European countries, tracked their consumption habits, and then sampled their stool. Small fibers of plastic—known as microplastics—were found in all participants’ feces to varying degrees, amounting to the first documentation of plastic in human feces to date. The findings confirmed what many scientists have long suspected: we’re eating plastic.

Scientists are now grappling with the health implications, which are largely unknown. Microplastics are capable of damaging the reproductive and gastrointestinal systems in sea life, but little is known about their impact on humans.

On average, 13 billion microplastic particles enter US waterways every day through the municipal water supply. An estimated 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. The latter bulk of plastic gets broken down into smaller bits, which are eaten by smaller organisms, and make their way up the food chain.

How does this relate to the food allergy and intolerance community? 

First, we know that immune health is closely tied to food allergies and intolerances. Experts have found that plastic in the gut can suppress the immune system and increase the likelihood of gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease. Second, research has shown that exposure to phthalates, which are found in many plastics, can increase childhood risk of allergies. According to the lead researcher of the study, Dr. Philipp Schwabi: “[my] primary concern is the human impact… especially [on] patients with gastrointestinal diseases.” He notes that “the smallest particles are capable of entering the bloodstream, the lymphatic system and may even reach the liver.”

While research on the human impact of plastic is still early, one thing is clear: plastic may be harming our immune systems, which could potentially implicate our body’s ability to tolerate and digest certain foods.

We’re eating our waste—that much is clear. Now the question is, what are we going to do about it? 

-      Abi and the Allergy Amulet Team 

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Best Practices for Kids + Epinephrine

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I’m not quite sure how summer passed by so quickly. Is it really back-to-school season already?! As families gear up for the school year ahead, we thought it would be a great time to review current best practices for kids and epinephrine—something every parent should know even if your child has no food allergies! 

Here are a few things to remember as you prepare for your child’s fun (and safe!) return to school.

Educating Your School Tribe

It’s a good idea to get your child’s food allergies on the radar of their school caretakers before the year begins—especially if your child is changing schools. Contact their school nurse and teacher to plan for where the epinephrine will be stored and how it will be used in case of an emergency. You may also want to discuss how snacks and treats are handled in the classroom. Many schools have food allergy policies in place, but some protocols are at the teacher’s discretion. 

It doesn’t hurt to schedule a face-to-face with your child, teachers, and caregivers before school starts to talk through your food allergy game plan. As a bonus, this gives your child an opportunity to meet their teacher before the year begins and help them tackle some of those first-day jitters! 

Epi Dosing Options

There are currently three different epinephrine dosages available. For adults and kids who weigh more than 30 kilograms (~66 pounds), the recommended dose is 0.3 milligrams. For smaller kids weighing between 15 and 30 kilograms (~33-66 pounds), the recommended dose is 0.15 milligrams. Several brands offer both dosing options, including EpiPen, Adrenaclick, and Auvi-Q.  

For infants and toddlers who weigh between 7.5 and 15 kilograms (~16.5-33 pounds), Auvi-Q makes an auto-injector with a lower dosage (0.1 milligrams), which also features a smaller needle. 

Make sure to check with your doctor to determine the best option for your child! 

Safe Storage

Remember that epinephrine is temperature sensitive. The medication should be stored at room temperature and never in extreme hot or cold climates (e.g., car glove compartments). Some brands also recommend that users periodically check to ensure the liquid has not changed color. If the solution assumes a pinkish or brownish hue, this can indicate decreased effectiveness. Epinephrine is light sensitive too—so store your auto-injectors in cases!  

Parents should work with their child’s school or daycare provider to map out a plan for both on-site and off-site storage (e.g., field trips), to ensure availability and maximum effectiveness. 

Using Your Epinephrine

As explained in one of our earlier blog posts, the outer thigh is the best place to administer the injection, even through clothing if necessary. Most manufacturers offer videos on their websites to demonstrate how to use their product. These can be a great resource for new caregivers and anyone that should be prepared for an allergic emergency. Like CPR, administering epinephrine is a good skill for any parent to have in their arsenal.

Replacing Your Supply

Currently, most auto-injectors expire within 12 to 18 months. Make sure to check your epinephrine expiration dates and mark them in your calendar. A good rule of thumb is to always have two auto-injectors in close proximity to any food-allergic child in case one is defunct (and in some cases, two injections may be required!). 

As you replace old auto-injectors, remember that some manufacturers offer coupons or other financial assistance, especially for lower income families.  

While we hope you never have to use an epinephrine auto-injector, we share these reminders to keep all of our children safe as we send them off to the classroom! 

- Susannah and the Allergy Amulet Team  

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A Look Behind the Label: How Food Manufacturers Prevent Allergen Cross-Contact

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In an earlier post, we explored food allergy labeling laws and why many food products include “may contain” statements. To better understand the extent to which these foods may in fact contain allergens, we’re going closer to the source: food manufacturers.

On nearly all matters concerning food safety, including allergen control, FDA-regulated food manufacturers follow the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Signed into law in 2011, FSMA introduced significant reforms to the nation’s food safety laws. For the first time, food manufacturers were required to develop and maintain a written “food safety plan.” FSMA also gave the FDA discretionary authority to approve or reject these food safety plans, giving auditors considerable interpretive power over which food safety plans would pass muster.

In 2015, the FDA published a final rule on Preventive Controls for Human Foods. This regulation is one of the key parts of FSMA and mandates that companies perform a Hazard Analysis and develop Risk-Based Preventive Controls (often referred to as “HARPC”).  The regulation requires manufacturers to identify and implement controls for any “reasonably foreseeable” food safety hazard–which includes the top eight most common allergens (tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, finfish, soy, milk, egg, and wheat). Accordingly, if any of these allergens could end up in the final food product, manufacturers must implement preventive controls, defined as “written procedures the facility must have and implement to control allergen cross-contact.” Notably, allergen testing is currently discretionary, not required.

So how tough are these food safety plans on food allergens?

According to food safety expert Dr. Scott Brooks, pretty tough. “While FSMA is not prescriptive, food safety plans must stand up to scrutiny from FDA inspectors. The FDA has published industry guidance to help ensure FSMA compliance, and those in the industry know that it’s important to follow the FDA’s guidance documents.” While not finalized, the FDA draft guidance document on HARPC advises implementing controls to prevent cross-contact, and other measures including product sequencing and sanitation controls.

Most larger companies invest considerable resources into food allergen management, according to food safety expert Dr. Bert Popping. Indeed, “large manufacturers often test foods for trace allergens and have allergen management controls in place.” Dr. Popping notes however that “a number of typically small and medium-sized companies have no allergen management in place, and accordingly will often issue precautionary statements like ‘may contain’ for legal reasons, without performing any risk assessment.”

Further guidance on HARPC will be important for advancing safety measures around allergen control at food manufacturers. Until then, we may have to settle for “may.”

- Abi and the Allergy Amulet Team

 

This piece was written by the Allergy Amulet team and reviewed by Dr. Bert Popping and Dr. Scott Brooks for accuracy. 

Dr. Bert Popping is the managing director of FOCOS, a food consulting group based in Germany. Dr. Popping has over 20 years of experience in the food industry, and has authored over 50 publications on topics including food authenticity, food analysis, validation, and regulatory assessments.

Dr. Scott Brooks is a food safety consultant and founder of River Run Consulting. He is the former Senior VP of Quality & Food Safety, Scientific and Regulatory Affairs at Kraft Foods, and prior to that was the VP of Global Food Safety, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs, and Quality Policy at PepsiCo.

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