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Finding nut free chocolate can be a bit of a challenge. Factor in multiple allergies, the hunt becomes harder still. While there are dairy free and nut free brands out there, what if you’re avoiding nuts, dairy, egg, gluten … and soya? Now, there’s a challenge.

Step forward iQ Chocolate… 

iQ Chocolate is “free from all 14 allergens, including nuts, gluten, soya, dairy, and refined cane sugar… and made in a nut free environment”.

When I asked about their approach to “may contains”, co-founder Jane told me “iQ chocolate is free from traces of allergens.  The top 14 allergens are not allowed anywhere in the factory.  We don’t use any lecithins – a tricky thing to do – but we managed to find a way that we could replace emulsifiers with cocoa butter. So, in our plain dark chocolate there are just 3 ingredients – cocoa beans, cocoa butter and coconut blossom sugar”.

Here iQ Chocolate founders Jane and Kate share the iQ Chocolate story…

BEYOND RAW – iQ Chocolate

Woody Allen said “You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.

Surely not!

Buy Nut Free Chocolate BarsWe, Jane and Kate (founders of iQ Chocolate), want to live for a very long time AND enjoy the journey.

When we first heard that chocolate could be healthy, we were in a very corporate world of people and management development, with a desire to do something that makes much more of a difference to health and wellbeing. One very ordinary day, munching our way through a bag of cocoa nibs, we asked the most obvious question – Why is it that such golden nuggets of nutritional benefit have lost their soul and become demonised? One of the world’s most nutritionally dense foods, in its natural state, had somehow become bent out of shape, and was now seen as partly responsible for the obesity and diabetes crisis, currently plaguing the developed world.

This question became something of an obsession.

Firstly, we discovered that all beans are not the same.  There were some fascinating stories coming out of the cocoa farming world – from the group of women who had started a cocoa plant nursery, growing and selling young cocoa trees to farmers – to the farmers themselves, being re-educated in the lost skill of cocoa farming.

We tried and tested various beans, with the help of the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at Aberdeen University. At the same time, we were wrestling with the art and science of making chocolate from the bean. Start up gear was a hair dryer, colander, tin dustbin lid and a washing machine, set at 1400 revs. We got there, in the end, and became Scotland’s first bean to bar chocolate maker.

Health Claims

Just as we were entering the market, the EU food regulations were also changing. With a much needed EFSA clamp down (to protect the consumer) on overstated health claims, we knew this was in our favour. Terms like Superfood were now being regulated.  This was also in our favour. With over 20 Health Claims, iQ Superfood Chocolate passed with flying colours.

We thought that everyone would get what we were trying to do. The reaction to – “Would you like to try some healthy chocolate?” – to our dismay – was often met with sceptical laughter.

However, the tide has turned! Customers finally really “get” what we were trying to do.

Free From

Now, with the Free From trend gaining momentum, and the growing concerns regarding other health related conditions, such as diabetes, iQ Chocolate has finally come into its own.

iQ Superfood is Free From all 14 allergens – including nuts – and refined cane sugar.

There is more ….

iQ - Nut Free Chocolate Brand in the UKIn addition to the current health benefits, being raw, organic, vegan, Free from all 14 allergens and low GI, we know there is much more to be revealed about iQ Chocolate.

Ongoing studies with Queen Margaret University, including the positive impact of iQ on sporting performance, and the impact (a positive one!)  on cognitive decline in old age, are really important to our customers (and, on a personal level too!)

Watch this space!

Contact details

http://www.iqchoc.com/

Contact: http://www.iqchoc.com/get-in-touch/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IQChoc

Twitter: @iQchocolate

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Today’s allergy entrepreneur sharing her story is Amelia Atkinson, the founder and creator of Pillows & Pitstops, a website that helps travellers find recommended stop-offs on their journey. When my family drives from Cheshire to Cornwall, our food options normally comprise a packed lunch, or scouring the service station signs for an M&S or McDonalds. Is it possible to enjoy (rather than endure) a journey when travelling with food allergies? As someone with allergies, who is also a fellow nutmum, Amelia believes it is. Here she explains how Pillows & Pitstops can help…

Allergies On The Road

We parents of allergic kiddies have two things in common:

  • We’d all rather have the allergy ourselves than subject our children to it
  • We all feel a little bit sick when trying an independent new-to-us eatery. Do they really understand the severity of what we are telling them?

Idealistic – Stay at home, eat our own packed lunches and wash our own cutlery.

Realistic – We will have times when we want, or need, to grab-and-go, eat on the hoof.

Learning to live with an allergy includes understanding that our on-the-run eating isn’t quite as spontaneous as others can enjoy. But it is also accepting that, in most cases, there are options for eating out and places that do really get it. You just have to find them.

So what can we do on journeys? Do our kids with allergies have to stick to The Car Picnic? Or can we share with them the joys of en-route detours to great leg-stretching open spaces, local handmade food serveries and beautiful countryside?

Plan ahead. Allergies shouldn’t stop you enjoying your journey as much as your destination, you just need to plan your route and the timing of breakfast/lunch/potential wee request to head straight for a gorgeous place that speaks your language. (You certainly don’t want to drive 10 minutes off route to discover ‘Gluten Free’ is a foreign phrase to the only café around).

I’ve found some great Allergy Friends…

The Elm Tree, just off the M1 near Chesterfield, has a great menu with each allergy given a number and each dish allocated the relevant digits. And a children’s play area to boot!

Bellis Brothers Farm Shop on the Wrexham road (a North Wales route) has an entire gluten free menu that’s not far short of the standard one.

While Tebay Services on M6 (Cumbria) have even been known to go and make food especially for particular allergies. NB. Along with Gloucester Services they are two of a kind – not your average service station!

As a fellow allergy sufferer and mum of one too, I want to encourage you all that with careful planning, catering for allergies on the road doesn’t need to be disheartening with a feeling of Groundhog Day.

Plan in advance

Choose your spot

Call in advance

Enjoy the comfort of sharing your burden

And RELAX

I run a website where you can find great places to stop along your very OWN route. www.pillowsandpitstops.com will present a map crammed full of recommendations to suit you and will always mention if they are sympathetic to allergies.

We’d always love more suggestions of any little gems you’ve found too. But we do try to steer clear of chains. We support our local businesses!

Amelia Atkinson

Contact details

http://www.pillowsandpitstops.com/

Contact: http://www.pillowsandpitstops.com/Home/Contact

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pillowsandpitstops/

Twitter: @PillowsPitstops

 

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Today, Caroline, founder of Nut Free Chocolate People, shares how her son’s nut allergy diagnosis led to her family opting for home schooling. While acknowledging it’s not for everyone, here she talks about how home educating has been successful for her two boys…

Unaware of the option to do anything other than send our children to school, we really struggled with the lack of flexibility our primary school had with our medical conditions.  The response to my son’s medical confirmation of a nut allergy was disbelief.  We already had a note on his file of a suspected nut allergy, but a further allergic reaction had led to us seeking medical confirmation.  I duly informed the head teacher that his nut allergy had been confirmed and his response was “We won’t believe it until we have a note from your GP”.

Why?  Why would any parent make up a severe allergy? Why wouldn’t a head teacher believe them?  This set the tone for all of our ‘discussions’ with the school.  Sadly I use inverted commas due to the fact that there were no discussions.  They just didn’t want to know.  We had other medical issues which resulted in the involvement of the school attendance officer, who to her credit tried her best, but in her own words she had no jurisdiction with the school, so any suggestions she made could be ignored.   And it was.  I look back and wonder why we banged our heads against this brick wall for so long.

Discovering home schooling

It was my son who suggested we tried Home Schooling (which tends to be the American term, we certainly did not replicate school at home).  I had no idea it was a legal option & spent a weekend reading books & researching the possibility of doing this.  As a parent with a full time job it would mean big changes in our household, but I asked myself the question ‘what is more important than my children’s happiness, health & education?’

The answer became more obvious with each chapter I read.  We would have total freedom from the constraints of the rigidity of the school system.

If the boys were unable to work from 9 to 3 then so what?  We could work from 2 to 8 if we wanted!  Monday to Friday term time only? No!  All year round if we wanted to.  Without a national curriculum to adhere to our educational journey could go wherever it took us (and some fabulous journeys we had too, together, me sometimes not knowing anything about the subject matter so learning all about it with the boys).

Taking the leap

The following week both boys were de-registered from school and our new life together began.  I read that home educating is like jumping off a cliff and finding you have wings.  Well we took that jump and gosh did we fly!  I won’t say it was without its problems as I’d be lying.  We had to get used to spending time together again, something we had never really done except during holidays.  I’d worked full time since my youngest son was six weeks old, so it was a learning curve.  There were days we’d all have lunch in separate rooms just to have a break from each other, but gradually we found that we all actually liked each other & enjoyed spending time together.

There was a huge range of activities open to us, and sometimes we had to watch that we didn’t go out every single day as that soon got very tiring; we went to socialising activities, study groups, activities of all types, educational visits and also set up a few of our own groups.  The activities are too numerous to mention but included French sessions, writing workshops, science sessions, rock climbing, ice skating, gymnastics, animation classes, teen group, drama & music groups.  We had meetings with other home educators in five different local towns and cities and developed a network of parents who supported each other along with children who learned and played together.  We had Not Back to School picnics, Christmas parties, Easter and summer get togethers.

The education of each child was personal to them and we quickly found the best way for them to learn. Like most home educators who have been schooled we started following a timetable & kept a close eye on the national curriculum but as we grew in confidence these were cast aside, and something very interesting happened.  The boys wanted to learn all year round, they didn’t want to stop at 3 o’clock, for three weeks at Christmas or six weeks in the summer. And they started finding pleasure in reading again.  Where once they hated reading the school novel that had been chosen for them, they devoured the books that interested them, skipping way beyond their ‘reading year’ because it didn’t matter anymore.  And the greatest thing was the worry of someone else not taking our allergy concerns seriously no longer applied.  We had far greater control over this.  If we were out at a group meeting and someone had nuts, or peanut butter sandwiches I could talk direct to mum (usually but not always) and we would deal with it together.  The same goes for bullying; there’s very little of it in home ed groups as 99% of the time parents are present.  Bullying doesn’t happen so much when mums and dads are on hand.

Involving the whole family

An added bonus for us was that my elderly parents came to live near us in the last few years of their lives.  Their worry that they would be one more chore for me to do along with teaching the boys soon evaporated when we took them along to groups with us!  The joy on my 88 year old dad’s face when he came with us to a planetarium visit stays with me to this day.  He had a wonderful time, and told everyone that he could tell that you are never too old to learn, and that he had learned new things that day.  The boys also had the chance to share a very special day out with their grandparents when we went to the 65th anniversary of the World War II Dambusters mission; where their granddad was interviewed by local TV about his time in the RAF.  My mum and dad loved being involved in the boys’ education and could talk to them about their joint experiences.  I am so very grateful we all had that pleasure. My husband also got involved with the boys’ education and ran workshops teaching skills to groups of students.  He came to meetings, educational activities & shared stories with other home educating families.

Exams and qualifications

People always ask me about exams, so I’ll just include a little about this aspect. There are lots of options available if you decide to home educate.  Some people put their children back into school for exams, some go to college, some do distance learning & some have managed well without any formal exams or qualifications.  We elected not to do any as the exam system didn’t suit our circumstances.  We decided not to ‘hot house’ the boys, and decided together when we felt they were ready for an academic challenge.  They both chose to study with the Open University from about 14 and took several courses (in different subjects) which resulted in them having a level four qualification at 16/17.  (equal to a completed first years study at university).  We researched courses & universities & found one they were interested in (different subjects).  We went to open days and talked to the appropriate faculty staff at the university who were delighted to extend unconditional offers.  The attitude  was that the boys were used to self motivated study & were used to working at degree level.   I believe one of the Oxbridge unis also accepted a home educated child without formal qualifications fairly recently, so instead of being a stumbling block it can actually set your child apart, make them memorable & pull them out of the need to have goodness knows how many GCSEs and A levels to be even considered these days.

Of course I realise this path isn’t for everyone, but neither is school. Sometimes we try to make something fit when it just won’t.  And sometimes having options is the best situation to be in.

The home educating family

For my part I met people I would never have come into contact with. There is no typical Home Educating family, nor is there a typical reason for deciding to home educate.  Reasons include medical, religious, lifestyle, problems with bullying, parents disagreeing with the rigidity of the national curriculum, and just that school doesn’t suit their child’s needs. We encountered professional couples, single stay-at-home parents and families from both ends of the financial spectrum. Sometimes all they had in common was wanting the best for their child.

Some educated partially in the school system and partially home educated, some had been in the school system and some wouldn’t touch the system with a barge pole.  It certainly provided a broad view of society to all of us, and one, I think, benefited the children too.  They are polite, considerate, sociable and self motivated young men I am proud of, and it was an honour and a privilege to be able to share such a special time with them.

Someone once said to me that you don’t stop being a home educator when the children ‘finish’ their education, and I think it’s true.  You realise that education really is for life, for sharing & for the whole journey.

 

 

Thanks very much for sharing your family’s story, Caroline!

Contact details

Nut Free Chocolate People

Email: caroline@nutfreechocolatepeople.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NutFreeChocolatePeople

Twitter: @NutFreeChocolat

 

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Lisa recently holidayed at the Coma Gran, Majorca with her nut and kiwi allergic son and gluten intolerant daughter. Here she shares her family’s food allergy friendly travel experience! 

We travelled to Majorca to the resort of Sa Coma with our 13yo son who is anaphylactic to cashews/pistachios/kiwi (we avoid all nuts/peanuts including traces) and our 4yo daughter who is gluten intolerant and also has a nutfree diet. We stayed for 10 days at the Coma Gran and had a great experience.

Thomson were great on the flight, they made an announcement in both directions and did not sell any nut products. We did not hear any moans or comments or see anyone flouting this guidance. We wiped down all of the tray/seat area and my son only ate sweets for the 3hr journey (his choice not mine,  I did have a big stash of other snacks just in case he was peckish !!).

The hotel did their best to cater for him and he did have a good selection of plain foods that were safe. They had a buffet and a grill area where the chef cooked steaks/chicken/pork etc in front of you without any marinades etc so this was brill. The desserts were out-of-bounds very nutty and they had pistachio ice cream too. We avoided breakfast cereals and pastries but they had cooked breakfast everyday so were quite happy with this. They were very clued up for the gluten free food for my daughter, this seemed easier for them to understand than nut-free, however the head waiter was very helpful and happy to check labels for us at any time. So overall our children faired very well for food !

I was great to be able to have an all inclusive style holiday, it worked very well for us. Although travelling abroad with nut allergic children is daunting it is so worth all of that preparation and effort !!

Thanks so much for sharing, Lisa!

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Steph travelled to Gran Canaria in May 2014 with her nut allergic son. It was their first abroad holiday post nut allergy diagnosis. Here’s her review of the nut allergy friendly Lopesan Villa Del Conde, Meloneras

I wanted to let you know about our holiday to Gran Canaria, with my 8 year old son (M) who is allergic to almost all nuts and sesame.

The holiday was was fantastic and went without incident (although the airline – Thomson – weren’t the best – more below). I’d more than recommend the hotel we stayed at – Lopesan Villa Del Conde, Meloneras. I was dreading the buffet breakfast and evening meals – but the attention that the restaurant staff gave to M’s allergies was great. After a day and a half they knew him by sight, had a note in the kitchen of his allergies – and one of the chefs would give him a personal tour of the restaurant pointing out exactly what was safe for him to eat. And there was never an evening where he couldn’t eat what he wanted – except perhaps once or twice when pistachio ice cream was next to the vanilla, and so we gave it a wide berth in case people had been a bit casual with the scoops.

We had Allergy UK translation cards with us and used them everywhere we ate – what a Godsend they were, and made everything a million times easier. Plus I think that the sight of the card made the whole issue seem rather official and serious (of course it is serious – but you know what I mean!) so waiters in cafes that we visited were very helpful and double checked menu items with the kitchens to make sure they were safe. So all in all we had a great holiday that turned out to be a lot more relaxing than I had anticipated.

I was disappointed with Thomson airlines though – they had no record of M’s allergy despite being informed by the holiday company, and the rather dismissive stewardess on the inbound flight just said, “does he have his epipen?” when we told her! Practically speaking though, this didn’t cause a problem as we took snacks and bought pringles that M could eat if he felt a bit peckish; we hadn’t ever intended to have the airline food. Last week we did get an apology from Thomson after I made my concerns known to Sovereign, the holiday company… hopefully it might make a difference next time, or to someone else in the same boat (or on the same plane!) as us.

Thanks so much for the review, Steph!

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I live in Brussels, Belgium with my husband and 2 children, Amber aged 4 and George 5.  We have been here 3 years and have another year to go. George had an egg allergy as a baby which he subsequently grew out of, but then went on to develop a mild allergy to sesame which was being managed by the NHS in the UK. We avoided all seeds and nuts as a precaution….he accidentally ate a breadstick containing peanuts where he went into anaphylactic shock nearly 2 yrs ago here in Belgium. We saw an allergy specialist in both UK and Belgium and prick tests show he is allergic to sesame, most tree nuts, pine nuts and sunflower seeds…

If I was to be honest, I just wanted to come home to England, but here we still are!

We have had a range of experiences living here in Brussels and travelling to other European countries which I thought other parents may find interesting/useful if they are planning a trip away.

French and Flemish (type of Dutch) is spoken here (Flemish in the North and French in the south and Brussels). English is understood and spoken to varying degrees across the country especially in Flanders and Brussels. All products have ingredients in both languages and occasionally English. I do not speak French or Flemish and have managed to get by with English and poor Spanish!

As Belgium is the land of praline chocolates; I do not trust any such product (either as chocolate on its own or chocolate biscuits, hot chocolate, ice-cream etc), labelled as containing nuts or otherwise. As with the UK, I do not buy any products made on the premises such as in bakeries or supermarkets (including sausages etc) due to cross contamination issues. Almond croissants are common here and sesame is everywhere.  I have yet to find a processed bread product that does not refer to sesame or nuts, the only products I do buy are processed tortilla wraps and pita bread. I have invested in my own bread-maker although it is difficult to find quality bread flour that is free from nuts and sesame.  All European countries need to comply with the European food labelling law but I tend to choose products that have a “may contain milk” or other allergen (not including nuts of course!) as I feel more confident that cross contamination issues with all allergens have been considered. As with the UK I don’t purchase any “artisan” products.

Fortunately as we live close to the UK, our car is fit to bursting on return trips from the Ashford Sainsbury’s. We are also fortunate to have a couple of stores in and around Brussels which stock British products such as Stone Manor and Homes Shop Abroad.

I have also learnt not to presume that a “safe” product in the UK is safe abroad. I bought some Quorn pieces the other day and noticed that the factory it’s produced in contains nuts, which is different from UK Quorn pieces. This was particularly annoying! It is also a surprise to see that some general cooking oils may contain nuts. For us, eating out is off the menu and likewise to treating the kids with ice-cream from ice-cream parlours. I tend to buy a box of ice lollies from the supermarket and treat the kids this way and when we return to the UK we feast in Pizza Express as  many times as we can!

My most anxious moments are leaving my son at school. He started his new English/French school a month after his allergic episode and it has been a constant uphill struggle to educate his teachers. I was finally invited to give a presentation this week to 50 teachers at the school and it was well received. There doesn’t appear to be nay national “every child matters” policy as there is in the UK. To be fair, it seems nut allergies amongst Belgian kids are not as common as the UK. I have been told that mustard and celery are common allergens in France and I find it fascinating that such differences exist in neighbouring countries. Epi pens are 50 euros each here, we have 2 at school and 2 at home,  but our health insurance (no national insurance here) covers about 70% of the cost. Piriton equivalent is about 10 euros a bottle.

I go through phases of whether I want to travel to other countries with my son due to my anxiety regarding his allergies, but we have been to Slovenia, Spain, and Portugal so far. We have found it easier to choose self-catering accommodation so we can prepare my son’s food although this means its not much of a holiday for me! Bread is the main issue and I have even taken frozen bread in my suitcase! We always take plenty of safe snacks to last the holiday and have discussed with my son that if he wants to experience travelling to new places he has accept that the food may not be very exciting. One day we couldn’t find any safe food, so resorted to my emergency tin of baked beans which he had to eat cold. We also take an emergency packet of freeze-dried “mountaineering” food just in-case. I then cook him everything he wants on our return home.

We have had issues with Mark Warner in Portugal where despite informing them at every opportunity about my son’s allergy (including talking to the chef), he prepared some rice crispy chocolate treats using unsuitable chocolate. It was only from my knowledge of living on the continent that made me question the chocolate and wanted to see the packaging. On inspection of the Belgian chocolate used, we noted it contained nuts. We have also purchased mini bread sticks in Spain which stated the ingredients on the packet, only to find them filled with sesame. I was also surprised to find that processed/packaged ice-lollies sold everywhere in Andalucia often stated that they may contain nuts.

Despite the extra challenges that living abroad creates, we are trying to live life to the full and are in the process of organising a 3 week camping trip through Germany and Switzerland this summer. I have decided that I am going to learn how to make unleven bread as fresh safe bread is always my biggest headache when travelling. My advice would be to take cereal, bread and plenty of snacks for the holiday, self-catering eases the eating out anxiety and to stay vigilant with all unknown foods and ice lollies.

French translation:

Groundnuts – l’arachide
Peanuts – cacahuetes
Nuts –  noix
Almonds – amandes
Sunflower – tournesol
Walnut – noyer
General nuts  – fruites de coque

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Firstly let me introduce us. We are a family of 4. Our daughter C is allergic to tree nuts and celery. She had her first major reaction aged 4 just weeks after starting school. We are now very used to living with her allergies. She was recently re tested on her 8th birthday and sadly reacted to both still quite badly during skin prick tests. Her next tests will be when she is 13.

We have only been abroad once since we discovered her allergies and that was on a P&O cruise ship and our experience with her was first class. This year we braved Disneyland Paris for a long weekend with my family.

We left armed with lots of food snacks and small cereal boxes in our case, along with her epipens and piriton. I had printed some translation cards just in case we needed them for back up but having been to Disney a few years ago English was spoken by nearly all we encountered.

On the Eurostar we had breakfast included with our seats. My mum had made them aware of her allergy – but they weren’t aware. So she couldn’t eat the food on there – but I had packed a small variety sized box of cereal so they got her a bowl and milk and she was happy as Larry. We later found out that the food they served was from Waitrose so if we were to do it again I would check in advance.

We stayed in a Disney hotel – Hotel Cheyenne. At the check in desk we were given a big allergy booklet showing us where we could get the special allergy meals from and what items were served for breakfast.

Included in our room price was breakfast – again I remembered it from last time and so came prepared. Breakfast is a continental buffet. Breadrolls, croissants etc – so a big no no for us. I asked for the allergy safe food – after being passed to 5 members of staff I was shown who could help me. The lady then passed me breads, cakes and biscuits. All individually wrapped. I asked to see the packaging and 2 of the items contained traces of nuts and peanuts!!! ARGHHH – so we stuck to our variety boxes and cereal bars.

In the park itself there are a number of restaurants that serve a special allergy free meal. The choice was pretty poor – a couple of options and not very child friendly. She had a rice and meatball dish. It was a frozen ready meal that I then had to heat in the restaurant microwave for 6 minutes. It was very expensive – 11 euros – but worth it for the peace of mind.

The best restaurants were in Disney Village. We ate twice in Planet Hollywood– both times we were served by an English waitress and everything was checked directly with the chef and she had a great choice. Meals out for us can be harder due to the celery allergy too – but again they were fab at checking everything. We also ate in the Rainforest Cafe – the manager was Irish and they made her a meal that she loved and we felt really happy with. Both restaurants are more pricey than others – but we were happy it gave us peace of mind. One of those nights the rest of my family ate in McDonalds which had been our back up plan before we arrived- but beware in there you order on a terminal yourself and in the UK there is celery present in a lot of their foods so for us it wasn’t an option to eat there.

There are lots of snack outlets in the park. We took our own popcorn as I remembered popcorn was everywhere but she was delighted to be allowed a giant candy floss stick for the night time light show.

Overall I would say preparation is key! I did find it hard work but some of that was due to the fact we were travelling with my parents and sisters and I felt guilty that we all had to eat in places suitable for C – but my family didn’t mind at all. As with all mums on here we all know the types of foods that are risky and when you had a different language in the mix it does make it harder. But we had fun and for me that was all that mattered (once I knew she was safe).

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Today’s allergy entrepreneur sharing her story is Hailey Phillips, the founder and creator of Allergy Adventures, which aims to help “children with food allergies live safe, happy and healthy lives, filled with fun and adventure”. If you visited the Allergy Show this year, you’ll no doubt have seen the Allergy Adventures zone for children. Every time I passed, the stand was buzzing with children taking part in craft activities whilst parents snapped up the fun storybooks about Minoo, Woot and friends and their magical lunchbox adventures. Allergy Adventures are already improving children’s experiences at hospital allergy clinics and will soon be increasing allergy awareness in schools. Here Hailey talks about the many ways in which she is helping children to have a positive mindset about their allergies.

Hi Hailey. It’s great to talk to you about Allergy Adventures. Let’s start with how it all began. I know you have coeliac disease … but that a huge inspiration behind you founding Allergy Adventures was your niece?

Yes, my niece was diagnosed with an egg allergy at eight months old. But it wasn’t until she was two that I started to realise how emotionally damaging food allergy can be for children as they get older.

Birthday parties, school lunches and seasonal festivities like Easter, Pancake Day and Christmas, are just a few of the times when children with allergies can feel excluded.

And it’s not just the feelings of ‘missing out’; extreme allergic reactions can be terrifying.  My niece had an anaphylactic reaction at her nursery when she was two, and we’re currently going through a series of food challenges to nuts after she had a reaction late last year. She’s now seven and still hasn’t shaken the pesky allergies off.

So with all of this in mind, I gave up my full-time job in London as a graphic designer – sorry mum! – to create Allergy Adventures®, with the aim of helping children with food allergies learn about their condition in as light-hearted a way as possible. I created the maze design in recognition of the confusing journey that parents start on when their child is diagnosed with food allergies.

But the journey can be rewarding when you find a way forward; be that a successful free from bake in the kitchen, or finding a new free from product to try.  And for children, the maze creates a look that’s fun, and I mix this up with exciting ideas and new things for them to discover. This helps them to manage the seriousness of food allergy, and to keep themselves safe around food.

Allergy Adventures booksYou have a range of children’s storybooks where characters with different allergies go on all sorts of adventures. Was this something you created originally for your niece?

Yes. I wanted to help my niece realise that, in spite of her food allergies, she could enjoy a variety of other foods that wouldn’t make her ill. And above all, make it a fun learning experience, so I came up with my quirky characters who go to magical places and have cool adventures with allergy-friendly foods. There’s an onion ringmaster at a circus and a beetroot monkey at a zoo, who does a very funky dance. It sounds a bit wacky, doesn’t it? I obviously read way too much Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when I was a kid!

But behind the fun there are serious messages in the books that teach children how to keep themselves safe around food, and to always look out for hidden allergens.

“My Seaside Adventure” hit the shops before Christmas, which tells the story of Woot who is allergic to nuts. Another character Boskus is peanut allergic – is he going to have his own adventure sometime soon?

Allergy Adventures Woot nut allergyAllergy Adventures Boskus peanut allergy

Ahh Boskus, I’m a bit worried that he might be a victim of Allergy Adventures®’ success! Although his story is all sketched out – he has a pretty wild time on some dodgems made from jelly – he may have to wait a little before I can bring him, and his funfair adventure, to life.

I’ve just been awarded a grant by the Wellcome Trust to develop an online workshop for schools – I’ll come back to that in a minute – so that will knock out much of 2014. And beyond that… well, I’m hoping 2015 will be his year!

I’m even wondering whether he might make his début in an eBook, I’d love to know what readers think of that idea…

 

Last year you launched the “Allergy Adventures Passport Pack” at St Thomas’ Hospital in London and this is now also being used at the James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth and by Dr George du Toit in his private allergy clinic. Can you tell us a bit about the passport pack? Are there plans to introduce it in other hospitals across the country?

Allergy Adventures passportThe idea for the Passport Pack came about after I saw how stressful and scary children can find a trip to the allergy clinic. Often parents aren’t really sure what will happen, and so families arrive at the hospital feeling anxious, with vague thoughts about being pricked on the arm and maybe having a reaction.

I wanted to create something that would appeal to children, explain clearly what would happen to them during their visit, and also instills a proud sense of achievement on completing their journey. When children arrive, they are given their own Allergy Adventures® Passport and as they visit each part of the clinic – height, weight, dietician, etc – their Passport is stamped by the nurses and consultants. At the end of the visit they receive a reward certificate and a sticker.

I’m currently working behind the scenes to introduce the Allergy Adventures® Passport Pack into other hospitals, but I’ve also had some great support from parents who have been mentioning the Passport to their clinics. That’s what happened at Great Yarmouth; a parent asked her hospital to consider the idea, the medical staff got in touch and now the Passport is up and running. Never underestimate parent power!

Your online workshop for schools sounds like a fantastic project – tell us more!

Yes, this was huge news for Allergy Adventures! Recently I was awarded a grant by the Wellcome Trust to develop an online, science-based workshop for schools, to help improve awareness and understanding of food allergy in schools.

The workshops will include fun, educational videos, which will provide the focus for classroom activities. Through a series of cool experiments and explorations, children will learn facts about the human body, such as how the immune system reacts to a threat (allergens) and how medicine can be used to counteract a reaction. Children will also learn key safety points too, to help keep friends with allergies safe.

I’ll be working with a team of experts to produce the workshop, including paediatric allergy specialist, Dr Adam Fox, and psychologist, Dr Rebecca Knibb. It’s a great opportunity to build awareness and understanding about food allergies in schools, and will hopefully lead to children with allergies feeling less excluded.

It’s very much in the early stages, but I’ll be keeping everyone informed of my progress on Twitter and Facebook!

And whilst the workshop is developed you have an educational safety poster for schools? Where can people get hold of a copy for their school?

By visiting: http://shop.allergyadventures.com/products/allergy-poster

Allergy Adventures poster

Finally, you are currently carrying out some research into cooking lessons, food allergies and schools? How can Nutmums.com readers help?

They can head over to my blog – HERE – and answer my very short questionnaire. Or they can email the answers to me at: hello@allergyadventures.com. The results so far have been fascinating, and there’s a clear need for teachers, at both primary and secondary level, to be more aware about food allergies.

Thanks so much for talking to us, Hailey!

Contact details

 

For a review of the Allergy Adventures “My Seaside Adventure” nut free storybook, click here.

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Today’s allergy entrepreneur sharing her business’ story is Liz Allan who previously ran “The Cake Crusader” (a business which developed allergy friendly cakes). Last year Liz founded Allergy Aware Kitchen, which aims to “train, educate and advise food service companies the best way to make their kitchens a safe place for allergic diners”. 

Hi Liz. Thanks for talking to me about Allergy Aware Kitchen. Let’s start with your family’s experiences of food allergies and intolerance. I know you have a wheat and gluten intolerance and your son has a gluten intolerance. How long have you been avoiding wheat and gluten? How easy do you find it to eat out safely?

Thanks Louise, I haven’t been able to eat wheat since 2001 and then I was still becoming poorly so I had a variety of tests and was told to avoid gluten. My son, who is 8 years old has been showing similar symptoms to me.

Both my son and I had a Coeliac antibody test and came up negative and I felt we were fobbed off so we had a private Coeliac gene test as they aren’t available on the NHS. This was suggested by a nutritionist I was seeing and both tests came back positive.

The test doesn’t categorically state that my son is definitely Coeliac, but he has a higher risk of becoming Coeliac as he gets older. Due to his symptoms and the positive test results he now doesn’t eat wheat or gluten.

As for eating out safely, I contact the food service organisation in advance and ask a variety of questions relating to where the dishes are prepared and risks of cross contamination.

As you know, the number of times you have to check (before you go, when you get there, when they serve you) can be frustrating so we sometimes go for the easy option ie one of the chains where you know they’ve had some form of accreditation and have a high food hygiene rating. We still check though even at the accredited chains as you can never be too sure!

I have recently been glutened when eating lunch out with friends, although as my symptoms don’t always kick in until a day or so afterwards I can’t prove it. So, even asking in advance or making sure that the waitress understands your issues can still cause a problem even for someone like me.

I want my son to be able to go out and eat safely when he’s older and not feel that he can’t trust the food service staff who are serving him to do something which will make him ill.

Allergy Aware Kitchen runs training courses for owners of restaurants, cafes, pubs etc, teaching them how to be “allergy aware”. What topics do your courses cover? Who do you train: are the courses aimed at the kitchen staff? 

The courses are aimed at everyone working in food service, from the barman through to the manager, waiting staff, kitchen hands and of course all chefs no matter what level.

We teach food service staff about the differences between food allergy, food intolerance, coeliac disease and anaphylaxis as lots of people just don’t know what these conditions are or even what can happen when someone has a reaction. Some haven’t even heard of anaphylaxis and the fact that it can, at worst be fatal!

We also take staff through how to prevent cross contamination and what procedures they need to put into place to ensure that their customers are safe every time they eat.

The course is interactive so not just a “chalk and talk” session, there are activities which staff work through together in order to put what they’re learning into the context of their own organisations.

Do you think the new allergen laws will improve eating out for allergic customers?

I think that allergic customers need to know that they will have the right to ask for the EU Top14 allergen information. It is going to take some time for the information to disseminate through the allergic community.

Once people start asking about the allergens which are contained in their foods and subsequently are aware that food service companies can’t say that they don’t know, then food service companies will take things seriously.

As for improving eating out, I think if companies are not just allowed to do the “minimum” ie wave an Allergen Matrix in front of your nose for you to work out yourself what’s in the food they serve then things will only improve.

Food service companies need to realise that their staff also need investing in and require training in order to understand what allergy customers actually want/need. They need to understand their allergy customers and learn from them. They need to understand how to avoid and prevent cross contamination so that their allergy customers don’t get ill in the first place. We’ve still got a long way to go but I’m hoping that we’ll get there soon!

The training sounds fantastic – and much needed! As consumers, how will we know that a restaurant has undergone your training and is “allergy aware”?

Each delegate is assessed at the end of the course and will receive a certificate once they have passed the assessment.

Once all of the staff in the organisation are trained, the business is given the option to have an audit at a future date and if they pass the company gets an accreditation of being “Food Allergy Aware”. This is valid for 1 year, at which point they have to be re-audited.

In future, all food service companies who pass our accreditation will be shown on a database on our website.

Thanks so much for talking to us, Liz!

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Today’s allergy parent sharing their story is Simon, whose 9-month-old daughter (M) has a severe dairy allergy, discovered after she had an anaphylactic reaction when aged just 3 months. Simon’s wife is nearing the end of her maternity leave. The family believed they had their child care arrangements in place with a local nursery. At the 11th hour, the nursery has refused M a place, on account of her allergy. Here Simon explains what has happened…  

In May last year our beautiful daughter M was born. 14 weeks later she suffered an anaphylactic reaction to formula milk, an ambulance was called and she made a recovery but after a series of tests it was confirmed she was severely allergic to dairy. If you have a cup of tea and give her a kiss she will come out in a rash, but if she ingests any dairy there is a good chance she will go into anaphylactic shock. She now has an EpiPen, should this happen again.

We were concerned about my wife going back to work and leaving M at a nursery and after searching, we settled on a nursery in Ashby de la Zouch. After 3 visits they put our minds at ease that they could deal with M’s allergy, no problem. They told us of other children they had at the nursery with EpiPens and peanut allergies. We heard that all staff were trained in using EpiPens and about the various safeguards they had in place, for example using different coloured plates and bowls for allergic children. So we signed her up as there was a long waiting list and paid our deposit, with the intention of her starting in May. We signed all their registration forms with details of her medical requirements clearly stating that she had a severe dairy allergy.

In early January, my wife considered integrating M at the nursery earlier, perhaps an afternoon a week, building up to a day a week so she could go back to work early. After my wife again visited the nursery she was told no problem, although we may now have to provide M’s food. After some initial disappointment we agreed, thinking this would be the best thing for her. Just before M was due to start last week, the nursery asked my wife to come in for a chat about M starting. My wife was confronted by the owner and 2 managers of the nursery and was told, even though M had been registered since August 2013, they were no longer willing to accept her at the nursery due to her dairy allergy and they couldn’t guarantee her safety “due to the milky nature of the baby room”. My wife was gob smacked and then they threatened to call their lawyer in, to which my wife walked out and called me in tears.

The nursery have since told me that, although they care for other children with allergies and disabilities, they cannot look after our daughter.

We’ve been left in the lurch. Had we known this last August, we could have made alternative arrangements. Now we are struggling to find a nursery with the skills and availability to look after M. The many places we have called, including one on one care, have said if we had called last September they could have helped us but now is too late. My wife will now struggle to be able to go back to work on time.

We are currently considering our options and are pursuing this matter with the nursery. However, I wondered whether any of your readers have been through a similar situation and if they have any advice?

Thank you Simon for sharing this. That must have been extremely upsetting, not  to mention stressful to have to now make new childcare arrangements at the last minute. So, nut mums: has anyone else experienced a similar situation with a nursery? What did you do? How was the situation resolved?