Northwestern Athletics Welcomes Families Managing Peanut and Tree Nut Allergies

Polisky_MikeA food allergy dad got the ball rolling with a phone call and one request: could Northwestern consider having a nut-free game so that his son could attend a game? Northwestern decided to not only grant this one request, but to do something that hasn’t been attempted by a college athletics program to date: go peanut and tree nut free for many games in multiple sports during the year, offering students and fans with nut allergies plenty of opportunities to attend a game and cheer on the Wildcats.

To learn more about what it took to go nut-free at Northwestern, FARE interviewed Mike Polisky, Deputy Director of Athletics – External Affairs at Northwestern Athletics. Download this flyer to view the game schedule..

1. Why did Northwestern decide to go “all in” this season?

It all started with a simple phone call last year. We were contacted by the father of a Northwestern student who is affected by these types of allergies. The student is a big sports fan, like so many, but he wouldn’t be able to attend a game at Ryan Field or Welsh-Ryan Arena because of those allergy concerns. The father wanted to know if there was a way for us to make that happen for his son. After doing our research and coming to a better understanding of the impact of tree nut and peanut allergies on tens of thousands of people who cannot participate, it made sense to take the next step.

We decided to break up our seasons to create more opportunities for families to attend Northwestern games in a safe environment. Ryan Field will be completely peanut and tree nut free for three football games and Welsh-Ryan Arena will be that same way for close to 30 events leading up to the Big Ten opener for the men’s basketball team.

2. What changes needed to be made in order to accommodate the change?

We had to undergo a systemic change from the top down in order to change the way we do things on game day. From Northwestern President Morton Schapiro, to Vice President for Athletics and Recreation, Jim Phillips, to our ushers and security personnel, to our concessionaire partner, Sodexo, everyone needed to be fully on board with this idea, and they have been. Everyone needed to accept responsibility and support one another, and to this point, it’s been fantastic.

3. What were some major challenges in going nut-free?

I think that the biggest challenge was in understanding the layers involved. The logistics are so broad; you have to think about the product you have in place already, the aggressive cleaning measures that need to be done and the unseen areas affected like cooking oil and candies. It’s been important for us to understand all of the places that people are impacted.

4. What has the feedback been like from fans and the community?

The response we’ve seen and heard has been incredibly positive. After we decided to operate peanut and tree-nut free for one football game last fall, we received overwhelming support from all across the country. Even people who weren’t able to be in Evanston that day were thanking us for raising awareness on a national level. That encouragement only strengthened our resolve to create increased opportunities and inspired us to do even more.

5. Any advice for other schools or teams that may add nut-free games?

We’re able to help people attend a game who otherwise may not be able to do so because of severe peanut and tree nut allergies. It’s something that so many people take for granted, and if your team is in a position to provide a memorable experience, why wouldn’t you?

Northwestern is offering football and basketball tickets for their nut free games at a 15 percent discount! Northwestern also will not serve peanuts at Welsh-Ryan Arena for 10 men’s and six women’s basketball games, all 18 home volleyball matches and three wrestling events. For complete schedules or to order online, visit NUsports.com or Download this flyer

New Study: Prevalence of Peanut Allergy is High in Elementary School-Age Children

Over the years, numerous studies have attempted to determine the prevalence of food allergies in U.S. children, based on varying criteria. In a letter to the editor, published online on July 30 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers report the results of a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health, which shows that peanut allergy is “an increasingly prevalent condition” among school-age children in the U.S. Researchers concluded that the prevalence of  clinical peanut allergy among children between the ages of 7 and 10 was 5 percent – higher than previous estimates.

Dr. Supinda Bunyavanich (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY) and colleagues studied the prevalence of peanut allergy among 616 children between the ages of 7 and 10. These children were participants in Project Viva, a study that has been exploring a wide range of health issues among more than 2,000 women and their children in eastern Massachusetts for more than a decade. The researchers also compared their results to prevalence estimates from previous studies.

In their analysis of the Project Viva group, the researchers determined the prevalence of peanut allergy based on several different sets of criteria:

  • Self-reported peanut allergy (based on mothers’ responses to questions about symptoms and history of reactions): 6 percent
  • Clinical peanut allergy (based on laboratory results): 5.0 percent
  • Peanut allergy based on laboratory results, plus an epinephrine auto-injector prescription: 4.6 percent
  • Peanut allergy based on blood test results that show the highest level of sensitivity to peanut, plus an auto-injector prescription: 2.0 percent

In all cases, the prevalence rates were higher than those reported in previous studies using comparable criteria.

FARE Kids Who Care: Callie Milner

Callie FARE BlogCallie Milner wants everyone to be able to enjoy dessert together, which is why she started Callie’s Nut-Free Treats, a home-based bakery business that has been churning out nut-free baked goods and delighting customers in the Chicago area. At just nine years old, Callie and her mother Dara are donating all proceeds from their sales to FARE so they can help raise funds for food allergy research, education, advocacy and awareness. We asked Callie to tell us more about her successful fundraiser:

What are your food allergies? What’s it like having food allergies?

I am allergic to peanuts. When I go to a restaurant and I am ordering food, I have to be really careful that the server understands that my food cannot touch anything with peanuts. Cross-contact is the biggest thing about having food allergies. Having a food allergy makes you have to think in every situation about what you are eating and what others are eating around you. It is usually ok, but sometimes people don’t listen or understand and that is when it gets tiring. It is also tiring when there are really good treats around you that you can’t eat, and that is why I made Callie’s Nut-Free Treats!

Tell us about how you have been fundraising for FARE.

I have been making Callies’ Nut-Free Treats to raise money for FARE. I dance at All About Dance in Chicago and Ms. Jessica and Ms. Shannon (the owners) have let me have bake sales there for 3 years.  All of my treats are peanut, tree-nut and shellfish free and many are gluten-free and egg-free. I also have a website that people can order off of as part of the bake sale. I have raised over $9,000 so far and I don’t plan to stop!

Why did you want to do it? Why was it was important to you?

Callie’s Nut-Free Treats was really important to me because when I would see a good treat, I would really want to eat it, but I couldn’t because of my food allergy. So that’s why I made Callie’s Nut-Free Treats. I know how it feels for kids with food allergies and I want to make treats that a lot of people with food allergies and also without food allergies can eat. Now I don’t feel bad when I see great treats. I also wanted to teach people about food allergies and why they have to be really careful.

Which of your baked goods is your favorite? Which is the most popular seller?

My favorites are chocolate-covered chocolate sandwich cookies, chocolate sandwich cookie and potato chip milk chocolate bark, chocolate covered graham crackers with sprinkles and marshmallows. Our best sellers are the chocolate-covered chocolate sandwich cookies and solid chocolate pops.

How can you be a good friend to someone with food allergies?

You can be a good friend by not eating something they are allergic to when you are near them. You can also help protect someone with food allergies by telling your mom, dad or nanny to not serve foods they are allergic to and not allow foods to touch what you are allergic to when they come to your house. Like if a knife was used on peanut butter and then put in the jelly jar, I can’t eat that jelly.

What advice would you give a kid or a friend who was just diagnosed with food allergies?

Some tips I would give a friend that was just diagnosed with food allergies would be:

  • Be very very very very very very careful when you go to a restaurant. You have to say my food can’t be touched to what I am allergic to. You can ask the server to ask the chef what is safe for you to eat.  Make sure they understand cross-contact.
  • If someone is eating something you are allergic to, you have to speak up for yourself and say can you please not eat that and go wash your hands.
  • There are still a lot of great things you can eat. You can eat out and you can make lots of good things at home. I have traveled lots of places and I get to eat many yummy things.
  •  I have made lots of great friends and done special things because of my food allergies so don’t worry.

Thank you, Callie, for supporting FARE and providing safe treats for individuals with food allergies in the Chicago area. Callie’s treats are available for pick up to those in the Chicago area and can be ordered online at calliesnutfreetreats.com.

Questions from FARE’s Mail Bag

Every day we receive dozens of phone calls, emails, and letters from individuals and families who have questions about food allergies. Below are answers to just a handful of these questions that we have received recently and thought others may benefit from knowing as well.

Can a person with a peanut and/or tree nut allergy eat nutmeg?

Although the word “nutmeg” contains the word “nut,” it is actually a seed, not a nut. Used as a spice in baking and many ethnic cuisines, nutmeg is safe for everyone who does not have an allergy to nutmeg itself.

Can having a blood transfusion cause an allergic reaction because of allergens in the donated blood?

Dr. Scott Sicherer addresses this question in his book “Food Allergies: A Complete Guide for Eating When Your Life Depends On It.” He says, “When blood transfusions are processed, the liquid (serum) is washed away, so even if trace food proteins had been in the blood donation, the amount left in the material that is transfused would be negligible. There have not been reports of reactions in this situation, although it may be reasonable for a donor providing a directed donation to a person with a food allergy to avoid the allergen for several hours prior to the donation. There is one report of a platelet donation causing a reaction in a child with a peanut allergy (platelets are the blood-clotting component transfused without being separated from the serum). The report is not completely verified, but there may be risk.”

If a product is labeled “Kosher Pareve,” is it safe for someone with a milk allergy?

Kosher pareve is a kosher classification for a food that contains neither dairy nor meat, generally speaking. Kosher classifications do not address cross-contact, however, so a product can still be considered pareve if the product is made in the same facility as or has come in contact with milk. We advise you to not use Kosher labeling as a guide for if a product is safe for those with milk allergies.

I’ve heard some cities are using cheese brine mixed with ice salt as a de-icing agent for roadways. Does this pose a threat to those with milk allergies?

FARE investigated this question with the City of Milwaukee Health Department. Information provided by the Health Department and reviewed by allergists indicates this is a very low risk practice. There is an extremely small amount of protein content in the salt brine, roughly equivalent to three drops of milk per square yard of roadway. This amount is further diluted by mixing with melting snow and ice. It is very unlikely that a reaction could occur from this practice, and any reactions would likely be localized to the skin contact area.

Does Early Exposure to Nuts Lower a Child’s Allergy Risk?

ImageAre children more likely to develop a peanut or tree nut allergy if their mothers eat nuts during pregnancy or while nursing? Over the years, a number of studies have attempted to answer this question, but the results have been inconclusive. According to a new FARE-funded study, eating nuts during pregnancy does not cause food allergies in children. Further, although more studies are needed, it is possible that eating nuts may prevent a child from developing a food allergy.

In an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics on December 23, a research team affiliated with Harvard Medical School reported on their study, which suggests that mothers who do not have allergies and who eat nuts during pregnancy may lower their children’s risk of developing a peanut or tree nut allergy. The study, which was funded by FARE, received considerable media coverage.

The team, led by Dr. A. Lindsay Frazier, looked at the history of 8,205 participants in the Growing Up Today Study 2 (GUTS2) – children who were born between 1990 and 1994. The researchers reviewed records of the mothers’ diet immediately before and during pregnancy, and shortly after the infants’ birth. Of this group, 308 children had a food allergy, including 140 cases of peanut or tree nut allergy.

The incidence of peanut or nut allergies was significantly lower among the children of mothers who did not have food allergies themselves and who ate nuts at least five times per month compared to those who ate these foods less than once per month. “Our study supports the hypothesis that early allergen exposure increases the likelihood of tolerance and thereby lowers the risk of childhood food allergy,” the researchers concluded. They noted, however, that additional studies are needed. “The data are not strong enough to prove a cause-and-effect relationship,” commented one of the authors, Dr. Michael Young. “Therefore, we can’t say with certainty that eating more peanuts during pregnancy will prevent allergy in children. But we can say that peanut consumption during pregnancy doesn’t cause peanut allergy in children.”

A study that should shed more light on this issue is currently underway. The LEAP (for “Learning Early About Peanut Allergy”) Study, conducted by Dr. Gideon Lack and colleagues at King’s College London, has been following 640 children since infancy to determine whether or not exposure to peanuts early in life can prevent the development of peanut allergy. This study, which is co-funded by the National Institutes of Health and FARE, should be completed in 2014.

New Study: Asthma Medication May Facilitate Peanut Oral Immunotherapy

In numerous studies, oral immunotherapy (OIT) has successfully desensitized a significant number of individuals with food allergies, with most able to ingest more of the food protein than prior to treatment. However, the desensitization process can take months, and patients can experience allergic reactions. Led by Drs. Lynda C. Schneider and Andrew Mac Ginnittie, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School conducted a pilot study to determine whether combining OIT with omalizumab (Xolair®), an asthma medication, might speed up the desensitization process and reduce the number and severity of allergic reactions during treatment. The study evaluated this treatment regimen in 13 children with peanut allergy who were at high risk for severe reactions.

This study, which was co-funded by FARE and featured in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, had encouraging results. Before treatment, all 13 children failed an oral food challenge, during which they were fed peanut flour in doses of 100mg or less. Within a median period of eight weeks of combination therapy, 12 of the children were able to reach the maintenance dose, 4000mg of peanut flour per day. They then stopped taking omalizumab and continued on the maintenance dose. A final oral food challenge showed that all 12 were able to tolerate 8,000mg of peanut flour, the equivalent of 20 peanuts. During the maintenance phase, most patients had no reactions or only mild reactions, but three required treatment with epinephrine. The researchers believe that longer treatment with omalizumab might reduce the number of reactions.

These results are promising, but larger studies that include a comparison group not treated with Xolair® must be conducted to determine the effectiveness and safety of this approach.  A randomized trial of milk OIT/Xolair® with 56 participants, performed at Mount Sinai (NY, NY), Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, MD) and Stanford University (Stanford, CA) is near completion.  Additionally,  FARE recently approved funding for a new clinical trial, the PRROTECT study (“Peanut Reactivity Reduced by Oral Tolerance in an anti-IgE Clinical Trial”), which is recruiting 36 patients at four sites – Boston Children’s/Harvard, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia/University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University (Stanford, CA), and Lurie Children’s Hospital/Northwestern University (Chicago). For more information, please visit this link on ClinicalTrials.gov.

Take Me Out to the (Food Allergy-Friendly) Ballgame 2013

photo 1At baseball games across the U.S., thousands of fans may sing “buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks,” but for families managing food allergies, these traditional snacks can affect the decision about whether to attend a game in person. With shelled peanuts often found in the stands and other allergen-containing foods served throughout the ballpark, a baseball game can feel like an allergic reaction waiting to happen.

Luckily, many minor and major league teams are stepping up to the plate and hosting games that cater to families dealing with allergies.

There are a number of food-allergy-friendly baseball games coming up this summer. Check out the list below, and let us know if you have any additions of food-allergy-friendly games in your area. Be sure to check with the team/stadium about the specific accommodations they will be making.

View our list of baseball games for 2014 here. 

Major League

Minor League

You can also learn about new games as they are added by visiting FARE’s Regional Offices page on our website, where you can find a link to the FARE office nearest you with calendar listings of events.

View our list of baseball games for 2014 here.