Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Catering a function for 10 people — how hard could it be?

Recently I volunteered to cater for my work’s board meeting. I’ve done catering before — how hard could it be? All I had to do was supply morning and afternoon tea and lunch for 10. Here’s the catch: half of them had food allergies.

Still it didn’t seem too hard, as where I live there are many stores catering for those with food allergies and all those I was catering for are reasonable people, none of them expecting to be able to eat everything I supplied. I like to make sure everyone is happy and I wanted to be able to offer at least some choice to those with allergies.

So I started designing my menu around the person with the longest list of allergies. Here comes the hard part. Apart from the allergies to wheat, eggs, dairy, nuts, sesame and soy, he also is allergic to salicylates, which means a lot of fruit and vegies are off his list. I had a mission on my hands but I was not going to let it beat me.

Usually once I have decided on my menu I go shopping (taking about an hour) then prep and cook (around two hours) then pack and take to the venue and dish up (about another hour).

This time I took three and a half hours to shop, reading all the fine print on the labels and double checking. At the deli counter I asked for the ingredients of their salads, explaining that because of allergies I must have an exact list (not just a vague list off the top of their heads then being offered a taste!!!) otherwise I didn’t want it. I decided against this option anyway after I saw someone else being served and some of their salad choice dropped in the salad I was thinking of buying.

Compared to the supermarket, the specialist shops were like a breath of fresh air where I didn’t have to explain about cross contamination and that ‘spices’ on an ingredients list was too vague (exact means exact). When I had finished shopping I was exhausted from the mental stress, and then I had to start cooking.

I looked at my clean kitchen and worried. “What about cross contamination in my own house?” I have no allergies so cook everything I want in it. Even before I unpacked the groceries I scrubbed all surfaces and utensils I was going to use. I also bought ‘normal’ bread and dressings for those on the board who did not have allergies so I was extra careful with the packing as well to make sure nothing contaminated anything else. I also printed out a menu stating the whole ingredients list.

I managed to pull the whole thing together, but I was worn out from the stress involved in making sure all the ingredients were fine for the guests. I slept that night for 11 hours straight.

But I also feel I achieved something. All the board members could eat most things on the menu, it was tasty and it looked good on the plate. What more could you ask for, apart from all the stress!

Barbara Haughey
Office Manager
Allergy New Zealand

PS Our summer issue of Allergy Today is out now. Click here to get your copy!

Monday, November 8, 2010

What do turning 40 and sky diving have to do with allergies?

Charlotte Korte wanted to do something exciting for her 40th birthday - and the idea of jumping out of a plane at great height appealed. She also has had two children with severe allergies and, having been through the allergy journey, decided to put her dare-devil antics to good use. So the idea of sky diving and raising money for Allergy New Zealand's education and research programmes was born.

Charlotte will be doing the dive on 20 November, so please help her raise funds for us (and ultimately you) by donating online here.
Thank you for your support.

Friday, October 29, 2010

EpiPen funding and research

Most people understand allergy as something in the air that makes you sneeze. Many find it hard to grasp the concept that allergy can also be something you eat that makes you so sick it could stop your breathing or even your heart. Fortunately such severe reactions (anaphylaxis) rarely cause death, but they are becoming more common because of the increase in food allergy, particularly in young children.

No cure

At this time, there is no treatment or cure for food allergy: in fact we don’t really understand why it exists or is increasing in prevalence. But we estimate that every day in New Zealand about 10 babies are born who will go on to develop the condition. That makes around 3,600 new families every year who are suddenly faced with the unknown.

Undiagnosed, it can cause ongoing misery for the child with conditions such as severe eczema, constant stomach upsets, and even delayed physical development. There may also be repeated hospital visits for severe asthma attacks. The family may be coping with endless sleepless nights, frequent visits to the doctor, worry and concern for their child who never seems to be quite well, and hours every day applying creams to soothe eczema. They may be aware that avoiding certain foods helps, but unaware that their child could be at risk of a life-threatening reaction anytime, anywhere, that food is involved.

Impact on quality of life

Properly diagnosed, families can learn how to manage the condition, and reduce the symptoms through complete avoidance of the food concerned. This may mean a change of diet, more time spent on food preparation, and possibly some restrictions on day to day activities. They can also learn how to make sure their child gets adequate nutrition to replace what is lost through not being able to eat food containing such allergens as dairy, eggs, or nuts. And they will need to learn what to do if their child does have a sudden, severe reaction. Most importantly they will come to understand that this is a condition that requires day-by-day vigilance as well as planning ahead for every eventuality.

Most of the 35,000 New Zealand children affected will outgrow their food allergy by the time they start secondary school, but for some their allergy will be life-long. For teenagers and young adults, daily vigilance and planning ahead are strategies that are challenged by peer pressure; and some may be at risk of developing anxiety and even phobias over food. Adults may find their employment, social and even family life significantly restricted by food allergy.

Generation of food allergy babies - few specialists

We believe that many of those 10 ‘food allergy’ babies born every day are likely to remain undiagnosed for a long time, and their health and well-being (and that of their families) compromised as a result. (This is based oon the Statistics New Zealand's number of babies born each year, and the 4-6 per cent of young children who have food allergies.) This is because there is limited public awareness of the impact of allergies; and few dedicated services and resources in our health sector.

Meanwhile Pharmac continues to ignore the plight of thousands of people who need an adrenaline auto-injector to treat anaphylaxis but can’t afford the unsubsidised product on the market.

There is only a handful of paediatric and adult allergy specialists (a report in 2007 stated “the current number of specialist units and number of allergy/immunology specialists per unit in New Zealand is well below international benchmarks and inadequate to manage the burden of disease”. As a consequence, very few resources are available to assist health professionals (including general practitioners, paediatricians, nurses, lab technicians and dietitians). Meanwhile Pharmac continues to ignore the plight of thousands of people who need an adrenaline auto-injector to treat anaphylaxis but can’t afford the unsubsidised product on the market.
So how can you help us to do something about this?

Target set

Allergy New Zealand has set a target of $150,000 for research into food allergy in New Zealand. We need to know about the patterns of food allergy across different ethnic groups; prevalence and trends; and impact on health, families and communities in order to demonstrate the improvements needed in services and resources in the health sector. We want health services to be ready to take advantage of treatments that may become available for people with food allergy in the next decade. And we want to encourage New Zealand researchers to look at why food allergy exists and how to prevent it in the future.

You can help by making a donation to our Food Allergy Research Fund here, and passing this request on to your family, friends and colleagues. If you have experienced food allergy, tell your friends your story. We need people to understand that food allergy exists, it can have a major impact on life, but can be managed successfully with the right help, in the right place, in the right time.

Penny Jorgensen
Chief Executive

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Aqueous cream can aggravate eczema

If you have a child with eczema and have found it doesn't improve after the use of Aqueous cream BP, you may have an answer.

A UK study has found that Aqueous cream BP actually reduces the thickness of healthy skin and aids irritation.

The study was carried out with six volunteers, who all had healthy skin. It as applied to different areas, and after four weeks it as associated thinning and dehydration of the skin.

However, the effect wasn't found in all areas of the skin tested, which the study suggests that the cream may not have the same effect on everyone who uses it. (You can read the story on our homepage and listen to an interview with Dr Vincent Crump on the subject.)

This is not the first time Aqueous cream has had a bad rap. Another UK study carried out a couple of years ago found preservative caused reactions in a significant number of users.

The team looked at the notes of 100 children aged 1-16 years of age attending a paediatric clinic at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital. Of the 100 children audited, 71 had used aqueous cream and of these 40 (56.3 per cent) had developed an immediate skin reaction.

A preservative, 2-phenoxyethanol (2-PE), is found in aqueous cream, and it is effective against a broad spectrum of microorganisms. There have been several reports of eczema and hives due to this preservative.

In New Zealand, the two nurse-led eczema clinics will not recommend the use of aqueous cream as a moisturiser for eczema. And it isn't mentioned at all in the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy's eczema care plans, which you can find here.

What have you found helps your eczema, or your child's eczema?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mad Butcher honoured in This Is Your Life

Allergy New Zealand's Honorary Ambassador Sir Peter Leitch featured in This Is Your Life on TVNZ this past Sunday.

We have known for years what a good bloke the Mad Butcher is - and we're thrilled that the rest of New Zealand can see this too. We can't thank him enough for what he has done for Allergy New Zealand - not only has he donated and raised tens of thousands of dollars for the organisation, he has thrown an enormous amount of energy behind promoting us.

For more information on the show and to view some clips, click here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Research fund launched to honour Mad Butcher

He has networked, nagged and bullied to raise tens of thousands of dollars through fundraising and personal donations for Allergy New Zealand and is truly deserving of the knighthood conferred on him in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in June.

So how do you thank the Honorary Ambassador Sir Peter Charles Leitch QSM for all his wonderful support given to countless New Zealanders? Allergy New Zealand has acknowledged this by launching The Leitch Family Award for Food Allergy Research at its National Conference in August.

“This is a small way to thank you but it is the best way we can think of to acknowledge you,” chief executive Penny Jorgensen told Sir Peter. “On behalf of all those living with food allergies as well as everyone at Allergy New Zealand, we thank Peter and the Leitch Family from the bottom of our hearts.”

Sir Peter’s support and generosity over the past few years is immeasurable. Earlier this year, Penny spoke with him about plans to launch a fundraising campaign to establish a research programme into the impact and burden of food allergy in New Zealand.

“You immediately reached into your pocket and made a donation of $10,000 to launch this,” Penny said.

The organisation has been fundraising for food allergy research since May this year, and so far has close to $13,500, thanks to Sir Peter’s kick-start.

The research fund will be an ongoing and significant annual project for as long as research is needed, and Allergy New Zealand will continue to raise proceeds.

The Board has been working on a grants process, which it will discuss in more detail with Allergy New Zealand’s medical panel. However, at least one special grant will be made each year with the Leitch Family Award for Food Allergy Research.

The Food Allergy Research Fund was set up because at least 10 babies born everyday* go on to develop food allergies.

“We have been asked why we are putting our energy into research when there are so many other things the organisation needs to do,” Penny said.

“The answer is that in order to advocate for better allergy services, for an adrenaline auto-injector to be funded, for more support through government services and for national allergy and anaphylaxis guidelines to be adopted by schools and early childhood education centres (to name a few), we need to show the prevalence and burden of food allergies in New Zealand, and the cost of doing nothing to alleviate the burden. We have been working on all these things, but we can’t get much traction on these until we have the data and the evidence.”

You can make a donation by going to or by calling 0800 34 0800.

* Based on 62,960 live births registered in the June 2009 Statistics New Zealand; 6-8 per cent of children under the age of five are affected by food allergy according to international research. The 10 per day is the conservative estimate of 6 per cent of children who have food allergy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Peanuts on planes

I have been following a heated debate that is raging in the US and Canada over whether peanuts should be banned from airlines.

Obviously it would make life easier for those with peanut allergy to travel, but peanut farmers (of which there are large numbers) are concerned this could cause them a huge financial dent.

Interestingly, world-leading allergy specialist Dr Scott Sicherer, who studies food allergies at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York,
says that a few limited studies on airline passengers with peanut allergies found a number of people reporting symptoms while flying, but few were severe or life-threatening.

"But there's discomfort. It's sort of like if you were allergic to dogs and all of a sudden they brought 50 dogs onto the plane," he told the Associated Press.

And there's the fact you are 30,000 feet in the air, and in an enclosed space.

A number of airlines in the US no longer serve nuts.

You can read a the article here:

What are your thoughts on the issue? Do you think there should be a ban? Or do you travel on airlines that don't serve nuts?
Have you (or a member of your family) ever had a reaction on an airline?

I'd love to hear your views.

Inga Stünzner
Information and Communication

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Can the future of peanut allergy be predicted in infants with egg and milk allergy?

10 May 2010: Early results from a study of more than 500 infants with egg or milk allergy indicate that they are highly likely to test positive for allergic antibodies that are specific to peanuts. This unexpected finding suggests that these infants are at risk for developing peanut allergy later in life and should be evaluated by a health care professional before introducing peanuts into their diet.

The findings appear in the May issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. These are the first published results from the clinical group of the Consortium of Food Allergy Research (CoFAR), a major food allergy research program supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health.

Eggs, milk and peanuts are the three most common allergenic foods for infants. An infant who already has a milk or egg allergy is known to be at risk for later developing a peanut allergy. Another risk factor for peanut allergy is moderate to severe eczema (atopic dermatitis). This is the first systematic study, however, of the natural development of these three food allergies in very young children.

This observational study has enrolled infants between 3 and 15 months old. All have immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to egg or milk. Some of these infants have known clinical allergy to eggs or milk, some have moderate to severe eczema, and some have both allergy and eczema. None of the infants has known peanut allergy. These infants will be followed until 5 years of age to see if their allergy to milk or eggs continues or resolves, and to see if they develop an additional allergy to peanuts.

As part of the initial assessment of the infants, the CoFAR investigators measured the level of IgE antibody to peanuts. They made two unexpected observations: More of the infants have elevated levels of IgE antibody to peanuts than the investigators had anticipated, and some of these infants have such high levels that they may already be allergic to peanuts without their parents being aware of it.

The researchers encourage parents of children with egg or milk allergy to talk to their doctor before incorporating peanuts or peanut products into their child's diet.


Article: SH Sicherer et al. Immunologic features of infants with milk or egg allergy enrolled in an observational study (CoFAR) of food allergy. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2010.02.038 (2010).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Allergy Awareness Week kicks off 16-22 May

The theme for this year’s Allergy Awareness Week (16-22 May) is ‘Allergies — no walk in the park’.

Do you find that one of the hardest parts of dealing with an allergy is having people take it seriously? For most of us, once our - or our kids' - allergies are diagnosed and managed, we look like anyone else (although more healthy I think!). So the focus is then on convincing people that it is, indeed, a condition that must be taken seriously.

The aim of Allergy Awareness Week is draw to people's attention the significant impact allergies have on individuals and families.

Can you help?

In order for Allergy Awareness Week to be a success, we need you — members of our allergic community — to get behind us by:

• Contacting your school or community library to see if they can put up a display
• Volunteering yourself to be interviewed by your local media to highlight the impact allergies have on your life. This can be any type of allergy, and the focus is on how the support of those around you made the difference.

If you can help Allergy New Zealand with schools and libraries, please email

If you can help with our media campaign, please email me

The best way to show the rest of our communities that we need their support is to show how this makes the allergic journey so much easier to travel. So if you have some good experiences, please share them below and hopefully it will inspire others to pass on the goodwill.

Inga Stünzner
Information and Communication
Allergy New Zealand

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Travel to Fiji - a call for help!

We received an email through our website about travelling to Fiji and dealing with a food allergy.

Do you have any suggestions?

"I have booked a holiday in fiji. I assumed a 'five star' resort with many resteraunts would be able to accomodate food allergies. They tell me they cannot accomodate such dietry requirements (egg, dairy and nut free except coconut)and have not yet let me know if they can provide a kitchen for me...

They also advise me that the nearest hospital is three hours away and that helicopters do not operate after sunset.

If anyone has personal experiance with Fiji I would be glad to hear from them. As far as I am concerned we are going (complete with emergency drugs and staple foods). Please can you advise me on five star resourts and their usual abilities?? Where to go from here??
Appreciate your response. Holiday is in July/August 2010".

If you have any suggestions (constructive), please post away.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Easter egg hunting

Easter (religious aspects aside) is about children having a lovely time, hunting for Easter eggs.

But for parents who have children with food allergies, it's also a hunt, albeit one that begins months before and is often associated with large doses of stress! Searching for a safe chocolate Easter egg can sometimes feel a little like searching for the Holy Grail.

I belong to our Central Auckland support group, and thanks to two of our members, we have been alerted to the fact that K-Mart is stocking Kinnerton Easter eggs.

This information has led to a flurry of activity - I collided with a fellow member at the St Lukes K-Mart as stampeded the aisles in search of this egg, only to leave empty handed and gutted when there was nothing there.

But another super-chocolate-sleuther called up K-Mart, put the hard questions to them and discovered the eggs are being stocked, but only a few at a time. The wonderful member found out the barcode and passed this on to the rest of our group.

Give your local K-Mart a call if you are looking for an egg that is dairy, egg, wheat and nut free (it contains soy lecithin, which the majority of people with soy allergy can tolerate, but check this with your specialist first).

Here is the information: “Egg and Bar Casket”, and the sku/bar code is 5010775166646. They are $16.50 each.

If K-Mart sees the demand for Kinnerton chocolate, hopefully they will stock it all the time.

Happy Easter Egg hunting — and hopefully your kids will enjoy it too when it's their turn.

If you know of any other chocolate and where to get it, post away!

Inga Stünzner
Information Officer
Allergy New Zealand

Monday, February 15, 2010

First blog for the year! Food bans!

We're half way through February, so it seems a little redundant to say 'Happy New Year'.

A couple of weeks ago, this article appeared in the Australian newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph "Schools banned food list has gone nuts".

Out of this story, the Herald on Sunday ran a similar article "Kids lunch box time bombs".

It's important to differentiate between schools and early childhood education centres, as the general consensus is that removing highly spreadable and allergenic foods, such as peanut butter, egg sandwiches or yoghurt (if there is a child with peanut, egg or milk allergy) is appropriate for younger children.

If you have a school-aged child at risk of anaphylaxis (and not just to food), how has your school managed this?