Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Is the Easter Bunny allergy Friendly?






It’s that time of year when all the stores are featuring colourful, shiny, glittering displays of chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs, filled with toys or favourite children’s characters. It’s hard to miss. It’s also hard to miss that so many of these treats designed for children contain nuts and other common allergens, like dairy and egg.

One year supermarket shopping with my little man, we ran into a wall of chocolate eggs with toys and treats, and signs of the Easter Bunny. He looked excited, superhero eggs, and some of his favourite characters attached to these chocolate eggs and lollies inside. He was very keen that maybe the Easter Bunny would bring something like this to him.

I reminded him that some of these treats, although they looked great might not be safe and they might not be allergy friendly. The face of disappointment and confusion looked up at me, “Why would the Easter bunny put my allergies and nuts in it? … he knows I have allergies…”

These are the kind of situations that are complex for little people with allergies. Cross contamination isn’t always easy to explain to little people, or big people for that matter.

For anyone who is at risk of anaphylaxis, only a tiny amount can cause a potentially fatal allergic reaction. A contaminated piece of equipment or careless labelling can take a life. This is not exactly how I explained it to my preschooler at the time.


What’s in the label?


A lot of the Easter chocolates - complete with favourite characters or popular toys and marketed towards young children - are not made in Australia. Not all countries have strict regulations that require manufacturers to declare allergens. In Australia the top most common allergens are legally required to be declared on the label – peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, fish/shellfish, wheat, sesame and soy. There are also some requirements for declaring gluten (see more)Obviously not helpful if you have allergies that are not in the top eight such as mustard seed or coconut for instance.




Other countries such as China and parts of Asia, and many other countries where Easter chocolate treats are often but not always made, for higher profit margins, do not have strict regulations such as we do here in Australia.  

However even with Australian labelling there are problems. Undeclared allergens are reported from time to time. And even 'may contain' warnings can be a problem too. 

Precautionary or warning labels such as “may contain” or “processed on machinery that contains...” in Australia, and most parts of the world are voluntary and are therefore not audited. Unfortunately there are many manufacturers who apply the ‘may contain’ warning on their products, sometimes perhaps unnecessarily.

This makes choices for people with serious allergies very limiting. Or we increasingly ignore the ‘may contain’ type labels, which can also be problematic. A recent US study tested 186 products with precautionary peanut labels and found 16 (just under 9 percent) actually contained the allergen. The consequences of ignoring such labels recently proved tragic. A young man aged 22, Bruce Kelly, of Minnesota who had a peanut allergy, died of anaphylaxis earlier this year after eating a chocolate bar with a label that said it had been “made in a plant that also processed peanuts”.

These ‘may contain’ warnings do warrant some skepticism, that many companies prefer to slap on this type of warning to avoid all responsibility rather than display accurate warnings and labels on their products. It appears profits come first, not correct labelling. Even allergists are confused about these ‘may contain’ warnings and advice can vary from doctor to doctor. In effect, the random and unregulated ‘may contain’ warnings shift responsibility away from the manufacturer, and on to the severely allergic consumer to decide without any real information on which to base their decision. This needs to change.

Chocolate Easter eggs and treats in particular can be risky for kids with allergies because they are often made in the same factory or machinery as milk, nut and egg products. In particular this can be a real risk for those of us with severe nut allergies, as while some brands of chocolates may not list nuts, they can contain traces of nuts, and many allergists would recommend only purchasing chocolate produced in a nut free facility.  


 Chocolate free Easter?

One Easter break we spent time with some little cousins, and they did the cutest little Easter treasure hunt. Coloured plastic eggs were hidden throughout the garden, inside were small toys, treats and safe lollies.  We organised it so that my son could participate, and we didn’t include any of the unsafe Easter eggs. The three little cousins must have been chatting about this as my little man was again confused about it.

“Heh mum, they (his cousins) think I’m allergic to chocolate? Isn’t that like … crazy!?

Luckily, although the majority of Easter sweets and treats that are heavily marketed towards kids are not safe for children with food allergies, there are thankfully some considerate manufacturers who make Easter chocolates in a nut free facility. These are the kind of chocolates we do buy, many are also dairy and wheat, and egg free too. There are increasingly a lot more of these appearing on the shelves.

While my little guy is still finding it tricky to comprehend cross contamination or what ‘may contain’ labels might mean, I can’t really fault him on this. It is super complex and unfair. After all, wouldn’t the real and true Easter bunny chocolate factory be allergy friendly?


The Easter bunny sure is allergy friendly and inclusive at our house, amongst friends and I think increasingly childcare centres and preschools are on getting on board. Here are some quick easy and FUN ideas to get started.  


Fun-Allergy-Friendly-inclusive ideas:

There are so many wonderful alternatives to unsafe cheap Easter chocolates and raw egg decorating craft activities to explore. There are loads of fabulous inclusive Easter activities that are lots of fun for kids.

Easter egg hunt
Plastic fillable Easter eggs are usually found at craft stores. I have also seen wooden eggs too. Fill with small toys, safe chocolates, lollies or favourite treats.
Filler ideas - Make sure they are safe for little toddlers if they are included in the activity:
Small figurines like dinosaurs or lego figures, or playmmobil figures
Marshmallows (bunny tails)
Small bottles of bubbles
Gold coins (real ones)
Stickers
Bracelets or hairclips
Small toys
Safe lollies or treats
Bouncing balls
finger puppets
matchbox cars



Inclusive Easter craft ideas for home or the class-room
·      Decorate eggs with collage, paint or markers. Foam, wooden or plastic eggs can be found at craft stores.
·        Make Easter bunny ears with paper and collage
·        Paper plate craft such as bunny mask, or collage a chick or bunny shape
·        Make a basket to collect your allergy friendly Easter eggs

Practice inclusiveness
If you are a teacher planning an Easter hunt non food treats might be the most inclusive idea. For craft or cooking activities there are many ideas out there to ensure all children can participate, and all children learn about inclusiveness.

Here are some great links for parents, carers and teachers to get you started, but there are so many to find you will be surprised.

More Allergy Friendly tips and creative Craft ideas
Cooking and craft

Food allergies and Easter

Great Easter tips

Easter ideas with food allergies



Cooking with kids
Again, there are so many allergy friendly cooking activities with an Easter theme or just as a school holiday activity. Cooking with kids with allergies is a great idea, as children with allergies or coeliac disease can easily become fearful of food. Cooking involves children with food and can help ease anxieties around food.

Or if you are planning a cooking activity at school or kinder, or afterschool care, it’s an activity all children could be involved in when the recipe is adapted accordingly. Don’t forget to contact parents of children with allergies, coeliac disease and other food intolerances before the day to ensure all ingredients are safe.  



Great cooking activity, you can make with or without the kids!


Enjoy your fun activities with your children, whether it’s at home or school. There are lots of ways to make it fun and safe. If you are buying treats, remember always read the label every time as ingredients can change. Last, but not least you could leave out something special for the Easter bunny the night before, maybe something allergy friendly?



Read more about food labels