Please note the following updates regarding the supply of EpiPen® and EpiPen® Jr in Canada.
EpiPen (0.3 mg dose) update
On January 11, 2018, Pfizer Canada advised of a supply shortage of 0.3 mg EpiPen auto-injectors. At that time, Health Canada also provided an update.
Health Canada is now reporting that pharmacies are expecting to receive a supply of EpiPens in early March, and the shortage is expected to be resolved by March 9, 2018. For further information please contact Pfizer Canada directly at 1- 877-EPIPEN1 (1-877-374-7361).
EpiPen Jr (0.15 mg) update
Drug Shortages Canada posted a notice regarding the supply of 0.15 mg EpiPen Jr auto-injectors. According to the notice, EpiPen Jr has been put on “preventative allocation” due to increased demand.
To better understand what this means to consumers, we contacted Pfizer Canada. They provided the following information on the current supply of EpiPen Jr auto-injectors.
From Pfizer Canada:
Pfizer Canada noted an increase in EpiPen Jr orders from customers in the month of January.
As a result of increased demand, Pfizer is experiencing supply constraints of EpiPen Jr auto-injectors (0.15 mg format for children weighing 15–30 kg (33–66 lbs)).
No EpiPen Jr auto-injectors expired in January 2018.
At this time, there is supply of EpiPen Jr auto-injectors in pharmacies, but due to an unexpected, significant increase in demand, and out of an abundance of caution, inventory has been placed under preventative allocation until an estimated end date of March 16, 2018.
This means that there may be a limit placed on the number of EpiPen Jr auto-injectors that can be provided to pharmacies until March 16, 2018. Pfizer is managing the supply carefully and working closely with distributors to avoid long-term supply constraints at the pharmacy level.
To help you better manage throughout this period, we, Food Allergy Canada, recommend the following:
If you have an expired EpiPen or EpiPen Jr auto-injector or one that is about to expire, check with your local pharmacies to have it replaced. As a reminder, please note that the expiry date applies to the last day of the month noted on the device.
If a new or in-date auto-injector is not available, a recently expired device may be used to treat an anaphylactic reaction in an emergency situation during this shortage period.
As always, continue to follow and review our safety tips for managing food allergies.
For further information or questions, please contact Pfizer Canada directly at 1- 877-EPIPEN1 (1-877-374-7361).
Read a personal introduction from Jennifer Gerdts, our new Executive Director. Plus, applications are now open for the Pryde Family Travel Grant and Sabrina Shannon Memorial Award – the winners could be awarded $500-$1,000.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, be sure to read up on our tips on how to keep safe. We have tips for parents, teens, adults, and educators.
A personal introduction from Jennifer Gerdts
Learn more about our new Executive Director.
In her personal introduction, Jennifer shares her journey with food allergy and what led her to become our new leader.
The Pryde Family Travel Grant and the Sabrina Shannon Memorial Award
Enter to win our grants/awards this year. Learn about them below and please share with anyone who may qualify!
The Pryde Family Travel Grant
For graduate students, medical students, and health care professionals with an interest in food allergy/anaphylaxis. The Pryde Family Travel Grant offers two grants valued at $500 each to help cover the costs for attending an academic program or event related to food allergies. Deadline to apply is March 23, 2018.
The Sabrina Shannon Memorial Award
For students entering their first year or continuing their studies at a post-secondary institution. The Sabrina Shannon Memorial Award offers two awards of $1,000 each. Applicants do not need to have food allergies to be eligible for the award. Learn more and apply by June 22, 2018.
Find out about our advocacy for improved food allergy education in foodservice, and read our interview with Dr. Soller on a study around parental anxiety – which many of you participated in last year.
Learn about a recent study that finds asthma and food allergies are predictable at age one. Plus, check out our mythbuster series, this month we ask the question: Can someone with food allergies be cured of their allergy when they are given an epinephrine auto-injector?
Advocating for more robust food allergy education in foodservice
Over the past two years, we’ve been working with the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to update the food allergy content in their food handlers course – Food Safety: A Guide for Ontario’s Foodhandlers. This course provides knowledge of safe food handling practices for restaurant/foodservice staff, including a section on food allergens.
We are pleased to let you know that we have been successful in our advocacy efforts and the course has been recently updated to include more robust food allergy-related information for restaurants/foodservice establishments. The updated content includes information on key elements, such as the basics of food allergy, minimizing risks like cross contamination, reading food labels, and consumer communications.
This improved content will help foodservice establishments better understand how to reduce risk, how to offer more choices, and build an understanding around food allergy.
Study looks at the effects of parental anxiety around food allergies
Dr. Lianne Soller
Dr. Edmond Chan and Dr. Lianne Soller of the BC Children’s Hospital are spearheading a series of studies on food allergy in children. Late last year, they asked us to help recruit participants for a study on anxiety in parents of children with food allergy.
Study finds asthma and food allergies predictable at age one
Children at one year of age who have eczema or atopic dermatitis (AD) and are sensitized to an allergen, are 7 times more likely than other infants to develop asthma, and are significantly more likely to have a food allergy by age three.
Read AllerGen’s release to learn more about this study. AllerGen is a national research network dedicated to improving the quality of life of people with allergic and related immune diseases.
New mythbuster series: check out this month’s edition
Can someone with food allergies be cured of their allergy when they are given an epinephrine auto-injector (e.g., EpiPen®)?Find out!
Dr. Edmond Chan and Dr. Lianne Soller of the BC Children’s Hospital are spearheading a series of studies on food allergy in children. Late last year, they asked us to help recruit participants for a study on anxiety in parents of children with food allergy.
Though the study is recent and most of the data hasn’t been processed yet, Dr. Soller shared some preliminary results with us. Check out our interview with her below.
You collaborated on this study with Dr. Edmond Chan, right?
Right. Dr. Chan is the principal investigator on this study, and he has several other ongoing research projects in this department. We actually just started working with anxiety as one of our topics, and it’s been really interesting to see some of the feedback we’ve been receiving about this specific survey.
Your study was designed to measure the level of anxiety among parents of children with food allergy. How did you define anxiety in that context?
We had two different ways that we measured it. One was using a validated generalized anxiety tool, which is called the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). Basically, that’s a list of about 40 questions that ask about your “state anxiety”, how you’re feeling right now, and then your “trait anxiety”, which is how you feel generally. Based on that, it gives you a score from 20 to 80 – the higher scores indicate higher anxiety, and the lower scores indicate lower anxiety.
We also created a “visual analogue scale”, where you rate how anxious you are about your child’s food allergies on a scale of no anxiety to very high anxiety. We created that scale because the STAI measures generalized anxiety, but there isn’t a specific measure right now that addresses anxiety related to food allergy. This is the first time that we’ve been able to measure that level of anxiety in parents of children with food allergy.
The hypothesis for our study was that the STAI might not accurately represent how anxious parents are about their child’s food allergy. So, that was why we did the two different measurements.
It’s obviously early days, but do you have any results yet?
We haven’t finished our analysis of all the questions yet, but from what we know so far, we are very surprised to find that the average score for families on the question of how high they would rate their anxiety around food allergy was 71 on a scale of 0 (not anxious at all) to 100 (extremely anxious). That’s a very high level of anxiety, we are quite surprised that it was that high. When we looked at the STAI scores, we found that they were higher than the general population. We also found that the STAI scores were different than the self-reported anxiety specific to food allergy. We still have to look further into the results to see whether the STAI will be a good predictor of anxiety related to food allergy.
Can the level of parental anxiety affect outcomes?
We haven’t really looked at that data yet, but in our clinic, we do a lot of oral food challenges and we see a lot of very anxious families. We know anecdotally that higher anxiety in the parents can trigger anxiety in the children, and that’s problematic. We do want to have a healthy level of anxiety, just so the child remains cautious, but there’s that grey line between what is healthy and what isn’t.
We do know that in oral food challenge situations, a lot of parents come in extremely stressed, and their worry can inadvertently lead the child to feel more anxious, which in turn may make the child feel like they are having a reaction. For example, when parents are asking questions like, “Oh, are you okay now?”, “How are you now?”, “Do you have a stomach ache?”, “Does your head/throat hurt?”, etc., they can cause anxiety in their child which the child may interpret as having a reaction.
We do know that there are important implications for the child’s behaviour and their perceived allergic reactions when they are anxious. That’s one of the reasons we’re doing this study, not only to measure the level of anxiety in parents, but we want to better understand what kinds of things parents are struggling with, and help them to cope with their anxiety, and as a downstream effect, prevent some of these adverse effects from happening.
Help them how?
Actually, the survey that we’re talking about now is just the first part of the study, and the second part is based on focus groups. In the focus groups, many of the parents were saying that anxiety is something that is a little bit taboo and can be isolating. When they mention any sort of issue of having trouble coping with their child’s allergies, people just don’t understand and there really isn’t any support from either the medical community or their social circles. That was really sad for me to hear. That part of the study was to look at resources that families might find helpful in coping with their child’s food allergies. Most families said that when their child was diagnosed they were not given any resources. To me that speaks to what we’ve heard in our clinic, which is that families feel alone, and that nobody understands or wants to give them any information except “carry an EpiPen® and don’t eat peanuts.”
How has Food Allergy Canada assisted you with these studies?
Food Allergy Canada was generous enough to send our call for participants to their members, and we were able to get about 600 survey responses, which is fantastic, way beyond what we had expected – we’re very, very happy about those results. We were also able to get several individuals interested from the Greater Vancouver Area to come to BC Children’s Hospital for our focus groups. Without Food Allergy Canada, we wouldn’t have any of that data, so we’re very thankful to them. The past Executive Director, Laurie Harada, was extremely helpful in guiding me in terms of creating the questions and making sure that the survey wasn’t too long and making the questions really applicable to the families.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
If anyone wants any more information about our research, people can contact us at email@example.com. Myself or one of my colleague’s answer the questions sent there.
Our key mission is to help you live more confidently with food allergy. If you are feeling anxious about your child’s food allergy, we have many resources to help you:
Connect with a local support group. Support groups provide a warm and caring environment for you to share your concerns and get help dealing with the day-to-day stress of having a child at risk of anaphylaxis.
Find out where this month’s support group meetings are being held, register your child for the February Allergy Pals Monthly webinar, and check out our other upcoming webinars to learn the basics of managing food allergy and anaphylaxis.
Check out the support group meetings happening this month! Sarah Nicholl and Marni Halter from the Toronto Anaphylaxis Education Group
Support groups provide a warm, caring environment for you to share your concerns. You’ll get help in dealing with the day-to-day stress of being at risk for anaphylaxis, or having a child who is at risk. Plus, you will keep updated on any new developments. It can be helpful to talk with others who understand what you’re going through.
Below you will find the support group meetings happening this month. You can also read about Sarah Nicholl, the co-leader of the Toronto Anaphylaxis Education Group, and learn about her journey.
Allergy Pals Monthly webinars: Next session on February 25 on managing food allergies while travelling
Every month, kids with food allergies that are between the ages of 7-11 can participate in webinars that will cover key educational information on managing food allergies.
Each webinar will be led by a trained peer mentor with food allergies, there will also be plenty of interactive games and activities that will have your child glued to the presentation! Check out the previous webinars.
Register your child today our February webinar on managing food allergy while travelling – which many of you may be doing for the upcoming March break.
Webinars on the foundation in food allergy
Carla, community advocate and parent mentor
Attend one of our free webinars on managing food allergy and anaphylaxis. Topics covered include the basics of food allergy, risk reduction, symptom recognition, and emergency management. There will also be time for questions afterwards.
If you have already attended one of these webinars, please help us spread the word so others can also benefit. Please share!
Two formats are offered, click on the links below to learn more and register:
The Toronto Anaphylaxis Support Group (TAEG, pronounced “tag”) was founded in 2000 by Laurie Harada, who later went on to become our Executive Director from 2003-2017. The group is currently being led by the (we’ve got to say it!) TAEG-team of Sarah Nicholl and Marni Halter. We spoke to Sarah about the past, present and future of one of the largest Food Allergy Canada support groups in the country.
Can you tell us a little about TAEG and how it came to be?
Sure. TAEG started in about 2000, Laurie Harada founded it and ran it for a few years. The reason TAEG started was to bring together local families and individuals impacted by food allergy, to provide them with education and support.
Then from there, three additional groups of dedicated food allergy parents took it over throughout the years. In 2012, I wrote to Food Allergy Canada to say I’d love to volunteer, and so did another food allergy mom, Marni Halter. Marni and I took over the group and have been running it since then. This is our sixth year.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Do you have food allergies or a family member who does?
Yes, I have two sons, one of whom is at risk of anaphylaxis to dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.
Did you make any changes to the group when you took over?
When we took it over I started the website. That’s where we post all the meetings, slides and everything, so there are lots of resources for people to look up if they can’t make it to a meeting.
In June, Marni and I book the meeting space for the upcoming meetings, and then over the summer we plan out the topics we’d like to have. Usually in our last meeting of the season, around May or June, we get votes from people about what topics they’d like to see. Then we contact speakers over the summer and schedule out about five meetings.
Do all your meetings have guest speakers?
Most of them, so it’s kind of like a speaker series. Generally, about twenty or so people turn out to each meeting. We have about 330 families on our distribution list and about 300 on our Facebook page. We get a lot of people who come out to meetings, and others just access the materials on the website.
Do you livestream your meetings?
We have had a lot of requests for the ability to attend the meetings virtually, but we don’t do that yet. We’re thinking about doing that maybe next year if the Internet access in the centre is available.
What kinds of topics have you covered?
We basically source the topics from the group. We get suggestions throughout the year, and then we have that vote in the last meeting. We’ve had camp directors come in and talk about managing allergies at day camp and overnight camp. We’ve had youth panels talk about how they’ve managed their own allergies through different stages. We’ve had Food Allergy Canada come in and talk about the resources they offer about managing food allergies. We’ve had a “partnering with your school” workshop where we walked through some scenarios and provided tools to enable people to set up an action plan to manage allergies in the school. We had a dietitian come in from SickKids Hospital to talk about how to have a healthy diet when you have to avoid certain allergens. We’ve had psychiatrists and social workers talk about anxiety, bullying, and other psychological aspects of allergies. Every year we have an allergist come to do an Ask the Allergist and research review, which is always very popular, too.
Where do you meet?
We’re in our third year at the Edithvale Community Centre in North York. The City of Toronto gives us a very good rate because we’re an education group, so it’s very cost-efficient to use the City of Toronto spot. For that reason, and because in the past we had a grant through Food Allergy Canada, we haven’t had to charge for people to come to the meetings. Our only costs are really the website and the meeting space, and we buy gift cards for our speakers.
Where can people find out more information?
We encourage people to check out our website, because we’ve posted all the resources from previous meetings (here). We have sample action plans, workbooks to help you plan for a road trip or manage your child’s schooling issues. We also have slideshows from many of our guest speakers’ presentations.
Sarah in Jay Peak, VT with husband Raul, and sons Connor (age 8) and Luke (age 10), who skis with two EpiPens on him at all times.
We asked Sarah Nicholl, co-leader of the Toronto Anaphylaxis Education Group (TAEG) to share her advice on how to travel safely and without stress during the winter months.
Sarah’s tips are from her own experiences travelling with her family to places both near and far. She has two sons; one of her sons is a 10-year-old boy at risk for anaphylaxis to dairy, egg, peanuts, and tree nuts.
Driving long distances
Sarah and her family have taken long drives to Florida, or shorter excursions to places like Jay Peak, Vermont for skiing. “We always have all our food with us,” she says. “We have a GPS and a backup GPS, so we know where the hospitals are when we’re driving. Not that we’ve ever needed to use it, but it makes us feel better. Just knowing where the resources are along your route and having enough food if the weather turns bad gives you extra security.”
Accommodations and food
“We always rent a place with a full kitchen, a two-bedroom condo at Jay Peak, for example,” Sarah explains. “And we plan our week’s menu and bring a lot of food. We buy safe food in advance, pre-cook and freeze the meals and then take it all with us to Vermont in coolers.”
”If we’re going to stay somewhere for any length of time, we always book places with separate bedrooms and a kitchen,” she says. “Because we’re not spending on restaurants, we can spend more on our accommodations, and we’re much more comfortable and relaxed in the evenings [than in a hotel room].”
Spreading out the workload
“We usually travel to Vermont with another family,” Sarah says. “And we split the cooking with them. They do dinner half of the days and we do the other half. It works really well, and you get a bit of a break. Plus it’s nice to relax in the condo after a day of skiing with pre-prepped meals, rather than manage kids in a restaurant.”
In case of harsh weather conditions
Sarah’s minivan covered in 5 feet of snow during the Stella winter storm.
“In 2017, we were at Jay Peak when the Stella winter storm hit, when five feet of snow fell in two days,” Sarah says. “[In that situation], we didn’t introduce any new or different foods to my son, so we didn’t run any kind of risk of a reaction while the weather was so severe. We knew we wouldn’t be able to get to a hospital if we needed to, because road conditions were terrible, and people were stuck on the highway.”
Travelling by plane or train
Sarah and her family recently travelled to Costa Rica to visit her husband’s family. They flew on one of the many airlines that charge separately for meals, so the airline was accustomed to passengers bringing their own prepared meals. “We had a soft cooler bag with enough food for all four of us for our entire time at the airport, on the plane, and for a period of time when we arrived,” Sarah explains. She does caution that certain foods could be considered liquids by airport security and won’t be permitted in carry-on luggage so it’s good to pack those items in checked bags.
“On the plane, we wiped everything down and put a cover on the seats because my son gets hives just from contact, say if someone spilled milk [which he is allergic to] previously,” Sarah explains. “There were no touchscreens on this particular flight, but [in other flights that have them] we always wipe those down too, because they can be covered in allergens.”
“We had no problems on the plane, either going there or coming back.”
[Editor’s note: It’s important to remember that airlines cannot heat up food or keep food cold for you. Ensure you don’t bring anything that needs to be heated or requires a refrigerator. Also, when flying, it’s always a good idea to bring a doctor’s note with you, indicating your child’s allergies and that they should be carrying an epinephrine auto-injector. Contact your doctor ahead of time to get any paperwork the airline needs.]
Benefits of planning in advance
“I’m a planner, so I was used to doing spreadsheets before I had a son with allergies,” Sarah says. When you have a child with food allergies, you need to be more prepared prior to travelling. “I have meal plans for vacations planned out in advance. And a lot of things that are better for travelling with allergies, actually make it a lot easier to travel with kids anyway.”
”When you plan ahead, take your EpiPens®, and know where the hospitals are [in advance], you can go to lots of spots and have a great vacation.”
Mythbuster: Can someone with food allergies be cured of their allergy when they are given an epinephrine auto-injector (e.g., EpiPen®)?
No. This myth exists in the wider community who are not personally impacted by food allergies. To educate that audience, we want to bust this myth by breaking it down further.
To start with, we need to consider the terminology being used. While the concepts of “treatment” and “cure” are sometimes lumped together, there is a profound difference between the treatment of a reaction (a response aimed at reducing or eliminating symptoms) and a cure for a disease (a permanent elimination of a condition).
There is, unfortunately, no such thing as a cure for food allergy, at least, not yet. While research taking place both in Canada and internationally is promising, we’re not going to see an actual cure for food allergy any time soon. When it comes to treating an allergic reaction, however, this is where the epinephrine auto-injector comes in (e.g., EpiPen®). It is designed to halt or reverse an allergic reaction.
An EpiPen® contains epinephrine which acts quickly to reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction) to improve breathing, raise a dropping blood pressure, and stimulate the heart.
Even if a dose of epinephrine appears to resolve the symptoms temporarily, there is always the risk of a second reaction several hours later. It’s important never to simply administer one dose of the epinephrine auto-injector and assume that’s all that is needed to treat the reaction. It is crucial to call for an ambulance and tell the dispatcher that an individual is having a life-threatening allergic reaction and has just been given epinephrine. Once the emergency crew arrives, they can then take over the patient’s care and transport them to a hospital emergency room for further treatment and observation.
Help us educate your communities and share this mythbuster with them! Stay tuned for more mythbusters to come.
Check out our blog for other myths and facts about:
So, you’ve met someone special. When that happens for teens or adults alike, it can be one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. The butterflies in the stomach, the sense of possibility, the anticipation prior to that first kiss.
But for individuals with food allergies, that sense of joyful anticipation can be understandably mixed with concern about whether a new love interest has avoided eating your allergen(s) before seeing you. This comes across powerfully in one of our public service announcements, entitled First Kiss, which involves teens but applies to all ages. Other issues that often come to the forefront include deciding which restaurants are safe to frequent and managing social events with friends and family.
Although food allergies don’t need to become the primary focus of a relationship, it is important to identify your needs clearly and with care early on. This is true for teens who are beginning to date, and for adults navigating the road of romantic partnership, from dating through marriage.
We hope that the following tips will be of additional help as you forge ahead with confidence in your love life, whether you’ve been living with food allergies for years, or are newly diagnosed.
1. First and foremost, communicate with your partner!
Whether you’ve just met, or you’ve been newly diagnosed with food allergies and are in an established relationship, the number one way to stay safe is to be clear about what you need from your partner. Be sure to tell them what food(s) you’re allergic to, and outline what measures they can take to help keep you safe, from avoiding your allergens for at least several hours before kissing, to choosing safer restaurants, to helping avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen.
2. The kissing question
While this can be an awkward topic to discuss, particularly in a new relationship, it’s important to mention specific food allergies up front, before that first kiss. While anaphylaxis from kissing is rarely reported, traces of allergens can remain in the mouth and can trigger a reaction even hours after ingestion.
Although not as ideal as total avoidance, there are measures that can be taken to minimize this risk. For example, a research study on peanut allergen exposure through saliva found that waiting several hours and eating a peanut-free meal before kissing someone with peanut allergy, was more effective at helping to reduce peanut protein in the saliva than brushing teeth or chewing gum.
3. Dining out together
What poses a special challenge when dining out together, especially when you’re venturing out as a couple for the first time, is the selection of an allergy-friendly restaurant. Your partner will likely not know how to choose one. This is where you need to take the lead and be confident enough to suggest an appropriate venue. And if a restaurant is one you have never frequented, it’s best to speak to the manager in advance to ask questions about how they accommodate food allergy. On the day of the date itself, take the time to follow-up and call before leaving home to be sure that the restaurant is ready to accommodate. By the time you both arrive at the restaurant and you identify yourself as the caller, an allergy-aware establishment should be ready to help make your meal a safe and special one. Check out our other dining out tips.
4. Social events with friends and family
No matter what your age, social events often centre around food, and communicating with hosts in advance is vital. If you have food allergies, and you feel uncomfortable making direct contact with your romantic interest’s family or friends, be sure to have a heart-to-heart discussion with your date, so that they can inform their family and/or friends about what’s needed to keep you safe. Writing down brief action points for them to share with others in social situations may be helpful here, so that they don’t forget anything. If you’re the partner of an individual with food allergies—whether they’re longstanding or newly diagnosed—be sure to take their requests seriously, and to relay them carefully, as a sign of responsibility, love, and care. And if at any point, either of you are uncomfortable with the ability of your hosts to accommodate food allergies, you should both plan to bring something safe along for the person with allergies to have during the event.
5. The importance of your epinephrine auto-injector (e.g. EpiPen®)
The above tips are great ways you can work with your partner to minimize the risk of a reaction. However, it’s important to always have your epinephrine auto-injector available in case you do get exposed to your allergen and have a reaction. Ensure your partner knows where your auto-injectors are so they can easily access them.
Help educate your partner on the signs and symptoms of a reaction, and what to do in case of an emergency (including how to use an epinephrine auto-injector). Have them take our free Anaphylaxis in the Community online course at AllergyAware.ca, and in just 30 minutes, they will have a better understanding of anaphylaxis and how they can help support you better.
6. Focus on enjoying each other
This final tip has absolutely nothing to do with allergies. It’s all too easy and understandable to be so focused on warding off the danger of an allergic reaction that one or both partners lose sight of what brought you together in the first place—a connection, shared interests, love, attraction, and whatever else you both deem important. Food allergies are only one part of the equation; with precautions and consideration in place, they are manageable.
And remember, the right person is, by definition, someone who will work with their partner with food allergies to not only build a strong relationship, but to help keep them safe along the journey.
It is with great honour that I take the baton from my predecessor Laurie Harada and join this talented and passionate team at Food Allergy Canada as Executive Director. I say now with great humility, that until a few years ago I wasn’t fully aware, nor did I fully appreciate the efforts of this organization. They have helped my family, along with over 2.6 million Canadians, navigate living with food allergies.
So how is it, that today I’m the new Executive Director?
Here’s a bit of my story – I’m the mother of three teenagers, two of whom are twins living with multiple food allergies. Our family understands the lived experience of managing food allergies, and we have seen through the eyes of our twin boys, the challenges of living confidently with food allergies. We were fortunate that our sons started grade 1 the same year that Sabrina’s Law was implemented, giving me a platform to ask questions of the school and advocate for their needs. At the time, I was grateful for this but had no idea the three years of relentless focus Food Allergy Canada had to get this law in place. Working collaboratively with Sabrina’s family and others, Food Allergy Canada helped to create what we now recognize as the first legislation of its kind – a law designed to protect students at risk of anaphylaxis in the school environment. Nor did I understand the actions this organization had taken to create and roll-out educational programming and materials for Canadian schools in order to help them build an understanding of food allergy and its management.
Skipping ahead a few years, now with older children and perhaps a bit more time to give back, a friend suggested I join the Board of Food Allergy Canada. Since 2014, I have served as a volunteer board member, and through this I gained a true appreciation of the impact this small not-for-profit has had on the food allergy landscape – supporting the newly diagnosed, the medically-reviewed educational tools and programming (such as AllergyAware.ca), its advocacy efforts for improved food labelling, and much more. The combination of our lived experience, with the understanding of the potential for impact, provided the motivation and energy to take on the leadership role at Food Allergy Canada.
With a talented team already in place and almost a month in the new role, here’s a preview of what’s to come:
Continued support of individuals and families in their efforts to successfully navigate food allergies, from diagnosis through the various transitions we take. Providing you with medically-reviewed information, educational tools, and programming that support your journey.
Advocating for safer dining experiences in foodservice, building on the concept of shared responsibility. While many restaurants make great efforts to be allergy aware, universally applied education, training on food allergies, and consistent implementation of processes that manage food allergens, would make a difference.
Supporting youth in their transition to independent living. Given that 4 out of 5 young adults go on to post-secondary schooling, this is a key environment for us to educate on the management of food allergies and motivate good self-management practices in young adults.
Advocating for improved food labelling practices, namely the “may contain” statements. The lack of clarity on what “may contain” means and when it is applied needs to be addressed. At first glance, it may seem like a straight forward issue but there is a lot of complexity involving several stakeholders and will require sustained effort over the next few years. You can count on us to be at the table providing the lived experience.
Facilitating the understanding of emerging research on food allergy and management therapies. Media headlines at times attempt to grab attention through the promise of a breakthrough finding or cure. While we very much support food allergy research, we know research takes time and we also believe it’s necessary to be transparent and ensure realistic expectations on what’s possible. We are committed to working on your behalf, with medical and scientific experts to help build understanding of these findings and their applicability to impacting your quality of life.
In closing, I do want to go back to my “passing the baton” analogy. My family and importantly my sons, have a deep level of gratitude for my predecessor Laurie Harada and her 14 years of passion and effort that changed how Canadians live with food allergies. I take this baton, knowing the race is not over, humbled by the accomplishments of the past, and energized by the opportunity to make a difference in the future.
Jennifer Gerdts, Executive Director
Food Allergy Canada