Traveling with food allergies

Guest post by Missy Berggren

This post originally appeared here.

Traveling can be challenging with kids. It can be SUPER challenging when you are managing food allergies with children. The getting there part and the eating part. So far our trips have been fairly close to home (no airplane rides). I always need to be thinking ahead and planning:

1) How close is the nearest hospital and is that good enough?

2) Do I have enough emergency medication (multiple doses of epinepherine and Benedryl)? Is it expired?

3) How will we prepare, store and heat food that is safe for my child?

4) How can I stay positive and not let my child’s food allergies become the focus of our vacation?

My typical plan of action

Our best experiences thus far have been to stay in either a condo/cabin with a full kitchen or a hotel with 1-2 mini-fridge(s) + a microwave in it. I’ve actually requested an extra mini-fridge before to have enough room for the food. I make food from home and bring it along if we’ll only be away 2-3 days. For extended trips, I prefer a room/condo with full kitchen so I can prepare fresh food for all of the meals. I usually bring specialty foods from home that I may not be able to find in the stores (like our favorite allergy-friendly treats) and then stop at a grocery store at our destination and stock up on fresh fruits, veggies and meat.

I always need to think ahead when leaving the hotel to make sure I have snacks and food ready for whatever meal we may need to have while we are away. There is nothing worse than having a hungry little kid with no safe food in sight.

Flying with Food Allergies

This spring I’m preparing for my family to take our first airplane trip. Of course I’m nervous about it. I’ve heard plenty of both positive and negative stories about airline travel with food allergies. My first rule is that I won’t travel on a plane with my daughter that serves peanuts. Delta, the major airline that flies in and out of Minneapolis, serves peanuts on their flights. They have protocol for helping with food allergies (I’m told) and will sometimes not serve peanuts to the rows immediately near the person with food allergies. That’s just not good enough for me. I’m considering flying Sun Country, a mid-sized carrier that flies out of Minneapolis to many destinations. They don’t serve nuts as snacks, and you can’t buy them either. They actually have a peanut-butter substitute, called Sunbutter, as a snack option for purchase (it comes with crackers). I’m very impressed by this and would feel much safer on this airline. That said, you can’t control what other passengers bring on a plane.

I’ve heard from other families that they will board early and wipe down the area the person will sit in – the trays, the arm rests, etc., before the child sits down to help prevent them picking up food allergens from the previous passengers. I’m used to carrying wipes with me where ever I go, and will definitely plan to do this. I’ve also heard of Plane Sheets to cover the entire seat for a safer surface. Of course the fear with flying is that a person with severe food allergies will have a severe anaphylaxis reaction in the air and there’s no way to get them quickly to a hospital. At least on the ground you can summon an ambulance, which has oxygen, more epinepherine, blood pressure monitoring, etc. When you’re trapped on a plane, you have limited resources and help in a severe situation. In addition to having a reaction based on touching something that someone else has touched with an allergen (like a seat cushion that may have food residue on it), there is always a fear that someone sitting nearby will eat something the person is allergic to and some of the food proteins may become airborne.

For example, my daughter is allergic to eggs. If eggs are served hot, there is typically steam that floats into the air. That steam has protein in it that can trigger a reaction if my daughter were to breathe it in. This has actually happened with my daughter before with eggs, so I speak from experience. With peanuts, in an airplane, there is a lot of dust in a bag of peanuts that may be released into the air when you open a package. It’s not a big deal if someone in another room opens a bag of peanuts, or way at the end of a plane. But it is a big deal if hundreds of passengers are all opening bags of peanuts at about the same time and so many peanut particles are sent into the air – which is then basically trapped and recirculating in the cabin. I don’t want my daughter in that situation – it is way too risky. Especially when someone’s life is at risk.

In case of emergency

Carrying an EpiPen is important for  people with severe food allergies. It can stop or slow a severe reaction. I’ve heard some people carry four or even six EpiPens on a plane to help them buy time in case a plane can’t make an emergency landing. I definitely will plan to bring more than the two EpiPens we typically carry at all times. I’m not sure exactly how many to bring, though. The thing with epinephrine is that it is only meant as an interim measure before seeking medical attention. It can’t completely treat an allergic reaction. When I gave my daughter an EpiPen Jr injection due to a severe reaction to shellfish last year,  she was given another dose of Epi at the hospital and a round of steroids. The doctors then monitored her for many hours to be sure she was okay.

I want to make we do everything we can to minimize her risk on a plane and that we have everything possible with us to help her if there’s a problem. (Can you feel my anxiety through the screen?)

Upcoming meeting on traveling with food allergies

The Food Allergy Support Group of MN is planning to cover the topic of Traveling with Food Allergies at the next meeting on March 16, 2014. I definitely plan to attend and hope to pick up some more tips for our next vacation. If you’re local, please consider attending, too! I’d love to hear other tips or experiences any of you have in the comments.

You can find more of my food allergy posts, tips & recipes on my Food Allergy page. I’d also love to connect with you on my Marketing Mama facebook page and twitter. This post, and all posts on this blog, are written from my experiences as a parent of a child with food allergies. I am not a medical expert and encourage you to consult with a doctor on your personal medical situation.

Missy Berggren is a freelance writer. She blogs at http://marketingmama.com/ on parenting as a working mom, health (especially food allergies), family activities, cool products, her two children and marketing. She can also be found on Twitter.