How do you accommodate such allergies? There are three things to check for: ingredients, processing facilities, and food preparation.
This part is pretty straight forward. We just check the ingredient list for peanuts or tree nuts. Tree nuts include macadamia, brazil, cashew, almond, walnut, pecan, pistacho, chestnut, beechnut, hazelnut, pine nut, ginko nut, and hickory nut. For tree nuts, walnuts and cashews are the two nuts that cause the most reactions.
By law, food manufacturers must list allergens on the label. The hard part is remembering to look at the label. Then, it's one thing to know that there are no nuts in a particular food; it's a whole other thing to check non-nut items to see if they were processed in a facility that processes nuts. For example, although the following foods do not have nuts in them, they are often processed in a facilty that processes nuts:
French onion soup mix
Boxed mashed potatoes
For every food item I buy, I check the ingredient list and then check the processing facility.
The last part of accommodating a food allergy is the way the food is prepared. Even if the food doesn't include nuts and hasn't been processed in a nut facility, it must steer clear of other nut foods during preparation. For example, a child who is allergic to peanuts cannot have sugar cookies that were baked on the same cookie sheet or plated on the same platter as peanut butter cookies. Same goes for the cooking utensils. Cross-contamination is a fairly easy problem to avoid in the house; it is a much larger problem when we go out to eat.
I recently came across chef cards that alert chefs to allergies. The cards put all these instructions on one small business card:
WARNING! I am severely allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame. For me to avoid a life-threatening reaction, I must avoid all foods that include these ingredients. Please ensure that my food does not contain any of these ingredients and that any utensils and equipment used to prepare my meals, as well as prep areas, are thoroughly cleaned prior to use. THANK YOU!
Here's another one:
WARNING! FOOD ALLERGY ALERT! I have a severe food allergy to nuts and all foods made with nuts: almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, pine nuts, Macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, filberts, hickory nuts, and pralines. This also includes nuts in sauces, spices, salad dressing, flour seasonings, pesto, flavored extracts, pastes, topping, cooking oil, desserts, and baked goods. If I eat nuts or any food that has been cooked with them or touched them including food preparation surfaces and utensils, I will need immediate medical attention.
Food allergies are on the rise, and restaurants are getting better and better at accommodating allergies. Just the other day, IHOP cleaned one whole side of their griddle so we could be sure to have nut-free pancakes. We love IHOP! We're crossing our fingers that Sydney and Cole grow out of their allergies, but until then, we will have to accommodate them as best we can!