As any parent of a child with a food allergy knows, education is key. Everyone in your child’s life needs to be informed about which foods he or she is allergic to and what to do if they have an allergic reaction. In many cases, this is a matter of life and death.
Safe Foodie Sticks are tools created by a mother, Niki Stearman, who has had first hand experience - and first hand scares – helping her son learn to safely navigate the world of food. Cross contamination and undisclosed allergens in food account for a staggering number of allergic reactions across the globe. Safe Foodie Sticks give all people with food allergies and intolerances a clear way of identifying their specific food allergen or the absence of in any meal, baked good or food item. Safe Foodie Sticks will assist the food industry and individuals in helping to avoid the risk of cross contamination or accidental ingestion when eating food that is not individually labeled for sale- especially when the allergen is not easy to identify, such as dairy or egg in baked goods.
It all started when Taylor was a baby. At a birthday party for his cousin, his aunt fed him a cashew. Afterward, he acted fussy, vomited, and was generally out of sorts and just “off.” Niki noticed these symptoms a few more times before consulting with his pediatrician. It was then that Taylor was referred to a local allergy clinic for testing.
The results were overwhelming. Not only was Taylor diagnosed with an allergy to cashews, his mother learned that her son was allergic to all tree nuts including almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, filberts/hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts, as well as peanuts. Niki quickly learned to steer clear of all nuts, but she was not aware, nor had she been told, that even eating foods “processed” in a factory or on equipment where nuts were present, could also be life threatening.
When Taylor was three, his nursery school served chocolate chip cookies provided by another child’s mother. The cookies were from a local bakery and included a label stating that the cookies did not contain nuts, but that the equipment used to process the cookies might have come into contact with peanuts and tree nuts. After eating the cookie, Taylor immediately went into anaphylactic shock. 911 was called, the paramedics administered an epinephrine auto-injector (commonly known as an Epi-Pen or Auvi-Q) and took Taylor to the hospital where he eventually stabilized.
Be An Advocate
It was then that Niki began to fully grasp the responsibility she had to not only advocate for and teach Taylor about his allergies, but also to teach the other adults interacting with him about food allergies.
“When Taylor was eight, we went to a restaurant to celebrate the Camo Belt he was awarded in Tae Kwando that day. We went to a local BBQ restaurant and ordered dinner. Taylor independently explained to the server that he had a severe allergy to peanuts and all tree nuts. I was so proud of him for speaking up and appropriately ordering his meal along with a bowl of fruit. Nonetheless, and in keeping with our family rules, I reiterated to the server that Taylor had a severe allergy and to please be sure that nuts are not an ingredient in anything served to him. Taylor ate quickly and within minutes, he complained that he was feeling funny. I felt certain the server and chef had made sure there were no nuts in Taylor’s meal, but I gave him a Benadryl to pacify him more than anything else. I didn’t think anything was wrong, but Taylor continued to complain. It was then that we discovered that there were almond slices at the bottom of the fruit salad. It was a heart-stopping moment. I panicked, called 911, and had an EMT administer an Epi-Pen outside the restaurant.”
That night Taylor's life was saved and I learned a valuable lesson. My lesson was that I still wasn’t aware of how serious his reactions could be and how they presented themselves with various degrees of severity each time and with different symptoms. I also at that point was still afraid to administer the Epi-Pen myself. My ignorance could have cost Taylor his life. I knew I needed to grow and educate myself because if I couldn’t do this, how would Taylor know how to take care of himself someday. And so my Mission began.