Food Allergies & Coronavirus: A Registered Dietitian's Guide to Food Insecurity During the COVID-19 Pandemic by Niti Patel
Most of us have access to food. We have the option to choose nutritious fares and drink clean water. Many of us took this for granted until the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe. Almost overnight, we saw businesses, schools and corporations shut down. Orders to shelter in and self-isolate made it impossible for so many brands and companies to continue operations, leading to massive layoffs. The world changed radically, and with it, the security of knowing where our next meal will come from.
Food insecurity. If you haven’t heard of the phrase before, it’s time you did. While you may have access to groceries and markets even during this pandemic, if you or someone in your household lives with food allergies, this will prove to be a major challenge during COVID-19. Food insecurity means not knowing where and how you will get your next meal. Now, due to food hoarding and potential changes in food manufacturing processes during an unprecedented pandemic, it’s an even bigger concern that you should definitely pay attention to.
What do I mean? Let’s take something as basic as food labeling.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires the labeling of the top eight allergens, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish and crustacean shellfish on food products. However, the indicating that it was “made in a facility that also processes peanuts” remains voluntary.
Due to COVID-19 supply chain disruptions, the FDA on May, 22, 2020, issued temporary flexibility in the food labeling requirements to manufacturers and vending machine operators, entitled Temporary Policy Regarding Certain Food Labeling Requirements During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency: Minor Formulation Changes and Vending Machines. This allows manufacturers to make minor formulation changes without updating the food label.
While it gives manufacturers more production leeway to address food shortages, be very careful. People with food allergies rely on these food labels to protect their health. Those with severe allergies could potentially face a life or death situation simply because a product was improperly labeled. As manufactures face difficulties, products that were made in nut-free facilities may now be produced on shared equipment without being labeled as “made in a facility that also processes xyz.”
Food allergies are stressful regardless of the pandemic. As a registered dietitian, I strongly recommend families with severe allergic reactions to limit the intake of processed foods to prevent exposure to potential ingredient substitutions. I strongly encourage you to stock up on:
- fresh and frozen vegetables and fruits
- single grain items such as rice, quinoa and flour
Social media is buzzing with recipes and networks to get creative and resourceful.
Most importantly, speak up! If you and your family are struggling to find the foods you need to stay safe and healthy, let your community, family and friends know. You will be amazed how much support and love is out there. It's about helping one another and finding ways to get through this. Food pantries are reaching out to gluten-free bakeries, supermarkets are limiting the amount of essential items per visit and a friendly conversation with the store manager can change your whole experience. The store may be able to hold items for you or let you know the days they have deliveries.
Just remember you are not alone and there is help.
The information on 30Seconds.com is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice. The information provided through this site should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, and is not a substitute for professional care. Always consult your personal healthcare provider.
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