As a young baby, Charlie, my youngest travelling companion, was allergic to milk, soy and dairy. As she was not yet eating food, the only real change in our travelling habits was that we had to cart luggage full of dairy and soy free formula everywhere we went. Although slightly annoying this is nothing compared to the fear parents of children with life-threatening allergies face daily.
On our latest adventure to the JW Marriott in Muskoka, we were joined by another mom and her two children. Her eldest, William, has an allergy to peanuts so severe that any exposure to peanuts, even an invisible amount, could quickly lead to death. Since we were sharing a room, I took every precaution I could think of to make sure he would be fine.
My first step was to contact the hotel by phone and speak to someone who confirmed that an allergy notice would be placed on the room. Upon arrival, I reminded the check-in clerk who was already aware of the situation. Before handing the room over to us, we were assured that the management of the cleaning staff had gone over the room herself to ensure every hard surface had been cleaned and sanitized. My first impression upon seeing the room was that I had never seen cleaner countertops or a cleaner fridge in all of my travels.
Whenever we ate in restaurants, we reminded the staff of the allergy and checked the list of ingredients for all of William's meals. For the most part, the servers were extremely diligent and already aware of the situation. At one point, William swallowed orange juice the wrong way and began to choke a little. Two staff members ran over while another pulled out a cellphone and almost called 9-1-1. They were clearly on high alert.
It was eye opening to travel with a family that deals with this sort of allergy. From learning that you can't use metal baking sheets because traces of peanut oil could emerge when the pan is warmed up to finding out how to administer life-saving epinephrine through an auto-injector like the EpiPen or Allerject, I left the vacation with a new appreciation for those suffering from life-threatening allergies.
While completing research for this blog post, the most interesting fact to emerge was that most allergy websites, travel advisories and parents agree that the safest place to travel with a peanut allergy is in fact my home country, Canada. In Canada, food labels and menus all must disclose whether there is a chance your food has come into contact with peanuts as well as any allergens in the food. Canadian airlines like Air Canada and Porter offer passengers who give the airline 48-hours notice of an peanut allergy, an inflight buffer zone where passengers in the row the person is seated in and the row in front and behind are not allowed to consume any food containing peanuts or buy food that may contain peanuts. Porter will also remove all foods potentially containing peanuts from the in-flight service for the whole plane.
All this information brought me back to our many visits to Beaches Resorts and I wondered how families would travel to large resorts with the same assurances. I contacted Beaches and was told that they are quite open to families of children with any allergies visiting the resort. They provide families with alternative menus and upon arrival at the resort the head chef meets with the family to discuss safe eating and the specific requirements for the person with the allergy. Each Beaches Resort has restaurants that offer food off a menu instead of buffet style service which is an extreme danger due to cross-contamination. On allergy websites, I was able to find testimonials of families saying the staff at Beaches baked their children separate safe muffins and provided great alternatives.
All this being said, my travel companion last weekend let me know that they were unable to get auto-injectors like EpiPens in Jamaican pharmacies and thus you should bring far more than usual when travelling outside your home country. William's family learned this lesson the hard way after he jumped into a pool on three different occasions while wearing his auto-injector.
In all my research it was clear that families need to take extreme caution but travelling can still be fun and exciting when dealing with allergies. The countries with the most danger with regards to peanut allergies tend to be Vietnam, Thailand and China as nuts are used frequently in restaurants and street food.
I hope this posts helps to spread the word a little and gives all travellers an idea of what dangers food can present to other travellers. I pledge from this day forward to forgo my beloved yellow peanut M&Ms while in-flight and consume them only when I am safely away from possible allergy sufferers and my own children…that way I don't have to share.
Travel safe my friends!