Updating a Food Allergy Go Bag
Leading organizations recommend that people with food allergies keep a “go bag” in case of disaster evacuation. Yet there’s a shortage of guidance about keeping that bag up to date. So this year I’ve dedicated the first day of spring as spring cleaning for for go bags. Today provides a rundown of that update along with relevant information for people who are creating their go bags for the first time.
Nobody ever wants to end up in an emergency room with a life threatening allergic reaction, but of all the times to go there the situation to avoid if possible is the middle of a major disaster when hospitals are overwhelmed.
In a post last summer called “Survival Tetris: Packing a Go Bag for Food Allergies” I stepped through the process of creating an emergency kit. Both FARE and Kids with Food Allergies also host emergency preparedness guidance on their websites. Both of those pages focus on the big 8 food allergens so I wrote an additional guide with a focus on the one in ten people at risk for a life threatening allergic reaction who are allergic to a food that isn’t on the short list.
I have an anaphylactic case of Oral Allergy Syndrome, which is a medically recognized condition that gets overlooked because it isn’t covered under US Federal food allergy labeling law. It’s as serious as a peanut allergy; it’s just less common. FEMA has no plans to accommodate this type of medical dietary restriction. Packing a bag for this type of purpose is really a do-it-yourself undertaking because prepackaged emergency kits often contain trail mix that has my allergens or unnamed “natural flavors” that someone with this diagnosis shouldn’t risk eating.
Of course all those foods have expiration dates. That’s the main reason I scheduled a day to update the contents. Salt lasts forever but last year’s dried foods needed replacement.
During the review I decided to make a few safety upgrades. A bar of soap is now double bagged and a small cutting board now has its own plastic bag. The reasoning there is to prevent accidental soap contamination, which can cause abdominal pains. It’s best to lessen the risks of any foreseeable problem even if it isn’t an allergy.
One of the more unusual items I upgraded this year is a seed sprouting kit for salad greens.
One of the biggest nutritional challenges for anaphylactic Oral Allergy Syndrome is getting any kind of safe fruits and vegetables away from home. Shared equipment can cause a life threatening reaction in anaphylactic cases, which means conventional salad bars are off limits to someone like myself. A lettuce leaf on a sandwich becomes a problem too — and I can’t simply take off the leaf to eat the sandwich because any allergen trace on the lettuce could get absorbed into the bread. It’s a vexing problem.
One way around that is to keep a supply of seeds and sprout them in my own equipment. Last summer’s go bag had only alfalfa and mung bean. For the update the blend now includes lentil, adzuki, green pea, and radish. After a few days those sprout into salad greens, which can go with the oil and vinegar packed separately. Of course these need rinsing in fresh water; we have bottled water in case of emergency.
To be clear, this isn’t a lifestyle choice or an ideological decision. This go bag does contain wheat, tree nuts, and dairy — all of which are common allergens that don’t happen to bother my immune system — so other people with food allergies may need to pack differently. Most of my allergens are in the Rosaceae botanical family and since these are unregulated allergens I resort to a few inventive solutions. So at the risk of seeming like the most Californian decision ever, this is actually a workaround for medical dietary restrictions. These sprouting seeds aren’t an existential quest for perfect health amid wildfires. There just aren’t a whole lot of options for someone like myself to get a full complement of vitamins and minerals without risking the need for an ambulance.
In addition to several days’ worth of food my go bag includes a hot plate, a utility knife, a small cooking pot, silverware, cleanup supplies, and wet wipes. Studies have found that wet wipes are useful for allergy safety to clean hands and surfaces in situations where clean water is difficult to access. Hand sanitizer cannot be substituted for wet wipes for allergen safety. Hand sanitizer only kills bacteria; it doesn’t remove allergens.
Other people who update their go bags may want to weigh a few other factors in addition to expiration dates and nutritional balance.
Have there been any newly diagnosed allergies since the bag was packed? If so, then check all ingredient lists to make sure the items are safe.
If the bag is for a child, are any toys packed with them still age appropriate? The coloring book that was fine for a six-year-old might be replaced with a chess set as the child turns twelve.
Other sites such as the California Department of Public Health offer a comprehensive list of recommendations for emergency preparedness.
To get a reminder for Go Bag Update Day 2020, join the event on Facebook. Here’s hoping none of this equipment is ever needed. Yet it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.