I have been thinking about what does our food allergy and asthma community need to know and do about COVID19 ever since December 31, 2019. My family and I were having a wonderful time eating our way thru Tokyo and Osaka until I read in the news that China informed the World Health Organization about a deadly form of pneumonia. I became very alarmed, wanted to come home ASAP, and have been following the COVID19 developments with great concern ever since.
Disclaimer: this post is for informational purposes only. I am not a doctor and am not sharing medical advice, please consult your medical care team if you have any questions.
When it became apparent to me that we were in danger, I shared some general advice on Facebook because I wanted everyone to be aware of the impending danger but still have a wait and see approach in case my fears were unfounded. I think we’re approaching a COVID19 tipping point and it’s important to share a call to action and some helpful information to help us all navigate these unprecedented times.
CALL TO ACTION
If you are still on the fence about COVID19, I strongly urge you to set aside any doubts and to take this COVID19 pandemic seriously. It is also vital for us to stay informed about what our local public health officials want us to do to slow down the rate of COVID19 transmission and what we need to do if we need medical attention.
Choose to be kind. Think about how we can have empathy and compassion for people who are sick and suffering, for family members who have lost loved ones, and for ways we can support the medical communuity, essential workers, and first responders. Please set aside any doubts because that is extremely hurtful to people who are suffering and dealing with extreme emotional and physical trauma.
Follow Trustworthy Sources for Reliable Information
When you search on the internet about COVID19, it’s important to see out trustworthy and reputable sites for the sake of your health and the lives of your friends and loved ones.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for global health issues. There’s a wealth of information and graphics. I highly recommend that you look at the graphics that they’ve created in their Advice for the Public section, they’re short, sweet, and informative.
- The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the United State’s health protection agency and has a dedicated page regarding COVID19
- Articles published on NIH and NIAID will be reliable. You can also trust articles published by well known and peer reviewed medical journals such as JAMA, The Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine. Medical schools have also published great content, notably Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.
- Allergic Living and some of our favorite food allergy non-profit organizations have also created content and hosted webinars about COVID19 that relate specifically to those of us with food allergies and asthma. My friends Dr. Donna deCosta and Caroline Moassesi compiled resources on their sites and I’ve listed them in the resources section at the bottom.
- Since this is a global pandemic, I read the international news for more perspective. I like South China Morning Post, BBC, and The Guardian.
- I also follow mainstream media such as CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, ABC/CBS/NBC.
You do want to avoid sites that are too good to be true such as www.coronaviruscure.com (I just made that up but someone already claimed that URL!) or website URLs with a word salad of health related keywords. If it sounds too good/too bad, it’s probably click bait and not true.
It’s a new virus and not much is known about it, our lives depend on reading trustworthy information. On the other hand, it’s a novel virus and doctors, scientists, and researchers continue to learn about the coronavirus and the knowledge base continues to evolve, so take things with a grain of salt and consult your doctor for your medical care questions.
Three Important COVID19 Tips for Food Allergy and Asthma
We are told to stay home to slow down the transmission of the virus so that our hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with more people than they can treat. In general it’s in our best interest to stay healthy and safe in general. so we don’t end up with a non-COVID19 trip to the hospital. And this news is very upsetting and overwhelming. I would say that the three most important takeaways to consider are the following:
- Be extra vigilant to avoid anaphylaxis. I know we try our best to avoid an allergic reaction all the time but now is a good time review your safety plans and best practices. Double check ingredient labels. Be careful about cross-contact of allergens and accidentally eating an allergen. Always keep epi close by and know when to use it. Washing hands frequently will wash away germs and allergens.
- Be diligent to work on asthma control. COVID19 is highly contagious and affects the respiratory airway, people with asthma or other respiratory issues are at risk. Stay away from sick people, especially if they are coughing. I also recommend refilling your asthma medications before an albuterol shortage affects your area.
- Follow the CDC’s recommendation to have a two week supply of food, medicine, and over the counter medications on hand for an emergency, in case you can’t leave your home. Prioritize buying any specific brands of staples that you use due to food allergies.
What Do I Do Next? Shopping Tips
Once we calm ourselves down from the initial realization of what’s happening around us, it’s overwhelming to decide what to do next. As someone who has lived in an earthquake prone area all her life, I have some strategies to share that might help you as you shop.
As of today 3/27/2020 we are under shelter in place orders in California but we can still go out to buy food, medicine, and seek medical care as needed. I want to minimize my exposure to myself and others by waiting as long as possible between shopping trips.
I buy some fresh ingredients to eat the first 4-5 days, some frozen ingredients to eat the next 2-3 days, and some pantry shelf-stable items to help tide us over, this usually lasts us for about 7-10 days. Every time I shop, I buy a few extra items to set aside for the possibility that we can’t leave our homes at all.
Please check on your elderly or immunocompromised family members, friends ,and neighbors and help them if you are able. I also shop for my mom and in-laws since people over the age of 60 are strongly advised to stay at home. I end up with so much food that put all of our leftovers and lunch ingredients into a cooler with ice and only store the perishable foods in my refrigerator until my husband and I can drive to San Francisco in the evening to drop off about two weeks worth of groceries.
One important caveat about shopping in the midst of COVID19 is to buy what you already eat and what you already know is allergy safe for your family. Now is not a good time to try something new in case of an allergic reaction and companies might not be able to field customer service types of questions regarding allergens. Repeat: Do not try new foods, stick with what you know is safe.
Here are some examples of what goes into my cart (I have a standard sized refrigerator only) for ideas. Your list might be different if we have different allergies, dietary restrictions, preferences, and other factors. Reduce waste by only buying what you know you will eat or won’t mind donating later.
Fruits & Veggies
- buy small amounts of fruits that require refrigeration or freezer space to stay fresh, such as berries, watermelon, frozen fruits
- buy more fruits that store well at room temperature such as oranges, apples, and bananas (as soon as bananas are spotty, I peel them and freeze them for smoothies)
- buy a variety of vegetables and include some that don’t require refrigeration or that can be stored in a cold part of your garage or back porch (winter squashes, potatoes, tomatoes, etc.)
- buy carrots, celery, onions so you can make most soup and stew recipes
- buy garlic, ginger, shallots, or any other aromatics
Dried/shelf-stable for later:
- dried fruits, select items that are high in fiber, iron, antioxidants, etc. so that you get the most nutrition
- fruit cups, canned fruit, jarred or applesauce cups, be careful to avoid fruit pouches as those have had recall issues
- canned veggies – I’m not a fan but I will buy small amounts of what I’m willing to eat, canned corn, canned pumpkin, canned baby corn, canned tomatoes
- We usually eat fish, chicken, and tofu in that order because usually seafood will spoil quickly and tofu can last a few weeks in your refrigerator. Red meat can stay fresh longer depending on the cut and how it’s stored or packaged.
- Have some frozen items for days when you are tired of cooking. I have some frozen dumplings, a box of frozen fish filets, frozen siu mai, etc.
- Lunch meat, freeze some for later. They are great for DIY meals during the day when everyone is busy. Buy some sliced cheese and favorite condiments to go with them.
- Easter ham, it’s so bulky but I cut one up and shared some with my mom and in-laws, froze some for us for sandwiches and fried rice, and used the bone for split pea soup.
- Look for vacuum sealed meats, they usually last longer and can be consumed a week or two later.
- Beef and/or pork bones for making bone broth, you can debone a whole chicken for separate purposes.
Dried/longer shelf life for later:
- Jerky, canned chicken, canned tuna, canned seafood, canned chili, etc.
- Dried beans are great but only buy what you normally would make to eat. I only bought split peas because we like split pea soup.
- Salami sticks, look in the crackers and cheese area of your store. If you find them on a shelf, you can store them in your pantry (or refrigerator if you have room) but if you find them in the refrigerator section, then they need to be refrigerated or frozen.
- sandwich bread, if you have room in your freezer, you can freeze a loaf for later
- biscuits, cresent rolls, cinnamon rolls in a can, they last about a month and you can bake them after you finish your fresh bread
- boxed ravioli or pasta, they’re great for a quick meal when you only have bandwidth for a semi-homemade meal
Dried/longer shelf life for later:
- boxed mixes such as cornbread, pancake/waffle mixes, falafel mixes, latke mixes
- dried breakfast cereal, oatmeal, rice (pair brown rice w/beans for complete protein), pasta, quinoa (bonus quinoa is a complete protein)
- a variety of different shaped pasta so that you can trick yourself into thinking you are eating different foods (spaghetti, orzo soup, macaroni salad, fusili pasta salad, etc).
- milk, ultra pasterized milk stays fresh longer
- dairy free milk such as soy milk, oat milk, flax milk, etc.
- eggs, consider boxed egg whites too, they take up less space and are easier to store in your refrigerator
- cheese – you can freeze shredded cheese and they take almost no time to defrost, cheese sticks have a long shelf-life in the refrigerator as well as some single serving sized cheeses wrapped in foil or wax
- butter or butter alternative for baking and cooking
Dried/shelf stable items for later:
- dried or boxed milk, boxed alternative milks – be sure to buy brands that you have already vetted and tried
- “parmesean cheese” in a can (what’s a little wood pulp during a pandemic lol)
- flour and baking ingredients such as yeast, baking soda, baking powder, sugar
- spices, herbs, condiments, oil
This is important for a sense of normalcy.
- Think about your family member’s favorite foods or recipes and be sure to buy ingredients to make them.
- Are there comforting soups or meals you or your family members like to eat when you’re sick? Be sure to buy ingredients for those recipes. Freeze leftovers such as soup for when you (or the primary cook) is not feeling well to cook.
- Are family members opening and closing refrigerator, pantry, and cupboard doors looking for something to eat several times a day? Ask them what they’re looking for and add those snacks to your shopping list.
- Look for snack foods which help us to eat more vegetables and fiber. I buy popcorn for extra fiber, crackers to eat with soups, whole grain tortilla chips and salsa (more veggies), hummus to eat with cut vegetables, etc..
Prescriptions and Over the Counter Medications
- refill your day to day prescriptions and use as prescribed by your doctor(s)
- check that your epi and asthma prescriptions are up to date and not expired
- if possible ask for a 90 day supply so you can minimize your trips to the pharmacy
- if you run into problems for coverage, call your insurance, consider generics, look for a coupon, etc.
- set up mail order or delivery if those are possible options
- make a list of medications and supplies you usually use to get thru common cold and flu type symptoms or other chronic health conditions, when in doubt consult with your doctor
Personal Care Items
People with food allergies might use specific brands because they are free from certain ingredients. Check your supplies and be sure to buy or order more and give yourself some lead time to find them or allow time for shipping. If your usual brands are unavailable for purchase be sure the check ingredient labels and cross reference my list of latin words of common food allergens.
How to Manage Shopping With Minimal Trips Out
Make a list of what you need and group items needed by store so that you stay organized. For example I have separate lists for Trader Joe’s, Target, Costco, Asian market, and “any store” for items that can be purchased any where. Try to minimize your trips out and only go out when you have x number of items on your list or when you are out of something essential.
Protect yourself. If you do need to go out, cover yourself up as best as you can and wash hands frequently. Pratice physical distance, stay at least 6 feet away from other people. Wash hands, change clothes, leave your shoes outside when you come home. Definitely don’t go out if you feel sick or someone in your household is sick.
Order online. You can supplement your groceries with online orders.
- SnackSafely created a great resource list of allergy friendly brands with discount codes for online orders.
- Look into Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in your area. I placed an order with one and have a promo code for first time customers.
- Try an online delivery grocery service. It’s highly impacted and I can’t set up a delivery time but I have my cart filled and check for available delivery times a few times a day to place an order.
- ZEGO is leading the way, you can choose to donate a portion of your purchase to help others in need as a result of COVID19.
Have a buddy system. I have text threads with close friends that live nearby and whenever any of us goes out, we text each other about where we are going and ask if anyone needs anything. I have other groups of friends and we update each other with information about which stores are not crowded, have food in stock, etc..
What Will We Remember Years From Now?
Let’s hope and pray that we have many more tomorrows and years so we can look back on these surreal times.
Let’s hope that we can remember our strength, courage, and resilience during difficult times.
Let’s hope that we can recognize and appreciate those who are serving beyond the call of duty.
Let’s hope that we can remember friends and strangers coming together to help each other.
Let’s hope that we can remember leaders rose up to lead with courage, humility, and inspire all of us to do what’s right and best for all.
Let’s hope that our children will not lose their innocence and have some happy memories in the midst of a challenging time.
We know what we need to do, we can do this. ~Love, Sharon
I talked about gardening in a FB live in a new food allergy facebook group – If you have questions, add them to the comments and I will include answers in a future blog post.
FB Live re: education – Some friends and I had a Zoom call to talk about education issues to help those of you are are at home with your children. I was a teacher before having kids, if you have education related questions, please add them to the comment sand I will include answers in a future blog post.
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