Science in action: protecting people with allergies

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , /

Both of my kids, when they were born, they
had terrible skin, like eczema. We didn’t really know why. With my son, he was very sickly as a child. He was always vomiting. When it came to the six-month period where
you’re supposed to introduce milk and cereal, he had an anaphylactic reaction in the highchair
where his lips and his tongue all swelled up. He ended up with an urgent referral to an
allergist and that’s when we found out. I’m allergic to peanut, tree nut, basically
all types of seeds. Peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, shellfish, eggs
and milk. At the age of two and a half, he got a flick
of milk out of a straw into his eye and he was not breathing in less than five minutes. I started to swell up, and then I could not
breathe. As soon as my mom gave me the EpiPen, I took
a deep breath. I ran right around that counter and hid. Going to the grocery store initially, when
I was learning, could take up to two hours to do. But if I didn’t have the labeling on the containers
or boxes where I could very quickly [verify the ingredients]… It’s been simplified from when I first had
to start doing this so when you look at something, the labeling is much clearer and much more
self-explanatory. You don’t have to try to guess. I can just very easily go to the bottom of
the ingredients and see out of the top eight allergens what is in there. Knowing especially what is in everything I
buy has helped to make me feel safer and the kids feel safer knowing that what I’m giving
them is safe and there’s nothing in there that’s going to make them sick. Canada has one of the best food safety systems,
and allergen analysis is no exception. Things have changed a lot in terms of food
allergens. Since the beginning of my career, we have
seen the number of requests for analyses explode. We in the laboratory had to react to that,
deal with it and develop new [testing] methods. In 2001, we had only four [testing] methods. Over the years, research projects have been
implemented and methods have been developed for each of the allergens on Canada’s list
of priority allergens. Today, more than 70 methods are used to respond
to requests from analysts. The CFIA is a leader in the field of food
allergen analysis. Not only do we use advanced technologies,
but also powerful methods to ensure that our results are reliable. The main thing that I have is that I get alerts
by email from CFIA about foods that have been recalled; food that was thought to be allergen
free but then was found to have something. I get those all of the time and it alerts
me to think ”did I buy this?” and, you know, I shouldn’t be using it anymore. Or changes to the ingredients of a product
that maybe I have been using and that I can no longer continue using. What I find interesting is that my work has
an impact on people who have allergies. Not only people who have allergies but also
their families and loved ones. The work that is done here is important work. When we see a food recall in the newspaper,
the morning after our work, it is very satisfying to think that the whole team was able to contribute
to this and that we might have been able to prevent some people with allergies from having
a reaction.

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