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« Q&A: school time vs. time with traveling father | Main | Follow-up to the peanut allergy post below »



Thank you so much for this. We eat a lot of peanut butter as well and I honestly didn't think about playgrounds, etc. I wouldn't be offended at all if someone came up to me and asked if we could wash our hands, etc. I'd much rather wash hands, etc. than have a child die.

Brooklyn Girl

A friend of ours has a child with a nut allergy, and I really didn't know what that entailed until that child visited out apartment for the first time. My friend gave me pretty specific instructions on cleaning and food preparation, and it wasn't until I had those instructions that I realized just how serious this allergy was...and even then my husband wound up cooking something (for the adults, but still) with peanut oil. Because we're idiots.

I think it's all about educating and re-educating the parents of non-allergic kids. It's hard for us to see (and internalize) the dangers that are perfectly clear to those more intimately acquainted with the issue.

Good luck.

Cat, Galloping

My nephew used to have a ton of allergies, including a fatal allergy to eggs. Some people will never truly "get it". I remember when my mom cooked chicken dipped in egg. Then, because she knew my nephew was allergic, she cooked his separately, without egg... in the same freakin' pan, without washing it first! He got hives. It was like she thought it was just some annoying thing my sister made up, just like she thinks I'll outgrow vegetarianism even after 15 years.

I remember reading an article in the NY Times Mag around the time my nephew was diagnosed about severe allergies. Like the kind where kids allergic to milk get wattery eyes when they walk past a pizza parlor. One thing stuck with me: one woman's doctor told her that only when everyone around her thought she was a complete nutcase and way overprotective would she be doing enough. Another woman reported on how it wasn't until her kid nearly died that all her friends came back around an apologized basically for talking smack behind her back. Nice, huh?

Cat, Galloping

okay i just clicked on that last link. holy crap. that poor girl. and that poor boy. can you imagine?


Maybe I'm just rude, but I would be a bit put off if someone approached me at a public playground and asked me to wipe my son's hands off. I don't mind the peaunt limitations at his preschool. It's a private school and I've agreed to follow their rules. But at a PUBLIC playground? Where can my son eat peanut butter sandwiches?? Only at home? If my son was allergic I'd avoid the playground. Why should his allergy ruin it for everyone else?


Pam, did anyone say your son could not eat peanut butter in public? No. What's the big deal about being asked to wipe off his hands.

I think the public space issue was covered quite fairly.


I think this is a tricky topic (public spaces & allergies) because it's not clear where to draw the lines, especially with all the anaphylactic-shock-inducing allergies out there (don't eat peanut butter; or hard-boiled eggs; or anything with mayo - contains eggs; or anything with peas - related to peanuts and sets some ppl off; or anything with nuts; or...). The list gets pretty exhaustive. It's hard to say that peanut allergies deserve vigilance and then ignore other allergies, but it's also hard to make sure that everything you feed your kid in any public space contains no allergens whatsoever.
I don't really have any constructive suggestions, unfortunately. I guess we'll need to get used to making kids wash their hands a lot (I think that asking parents to do so is weird, but not out of line given the circumstances), and kids with allergies will probably need to grow up in a high supervised environment.


This is a really tricky issue. I, too, would probably be surprised if someone asked me to make sure my kid washed her hands before using the playground (although I make damn sure she washes afterwards!!!). But, after thinking about it, it's not that big of a request.

The thing with playground equipment is that you have no idea who's been there. Two hours before you arrived, some other kid might've smeared peanut butter everywhere without anyone knowing....


Regarding public spaces:
Where would you get the water to wash hands at a playground? Would wiping hands with a baby wipe be enough? I think logistically it's just too tricky. Julie is right, 2 hours before you were there someone could have doused the whole area in peanut oil. It might make more sense for your child to wear gloves at the park or playground and then take them off and wash his hands while the gloves go into the laundry. I don't know whether a thin, cotton glove would be enough protection for him, but it's a thought.

Obviously, at school, playgroups, and friends houses, they should not serve peanuts when your son is present.


I think she might have trouble getting it to "sink in" for some people just because it's so overwhelming to think of. My son ate PB&J everyday for years. A child dying from something that's traditionally equaled childhood in our society? The horror of it is probably enough to make some parents want to bury their head in the sand.
Thankfully, people are becoming more aware. One of our playgroups has a policy about not consuming nut products before meeting up. What I want to know is: Where are these allergies coming from???? Is it me, or did kids not have these allergies 20 years ago?


yep, this is a tough one. I do have a huge amount of sympathy for you.

Carrie had a great idea with the gloves. Would it be simpler and safer to protect the allergic child than try to clean the other children, I wonder? Do they make a surgical-type glove in children's sizes (this would be perfect).

In a public place i would be a bit taken aback if asked to wash my kid's hands. As everyone said, we have no idea what peanut butter coated kid was there 5 minutes ago and I question the efficacy of just wiping. I also have 4 under 4. If I'm just there for a few minutes (as if often the case *sigh*) then by the time I got everyone scrubbed down ... well.



This JUST came up with a family whose children are at my daughter's day-home with her. Anne (the mommy) told me a terrifying story about her little girl reacting to peanut butter she got from some play equipmment.

I have come to the personal conclusion that keeping our family nut consumption limited to home is just fine and no big deal. So from now on, we will pack something else for park and zoo picnics. My daughter can enjoy peanuts at home with playdates who we know do not have allergies.

And, to make it easier, I told Anne that since we are nut lovers it would be best to plan playdates for our girls away from my home. She was grateful and agreed to bear the burden of hosting all the playdates.


Wow, I didn't think of the playground issue. I don't think I would be offended, but I also wonder if it would be enough. Wiping down the equipment seems more efficient, unless the kids were playng together. And with the bird flu scares and other germ issues, one of our local grocery stores has put in wipes to clean your cart before shopping.

I have animal allergies (ss well as dust and mold and trees and grasses and milk.) These are not life-threatening, but I certainly get the mom's frustration that other people don't get it. No, your cat can't sit on me. No, I really would rather it went in another room and you didn't fluff its fur next to me. My allergies led to illness, my mom and brother have asthmatic reactions. Scary stuff.


The story about the girl dying after the kiss is more complicated than has been reported.
She was eating other nuts earlier in the day which are often processed on the same equipment as peanuts. It's much more likely she was exposed that way than from her boyfriend. But that doesn't make a very good story.


If I was approached on a playground and asked to wash my children's hands, I would feel forced to leave. And I would probably be grumpy about it. No, I don't want to kill somebody else's child, but no, I do not pack a sink with running water and soap in my diaper bag. I carry wipes, and let's face it, they do only a passable job of cleaning hands and things.


I would not be offended at all if someone asked me to have my kids wash their hands / faces on the playground or anywhere else, if they explained that their child had a medical condition which warranted the precaution. I would do this whether it were a food allergy issue or an immune system issue. It doesn't matter. It's a small request for someone's health, and it's a good habit to be in anyway.
I wouldn't be surprised or taken aback, either. I have cigarette smoke allergies and cat allergies that are severe enough to trigger significant asthma attacks. Not as life-threatening as an anaphylactic shock, but still potentially life-threatening if I were unable to identify (and therefore get away from) the source of the problem. I find it rude enough that people smoke in public, and I am shocked that people get offended if they walk up and stand by me with a cigarette (or throw it down on the sidewalk next to me to burn on its own), and I ask them to put it out. I've been flipped off and cursed at for asking people to simply extinguish their cigarette rather than leaving it to burn on the ground. Hopefully peanut-eaters aren't that rude, but I would be prepared for the jerks out there who won't take it kindly.


Brooke, you always seem to have the hidden background information! Thanks for adding it.

I knew this question would spark discussion, because where, exactly, is the line? I think the suggestion of gloves is wonderful, personally.


So many interesting view points...thank you.

Those of you who worry that wiping down your kids at the playground isn't really enough, well, you are right. My hope is that it will eliminate the obvious peanut butter, the stuff that is most likely to stick to a slide or teeter-tottter. It certainly doesn't make the playground totally safe, nothing will, but it is a huge start and one that I am very thankful for.

To those that made the point that another child could have been there a few hours before with peanut butter without my knowing it...also right. I have thought of this and it is scary. However, it doesn't mean that I don't want current users to cut back on the possibility of cross contamination as much as possible.

The idea is floated that I should just stay off public playgrounds and parks. Sure, we could do that. Some people with allergies do. They also avoid almost all restaurants and any food that they have not made themselves or are unable to read the label. The children must bring thier own cupcakes to birthday parties, must sit at tables by themselves when eating lunch at school, can never go trick or treating, must wear gloves when at a playground, must carry an epi-pen on thier belts... All these precautions are known to me, many of them are used by me, and I am constantly trying to weigh the known risk (and the unknown) with my desire to give my children as normal a childhood as possible. I take all the information I have, and make the best decision I can for my child. So far I've been good and lucky. (Oh, so lucky!) The day may come when I might not make the right choice...it keeps me up nights and my biggest fear is that something will happen to one of my children and that it will be my fault, that I was not vigilant or cautious or outspoken enough, that I failed somehow to be the advocate they needed.

So please believe me that I know this is my responsibility. All that I am asking is that you do something that might be a bit of inconvenience to you to cut back on the possibility that my child or someone else's might die. Does it elimate all risk for these kids? No, nothing could. But, it could help a little.



Why should his allergy ruin it for everyone else?

My son has a nut allergy. As much as everyone would like to compartmentalize this problem, it does affect those who are non-allergic. First, your kid, Pam, could develop an allergy at any time. It could be you searching for the Epi-pen, calling 911, etc. And if not, if nothing else, no one wants to have their kid witness another kid's death on the playground or in the lunch room.

That said, you can't ever ensure that any environment is nut-free. I have friends who are very sensitized to our nut allergy issues. One friend brought cheese crackers to a play date, and didn't discover until she was on her way here that they contained peanut oil. The best course, by far, is to police the environment as much as possible, but never be lulled into a false sense of security, and always be ready to respond with Epi-pen, Benadryl, and 911 call.

Generally, my friends have been terrific about this. They always ask before giving my son any food, even something that obviously doesn't contain peanuts (like apples, goldfish, oranges...). They can't keep everyone's allergies straight, so they've learned to ask. That's probably the best policy for everyone.


I would find it very sad if anyone's child was forced to stay away from playgrounds and other public areas. Assuming the parent is prepared to deal with a possible exposure, I still fail to see how asking a child THAT IS PLAYING with their child to wipe off their hands is over the top, or how it ruins it for the other children. Yes, we're all busy, rushed, and have our hands full. So what? That's more important than a potentially fatal allergy?

Maybe I'm reacting so strongly to this is because I had my throat close once during an asthma attack and for a moment, I thought I was going to die. I have a lot of empathy for parents and kids in this situation, and the idea that someone wouldn't be willing to help out another family by wiping off their kids' hands just astounds me. This isn't foisting the parents' responsibility onto the public, it's just asking for a little assistance.

The glove suggestion is a great one, especially for the equipment issue.


Unfortunately, some people are just impossible to deal with on the allergy issue. I have a nephew who is allergic to fish. Like, his throat closes and he can't breathe and he could die allergic. His grandmother (not my mother, my SIL's mother) has tried to give him fishsticks on three seperate occasions. She seems to think this allergy is something that his parents just made up to annoy her. Things she has said:

"Oh, it's just a little fish, it can't hurt him."
"I can't believe you won't let him eat fish and chips just because some doctor says he shouldn't have it."
"Allergies are so overblown these days. Everyone is so paranoid of every little thing."
"You know, I read in the paper that people often outgrow allergies. How will you know when he's outgrown it if you don't let him try it regularly?"

There's just no convincing her that his allergy is real and life-threatening. I suppose they could let her feed him fish and then rush him to the hospital, but I doubt that would even convince her!

So I have no advice, really, except that there are people out there who you simply will NOT be able to convince to take it seriously; people who should really know better or who you would expect to care more.


Last year my son's public primary school (in Australia) introduced a "no nut" policy because a couple of kids at the school had allergies. Children are no longer allowed to bring any product containing nuts to school (including peanut butter sandwiches). I have no problem with this restriction and nor do any other parents I've spoken to. We all understand the seriousness of allergies (in fact last year in Australia a 12 year old with a peanut allergy died after eating peanut butter at a school camp for a dare). Even my 6 year old son, who lives off peanut butter sandwiches, understood why he had to stop bringing them to school.


Thank you for the eye-opener. I will definitely be more diligent about nuts now.

I have a suggestion for school and playgroups- why don't you work with the other parents of allergic children to come up with a list of safe, acceptable snacks?

Be specific with brands and product names whenever possible. Update the list every year or so and make sure you always have copies on hand to pass out to new parents.


My husband just left a job at a nonprofit that had a Head Start and other early childhood programs in the building. His area was away from the kids andhe rarely had contact with them, but they made the whole building a nut-free zone. That, I think, is great, and I like Lisa's suggestion about maybe handing out a list of acceptable snacks in playgroups and school--places where you're always seeing the same people. At the commuinty center open playroom, they have signs everywhere asking that parents not bring nuts or nut products to the room. That said, I have to agree about not being able to control the playground because you're not always seeing he same people. Another mom at my daughter's playgroup asking me to be vigilant about nuts is totally different, to me, than some stranger coming up and saying"has she been eating peanut butter? Then could you wash her up?" I understand that it's a life or death matter but I think when you're in a large and revolving group of kids, there's just no way to control it. I can imagine it must be terrifying and I would certainly accomodate as best I can, but I don't think I should be required to be so vigilant about someone else's allergies everywhere all the time when I have as much right to the public space as the next person.

That being said, I really like Moxie's idea of "PB only at home and we wash our hands and faces afterward." When my daughter is old enough to eat PB, I think that will be our rule and I am instituting it for myself right now.


I've got nothing of insight on the debate that hasn't been said already, but I *do* have a couple of tips about the Epi-Pen, as someone who has used one.

Tip #1: You can inject through clothing. Very useful tip in winter, or in teenagers wearing painted on pants.

Tip #2: The Epi-Pen design has a fatal flaw. You know how every other damn pen in the freaking universe has the cap covering the functional end? The Epi Pen is reversed. That's right, you take the cap off one end and THE NEEDLE COMES OUT OF THE OTHER END. So take the cap off and press the other side against the thigh.

Tip #2 part B: You don't need to depress a plunger or anything; the pen does it automatically when you apply it with pressure against the thigh. So don't put your thumb on the other end in the instinctual "I'm going to depress the nonexistent plunger now." Because if you have forgotten tip #2 above, the needle will go into your thumb. And now you have someone who still needs an epipen and a thumb turning pale and really really f*ing hurting.

Back to the debate.


When my sister told me that my 8 year old niece's school had a "nut free zone", I thought it, well, strange.

Until I saw my friend's daughter nearly die from just touching a cookie that no one told her had nuts in it, and thank GOD her mother was there, epi-pen in hand.

Now? I wouldn't be at ALL offended if someone were to speak to me about this on a playground or in a school or some other instance. It's a matter of life and death for these kids. And, I just keep thinking if it were my children whose wellbeing was at risk, what would I do.



I would not mind being asked to wash up my kid. And after reading this, I think we will also have a no-nut rule outside of the home.

While the school and playgroup issues would have occurred to me, before I read this I honestly never would have thought about problems at the playground, so I think there is still some education that needs to be done with fellow parents.


Also, to address Melanie's question...this isn't a topic I've read a lot on, but the first questions I would ask if whether there is a true increase in allergies or whether an apparent increase is due to more attention or an increase in population (i.e. the rate is the same but the raw numbers of kids with allergies are higher). Someone else may know the answers to those questions.

One theory I have heard floated about allergies and auto-immune diseases is that as we become a more germ-phobic society we have left our immune systems with little to do, so they start getting creative and attacking non-pathogens. I haven't read any great studies about it, but the theory is that that's why allergies and auto-immune disorders are less frequent in third world countries, where they more commonly deal with parasites, etc. That, then leads to the question of whether allergies are less common in those populations or whether access to medical care/diagnostics, etc. just make it appear so.

I'll tell the epidemiologist in me to shut up now.


i'm very vigilant about potential food allergies in the children we'll regularly come into contact with. CX's second birthday party RSVPs, in fact, specifically ask for any food allergies or limitations (for those who want to avoid sugar, for instance). i fully understand the risk that we could inadvertently place another child in if we were careless or just unaware. so, i definitely 'get it' about food allergies, and allergies in general (whether in children or adults).

all that said, something about megan's question really got up my nose. if i were approached by a stranger in a park and told to wipe CX's hands--because, really, you don't make a suggestion like that in this situation to someone, you're TELLING them what to do, and disguising it as a request--i would probably just leave the park and find another place to play. it really comes down to the manner in which i was told that my kid's hygeine might not be up to another parent's standard (for whatever reason, apparently valid--like this one--or not).


I think it's pretty clear that the incidence of food allergies is increased. The hygiene hypothesis that Christine mentioned seems pretty promising. I was using it as the basis of my prelims, back when I was in grad school (~3 years ago). I could talk at way more length than anyone would like about that.

Some people don't understand the seriousness of food allergies in part because of this increase, but also I think because some (many) people mislabel a food intolerance as an allergy. Also, some actual allergies are relatively mild. None of which really helps you if your kid has a serious allergy.

Incidently, peanuts aren't true nuts, and an allergy to one is not correlated to allergy of the other. Except, of course, that they are often processed in the same plant, so there is cross-contamination.

Um, yeah, I can talk about this a lot. Unfortunately none of my knowledge is so helpful when dealing with keeping an actual child safe.


All of my son's daycares have been peanut-free zones. And one was a raisin-free zone as well (one child had a severe sulfite allergy)

Muffin Man loves eating nuts and peanut butter, but we only allow it as an after-school thing in our house.


Also, my sister developed a life-threatening allergy to shell-fish (crabs, lobster, shrimp) when she was around 11, had been eating them fine up until then. She nearly died. Thank God my mom had an epi-pen in the medicine cabinet (BTW, everyone should have an epi-pen in their medicine cabinet).

My sister always asks about ingredients when she eats out, but has had problems (mostly with things like risotto and lo mein - where they don't contain CHUNKS of shellfish, but the broth or sauce may have a shellfish base)

But I don't see why we can't all be alert for this stuff. What, we can't look out for each other?


I think that you and the letter-writer are completely and utterly wrong. Protecting your children is first and foremost your responsibility -- not the community's. The outrage the mother feels that people insist on bringing snakcs into school that have peanuts in them (clearly labeled with peanuts as an ingredient) is, to me, completely misplaced. It's the parents responsibility to educate the child (ask if things have peanuts in them. Don't eat them if they do), and the child's responsibility not to eat things with peanuts in them. This isn't the class'/playgroup's responsibility. This isn't a "community" problem, it's a personal one. Parents must take responsibility for themselves and their children.


It's not entirely a new problem. I have a friend who is allergic to peanuts (he's late 30s now). When we went to another friend's wedding nearly 10 years ago, she tried to get the menu sorted out for him, but the starter had a little bit of sate sauce (the caterers didn't take her seriously, and just thought she didn't like the taste). He spent most of the wedding in the local hospital being pumped full of anti-histamines and adreneline (or whatever is in epi-pens). He did manage to come back at the end (around midnight) and have a couple of dances, although he still couldn't talk properly as his throat was swollen.

He would probably have died if he hadn't got to hospital (I don't think epi-pens were as common then as they are now).

I think we've become more aware of it because (a) a normal life these days involves eating food that others have prepared and playing outside the home more than it used to, so sufferers have to have more of a different lifestyle from everyone else to avoid nuts than used to be the case and (b) there are fewer things that kill children these days, so the things that do get more airtime.

There's probably been an increase in sufferers as well, but I do think my childhood would have been easier to manage with a peanut allergy than my sons' would be now.


Anecdote: My neighbour's son has a severe peanut allergy (although, as far as I'm aware, skin contact doesn't hurt him -- he has to ingest it). It affects our whole neighbourhood. My son goes to the same kindergarten and the kindy is a peanut-free zone. That's particularly important because every child brings something to contribute to a communal snacktime.

Whenever there's a birthday party on our street, we have to check the party snacks with our neighbour. That's no problem because everyone knows to check in advance. I made a peanut-free chocolate cake for my son's birthday but it didn't turn out so I bought a cake at the last minute. Turned out the cake had traces of peanuts so I couldn't serve it to our allergic neighbour and he was satisfied with a piece of the original one I'd made. We all know how to work an epi-pen and what to do if he's visiting with us and has a reaction.

In summary I see the entire situation as a community issue. We *should* be looking out for each other and, to be honest, I see no harm in switching out peanuts or peanut butter for something else in the event that a school or playgroup is requested to be nut-free.

I have to wonder about Alex's motivations in the above comment, because it's such an isolationist way to think and, of course, I wonder how Alex would react if his or her child developed a life-threatening allergy. Of *course* the allergy is foremost the mother's responsibility! And there's no reason why that mother can't go to her child's school or daycare or friends and ask them to respect her child's allergy and try to keep the allergen away from them.

Megan, I sympathise because I've seen how much of an inconvenience it is to have an allergic child, and also how heartbroken a mother can be when they have to explain to their three-year-old that eating those M&Ms that their friends are eating can kill them. I hope you are fortunate and your child grows out of it.

I wonder whether the school would permit you to send out a letter with the school newsletter (if there is one), explaining exactly what would happen if your son *touched* peanut products, including links, articles, maybe even some photos for scare tactics of people's allergic reactions. And perhaps if you regularly go to the same playground you could hand out a brief flyer to other regulars in the hope that they'd understand how severe the problem is.


Moxie, thank you for this topic. My son has a peanut allergy, and it is a constant effort to be vigilant and to educate other people about the condition. In fact I'm glad it's peanut, which is so well-labelled these days, and not something like egg or dairy which are harder to avoid.

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  • My expertise is in helping people be who they want to be, with a specialty in how being a parent fits into everything else. I like people. I like parents. I think you're doing a fantastic job. The nitty-gritty of what you do with your kids is up to you, although I'm happy to post questions here to get data points of how you could try approaching different stages, because, let's face it, this shit is hard. As for me, I have two kids who sleep through the night and can tie their own shoes. I've been a married SAHM, a married freelance WAHM, a divorcing WOHM, a divorced WOHM, and now a WAHM again. I'm not buying the Mommy Wars and I'll come sit next to you no matter how you're feeding your kid. When in doubt, follow the money trail. And don't believe the hype.
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