June 5, 2023

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”
Andy Warhol

“Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true!”

Despite Warhol’s prediction, I have never wished for any kind of fame, or even to be well-known. But at our core, I suspect most of us like to be recognized.

A few years ago, I had an allergic reaction at work. I am allergic to tree nuts, and I’m pretty careful about reading ingredients of anything I put in my mouth. However, this one time, the event chef had mislabeled the ingredients on a dessert. They were serving sweet potato pie at an event; I love sweet potato pie, but I rarely get to have it because it is usually made with pecans. An ingredient card above the pie flagged the allergens: “Contains dairy and wheat” was listed at the bottom. I read the ingredients carefully: no nuts!

Two bites later, I realized there might have been an omission.

I carry an EpiPen for just such instances. I said “Excuse me” to the coworker I was chatting with and jabbed myself in the thigh. That jab is usually good for relief from allergy symptoms within 30 seconds. However, this time, the reaction kept progressing. My tongue started to swell, I broke out in hives head to toe, I started salivating out of control and gagging on my own saliva, my ears started that insane allergic-reaction hum, and my eyes started to swell shut.

I flagged down someone in the café and had them call me an ambulance. They walked me downstairs, where I sat on the curb and passed out until the ambulance arrived and got me breathing again.

It turns out that on an EpiPen, the expiration date really does matter—and my EpiPen was expired by about eight months. Do yourself a favor and check the dates on yours! The nonprofit Food Allergy, Research, and Education says that when properly stored, an EpiPen can remain effective up to nine additional months after expiration; the proper storage temperature for an EpiPen is room temperature—68-77°.

Your mileage may vary—mine certainly did! Admittedly, I carry mine in my pocket, so it probably stayed closer to body temperature. 

After a couple of days in the ICU, I was back at work. My company’s food team soon reached out to me to ask if I would be willing to work with them to craft a new allergy safety program. Of course I said yes! I felt uniquely qualified to throw my voice into their meetings.

Over the next year, we consulted with health professionals and food professionals from all over the world, and put together a new labeling program, kitchen procedures to avoid cross-contamination, cross-checks for label accuracy, and additional training for all food-handling staff. I also sat for several hours of interviews about my experience with a professional video team.

Which brings us to today, when I got a cup of coffee at the barista bar at work. The barista saw me and said, “Hey! I just took the allergy safety training this morning. It was all about you!” Indeed, my interview is now a part of the required safety training for every employee at my company who handles food.

That reminds me of another quote:

“It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.”
Ashleigh Brilliant

Oh, and one other:

“You are what you eat.”

That one is a saying that I heartily disprove.

Resources FOR THOSE WITH FOOD ALLERGIES (and those who care about them):

Editor’s note: This Community story has been lightly edited by staff for clarity.

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