Thank you to everyone who was so understanding of yesterday's grumpity post. It does seem like a good time to talk a little more about our forays into public spaces and how Harper's peanut allergy has influenced some of our decisions. I am going to address a couple of comments/questions specifically...
Anne mentioned that her twins go to a peanut free school, but the kids eat peanut butter for breakfast many mornings. They wash up after breakfast, but she wondered if they were putting allergic students at risk anyway (I'm paraphrasing!).
At the beginning of the school year we asked that the children in Harper's class who eat peanuts or peanut butter in the morning have their hands washed (with soap!), brush their teeth, and change their shirts. Whether everyone abides by this we have no way of knowing. The truth is that peanut protein can be stubborn. Hot water alone will not rid a surface of residual peanut residue. And it only takes a very little bit to cause a reaction.
So yes, there is a scenario in which the peanut butter a child eats at breakfast, if not cleaned up, could come to school on little hands. The hands touch a toy in the preschool room. The child with a peanut allergy plays with that toy and a contact reaction occurs. Or said child puts her hands in her mouth after playing with the toy and an ingestion (more serious) reaction occurs.
I think two ways about this:
1) If we want to make absolutely sure we never, ever run into peanut residue we can never leave our house. And we can never invite into our house anyone who has possibly eaten peanuts or peanut butter. Which, for us, for now, is not a realistic way to live. We take a calculated risk every time Harper sits in a shopping cart, picks up a library book, puts her hand on a playground swing, and goes to school.
2) I DO want parents to take the precautions seriously, like Anne does, because as unlikely as it may seem that Harper ends up reacting to something someone ate an hour ago for breakfast, it is possible. My worry is that parents are reading those notices (or not reading them at all I guess) and thinking that we're being too far fetched in our efforts and not following through on things like cleaning up after breakfast. This sort of dismissive attitude DOES put Harper at greater risk, no matter how small.
As much as we tell little kids NOT to put hands and toys (and the ends of crayons and the play food, etc.) in their mouths, they do, and that's why we ask for after breakfast tooth-brushing, too.
Giselle asked if we avoid particular public spaces because parents like her might pack PB&J for messy little kids to eat there.
The answer to that one is yes and no. I do try to avoid places, like a children's museum public eating area, that is likely to have LOTS of peanut residue. It is most often easier to eat at home and plan our excursions around meals. BUT there are plenty of situations where we do have to eat in public spaces and then we're talking again about risk management. I always carry wipes with me (plain water won't cut it, but baby wipes and clorox type wipes are pretty good) and wipe down tables and chairs where Harper would eat. We are extra careful with restaurant booster seats - even if the restaurant doesn't serve nuts, who knows what the previous client brought along for her toddler to munch on. I would NEVER let Harper place her food directly on the table in a public eating place.
In those kinds of situations I actually worry more that kids have eaten peanut butter for lunch, and not had their hands cleaned well before heading back to the play areas - as much as I'd like to, I can't go ahead and wipe down every touchable surface in a children's museum or on the playground.
I don't think any of you should feel bad about bringing peanut products into those kinds of public places (Although it REALLY bothers me when people bring food into "no food allowed areas", keep it in the cafeteria!). I do think it is good sense to attempt to clean up after yourselves and to clean your kids' hands before they head back out to play. I'm guessing most of you would do that anyway, without even considering the benefit to the children who may come along with food allergies. I will admit to having the occasional panicked moments in those types of public places!
If Harper started having many contact reactions (mild or severe) we would probably reevalute how we make our decisions about what is safe in terms of outings.
Chris wondered if eating at the field trip might have been like practice for the time when Harper won't be eating in a peanut-free environment.
It's true that eventually (most likely in grade school) Harper will have to eat lunch in a room where there are people eating peanut butter. We'll not think too much about that tonight, lest I begin to hyperventilate. But for most allergic kids sitting at a peanut-free table is precaution enough. It is possible to be so severely allergic that one would react to the peanuts someone was eating across the room. We don't believe that Harper's allergy is currently that sensitive (knock on wood). For some children their allergies are so severe they cannot attend a school where other students are consuming foods they are allergic to. We are thankful not to be in that situation (knock on wood, again).
Harper probably could have stayed and had lunch with her classmates, but we are constantly evaluating risk. Matt knew that they were finished with the exploring/learning part of their field trip and that Harper wouldn't be missing anything besides lunch if they left early. Better safe than sorry!
Whew! That's enough for this post, if anyone is still reading! There are more great questions to address and feel free to add thoughts in the comments. I am incapable of being short-winded when it comes to this allergy stuff, so you'll have to bear with me this week. Thanks!