Tree Nut Allergies

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COLUMBIA- Tree nuts have become a major allergy in the United States and have sky rocketed in the last 20 years. In 1997 only 0.2 of Americans had the allergy but now in 2017 that is up to one percent of citizens.

That’s 3.2 million Americans that suffer from a tree nut allergy.

A big question that comes with this allergy is what exactly is a tree nut? Tree nuts include, but are not limited to, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, filberts/hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts, shea nuts and walnuts. Tree nut allergies are distinct from peanut allergy, as peanuts are legumes, whereas a tree nut is a hard-shelled nut.

It depends on the person but the more severe the allergy is, the more foods affect the person. Tree nut allergies can also be affected through cross contamination and victims cannot eat foods that were processed in the same factory as tree nuts. It can also come up in different coconut and olive oils.

Christine Franzese is the director of allergy at the University of Missouri and said this is a frequent allergy she sees, especially in children.

“If you have it, you’ve most likely got it for life,” Franzese said. “Food allergies as a whole have been increasing over the last 10-20 years and no one really knows why.”

This makes it extremely hard for those with allergies to eat at restaurants. You never know what you are going to get or how well the establishment knows what they are cooking.

“Going out can cause a lot of fear and anxiety in our patient,” Franzese said. “Someone with a tree nut allergy could just have a mild case where they will only get hives, another person might be severely sensitized so it’s really more about the person and their sensation.”

There is only one place in Columbia that is 100% safe from tree nuts and that is Range-Free Bakery downtown.

Ann Meyer owns the bakery and has the allergy herself. She established the shop for people like herself who cannot eat out or have the same foods as everyone else.

“Part of that was my own selfishness I needed to try it so I went nut free for that reason,” Meyer said. “I did it mostly for the safety of the customer and knowing that nut free bakeries are just not a thing.”

Meyer found out she had the allergy in 2009. She is allergic to every but two tree nuts.

“For myself the struggle is manufactured products that you would not think tree nuts are in or are manufactured in a factory with other tree nuts,” Meyer said.

Meyer said that only 10% of people who eat at the bakery don’t have the allergy. The shop has begun to know people by name.

“We get to know their food restrictions on a very personal basis,” Meyer said. “So, if someone calls and asks what the menu is for today we can tell them what they can and cannot have.”

When Meyer started the bakery back in 2015 she really didn’t know what it meant to her.

“When I first opened I really didn’t know what it meant for me,” Meyer said. “I just was coming from a personal stand point and thought this would be great, I like this and other people would like this.”

2 years later, the bakery is everything to her.

“Within the first 3-4 months it became very apparent what it meant to me,” Meyer said. “When people would come in and I would have that first interaction with someone who has never had the option before to choose whatever they want out of the pastry case It became very emotional”

Meyer said she had plenty of instances where she would tear up because of how happy the customer would be. She didn’t expect her business to have that much of an impact.

“I got a lot of I love yous and I wasn’t expecting that and didn’t think it was warranted but I completely understand where they were coming from,” Meyer said.

Meyer thinks that going forward restaurants need be more aware and more accommodating of these allergies.

“Training and education is the most important part and informing them of what these things are,” Meyer said. “Servicers might not know or might not care what the top allergies are or they can’t visually identify them.”

There is no reducing a tree nut allergy but Meyer looks to attract more customers to her bakery who she can help feel safe with their diet restrictions.

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