Food Allergies in the Time of Panic Buying


food allergies

I need to buy more bread. But here’s the catch…there is only one brand we can eat. Why? My family is managing food allergies, and there is only one brand of bread carried by nearby stores that my child can eat without risking anaphylaxis.

The shelves were bare when we went shopping, of course. People have been stocking up, and rightfully so. But they have also been panic buying. Dealing with a pandemic is hard enough without having to worry if you can continue to safely feed yourself or your child. But unfortunately, this has been the reality for those living with food allergies during this time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people shouldn’t be prepared. At this point, we ideally should have stocked up and prepared to stay home for a while to help flatten the curve (at least if you could afford to stock up; I understand not everyone is so privileged).

What I am asking is that when you are stocking up for this, or any disaster, not to purchase a mass quantity of individual items at one time, leaving the shelves bare. I know it is a big ask. I know you need to feed your family too. I know you are also scared.

But there is only one brand of bread my child can eat. And the store was out. Again, and again, and again. We haven’t been able to find it online. We tried to leave some for other families during our initial stock up process (which consisted of multiple trips over multiple days to make sure we were leaving product for other people and allowing stores to restock), but now we are almost out. We only have a few slices left. I’m not the only one facing this dilemma. I see it in news articles and in my social media feeds. I’ve received messages from other panicked allergy moms, too. While you are worried about your kids having their favorite foods, we are concerned about keeping our children out of hospital emergency rooms (where they would be at risk for coronavirus and take valuable resources away from those with the disease). 

It isn’t just about food, either. Did you know wet wipes are recommended to clean surfaces and hands when out of the home, to help avoid contact with allergens? Hand sanitizer won’t do it; you must manually remove allergens from surfaces (hand washing is the ideal method, but when out of the home and away from a sink, some sort of wet wipe is the practical alternative).

Of course, at this point, we are staying home and don’t need them. But during the early days of this, when handwashing was recommended but staying in was not, wet wipes were sold out at all my local stores (along with hand sanitizer). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen children (and adults) eating unsafe foods at the playground or similar places. I’ve even seen people leave unsafe foods all over the ground and tables (envision this… me chasing my toddler trying to stop them from grabbing tree nuts left all over the ground because, of course, they noticed them before I did). My child is young enough that I still carry baby wipes everywhere. But those are now sold out, too. Many stores were sold out before we were asked to stay home. What about families with older kids who don’t usually have baby wipes in the home? What did they use to keep their kids safe? 

My kid can live without bread. We have other things to feed them. We are lucky that we could afford to stock up. I worry about the families who couldn’t. Of course, I worry about the standard at-risk groups; older adults, those with chronic illness, those with respiratory illnesses aside from COVID-19, the economically disadvantaged, and otherwise vulnerable communities. And I worry about our medical professionals and other essential workers during this time. But I also worry for the families who have children managing more food allergies than us, with more limited diets, and whether they can find foods in the store to keep their child nourished and safe. I worry for adults managing food allergies too.

It is probably too late for me to ask some of you to take families like mine into consideration. But I hope that maybe, just maybe, the next time you need to stock up for something (whether it be for a storm or the pandemic of the century) you consider the 32 million Americans living with food allergies and whether we will be able to find that one special product on store shelves. I know I’m not the only food allergy parent who will thank you in advance.

Erin is the mother of one sweet, rambunctious toddler and wife to a talented chef. Her family moved to the suburbs from NYC, seeking more space and closer proximity to nature. Erin is formerly a special educator and preschool teacher and is currently a cognitive neuroscience researcher and Ph.D candidate in Cognitive Science in Education with specializations in neuroscience, cognitive development, and neurodiversity/autism. She holds masters degrees in cognitive science and neuroscience in education, and undergraduate degrees in special education (with an additional concentration in elementary education and a minor in English) and early childhood education. As the wife of a chef, food is a huge part of her family culture, and Erin enjoys both cooking and baking. Her other hobbies include hiking, traveling, jogging, meditation, animal rescue, playing music, crafting, reading, and of course, writing. You can follow her on Facebook at The Mindfully Scientific Mama and on Instagram@mindfully.scientific.mama