Corny Product Alert: Green Molded Fiber Baskets

I’m making this a separate post from berries or mushrooms, since a number of types of foods could be packaged in these baskets.

Berry baskets- totally full of corn

I have reacted to both berries and mushrooms in containers like this, and there are a number of reports on the Facebook corn allergy group of others reacting to foods packaged in these containers. It is possible that it isn’t the containers but rather the food itself, but I avoid them just in case.

I don’t know what is in them that is so corny. They are supposed to just be “molded fiber” from wood pulp. I guess they must put starches in or something to make them more absorbent of berry juice? Maybe the dye that makes them green? The main manufacturer is a company called Pactiv and the material is specifically called Berigard. I can’t really find information on what these baskets are made from other than “pulp fiber” and why they would be more of a problem than, say, egg cartons, but they really do seem to be an issue for myself and many others. 

Corn-tamination Series: Mushrooms

When my corn allergy became more sensitive, I found that I started reacting to mushrooms purchased from the grocery store. But I could eat them if I grew them myself, or purchased them from a cultivator at the farmers’ market who grew his mushrooms on sawdust.
It’s been suggested by another mushroom cultivator  that I could just be allergic to Agaricus mushrooms, but I react to shiitakes grown on corn medium and don’t react to shiitakes grown on a straw medium, so there’s evidence that the medium does matter, at least for me. I suspect the reaction is more due to cross contamination rather than allergens actually making it into the fruiting body.

Portobellos, buttons, and criminis are the same species of mushroom in different stages of maturity and they have to grow on compost. That can mean just about anything, as long as it’s rotted. I don’t know what the smaller operations will find to be useful or cheap for compost but I am positive that the BIG guys use some kind of corn medium because I react to the mushrooms, and actually within the last year or so I have begun to have airborne reactions from being on the same block as some of the bigger agaricus growing operations.

Other mushrooms like oyster mushrooms, shiitakes, morels, basically the “weirder” mushrooms all grow on cellulose, so typically wood cellulose and grains such as barley and rye, but could also be corn cobs, kernels, or husks.

The mushrooms will not be rinsed with anything generally as water will make them slimy but I imagine that they could *possibly* be sprayed with some kind of preservative. I have no evidence that anyone does so, it just seems possible. The trays the mushrooms come in could contain corn fibers. If the mushrooms are covered with plastic, the plastic could be corny or could be dusted with corn starch.

A nice article on how different types of mushrooms are grown. 

Another possible issue if you are purchasing mushrooms from some vendors is the baskets they come in: Those green composite baskets cause problems for a lot of people.

Cross Contamination With Gluten and Other Allergens

For a long time I was able to eat mushrooms from a farmers market vendor who grows theirs on barley and sawdust. Unfortunately I began to have a gluten (but not corn) reaction to the mushrooms, intermittently. I think the issue is cross contamination with the growth medium. Not sure if the cross contamination is handling/storage of the mushrooms and growth medium together, or if it’s coming through in the mycelium. I don’t think that it’s in the actual fruiting body of the mushroom, but I do think that it’s possible the mycelium still contains traces of gluten, especially in a short growth cycle where it’s possible the mycelium of the mushroom is not completely consuming the grain and associated gluten.

Growing Your Own Edible Mushrooms

I’m busy right now now with other priorities so I’m just not eating mushrooms, but I do plan to begin growing my own soon. In the past I have had great luck with mushroom growing kits and sawdust spawn from Fungi Perfecti.  The Oyster Mushroom kits are darn easy even for the total newbie, but they also do *some* phone tech support if you need it. Generally it’s best to hit up the blogs and forums, and perhaps even buy a book or two to get you started.

Note that I have not looked at the “corn safety” of the plastic sheeting or plastic bags of their kits, just know that they were fine for me when I was medium-sensitive. I bet they would be happy to answer questions about their materials. When I got more sensitive I was already pretty experienced at growing mushrooms. Rather than getting a pre-made kit,   I just put together my own safe materials for a fruiting chamber and got some sawdust spawn to colonize my own safe growth medium.

Corn-tamination Series: Berries

I can eat some organic berries and not others. It’s not the berries themselves: it’s corn.  Giant brand organic strawberries were no good, but Driscoll’s I can have. Driscoll’s and some french-canadian brand of blueberries I can do, but not Naturipe organic blueberries. And I can’t do any berries that have the soaker pads in them, no matter who they came from. I’ve also reacted to locally-picked organic berries at the farmers’ market.  Even the Driscoll’s berries that I can tolerate, I only tolerate *most* of the time, not all of the time. Once in a while I’ll get a carton or two that are no good and have to return or give them away.

A little googling tells me that the list of pesticides and fungicides allowed on organic berries is lengthy. Pyganic (pyrethrin) is just one of the sprays. The active ingredient is 2% of the mix and undisclosed “other ingredients” that smell like vegetable oil according to the MSDS makes up the other 98%. Considering some of my experiences with trying to get details on the “other ingredients” of products like this I doubt I’d be able to find out exactly what’s in it, but I think it’s safe enough to assume corn-based solvents and coating agents.

I asked a friend who has worked at a berry farm about other ways that corn could get in. My first thought was that the berries might be rinsed with citric acid, as some bagged salad greens are, and here’s what he said (paraphrased):

The berries aren’t rinsed as they will start to deteriorate quickly if rinsed. They ARE however gas-ripened with ethylene gas (from corn ethanol). Strawberries are grown on black plastic (could be corny) sheets for weed control. Berries are watered with PVC drip hoses, and there are TONS of fertilizers that are organic but corny. There are also many kinds of organic dusts and pest control sprays that could be corny.

Berres are often picked with corn starch-powdered gloves, possibly even latex, and they are also shipped in cardboard containers which could  contain corn fibers.  Those green composite baskets cause problems for a lot of people. There is also a very real possibility for cornfields right next to where the berries are grown.

For grocery store berries, there are also the soaker pads- I don’t know what the pads themselves are made out of, but pads like that often contain corn-derived citric acid as a preservative/anti-microbial.

So there ya go! Only about a million ways for corn to get in!

ER Safety: Emergency Medical Treatment With a Corn Allergy

Updated 2/21/2017

Emergency Medical Instructions – For Mobile

Emergency Medical Instructions – Letter size (designed for front and back)

Corn products are in many  medical supplies. In particular, dextrose and glycerin (both usually from corn) seem to be in a number of injected drugs, and those two have in the past caused me severe–even anaphylactic– reactions when they come in contact with a mucus membrane. The last time I allowed a glycerin-based gel to touch my lip, everywhere it touched swelled immediately, and my tongue swelled on that side of my face, all the way into my throat. It was terrifying.

Injections aren’t the only danger, either. Disinfectants, lubricants, preservatives, and disposable  paper products also contain enough corn to give me at least a small problem, if not a dangerous reaction. Even the sugar used to treat dehydration and restore electrolyte balance is corn-based.

Even those without such severe and immediate reactions can and have experienced significant discomfort as a result of corn in medical products. GI reactions, migraines, or rashes may not block off your airway, but they are definitely unpleasant and can still be dangerous.

The idea that someone could kill me while trying to save me keeps me up at night, so I’ve been asking a lot of questions trying to figure out how a medical responder can avoid killing me when trying to save me. I don’t have all of the answers, but I have a plan, and I hope it works.

  1. Wear some kind of medical alert bracelet. I have a MedicAlert brand bracelet, the largest size available, to fit as much as possible, which still isn’t enough. The text reads: TREAT WITH IV SALINE. ANAPHYLAXIS TO LACTATED RINGERS, GLUCOSE,DEXTROSE, SUCROSE, PCN.  (PCN is short for penicillin.) I have a membership so that I can use MedicAlert’s online medical history service but there are definitely other services out there that do similar, and plenty of other jewelry-only type vendors.
  2. Keep a thorough but succinct treatment plan in several places on your person. The document below is my best attempt at this. It is formatted to fit on a letter-sized sheet of paper, front and back. I also want to make small laminated cards to keep in my wallet and a version on an In Case of Emergency app on my mobile phone.
  3. Keep a more detailed medical history on your person and/or an online repository. There are also USB medical bracelets that you can buy and wear.
  4. Consider putting together a hospital bag ahead of time for inpatient stays that contain necessities.

I don’t know how well this will work, but I really hope it will at least keep me alive in a medical emergency.

And, of course, I am sharing what I have so far. The following is a publicly available Google Doc that you can copy to your own google doc and alter as you like. My doc includes notes on what you should change to customize for yourself. And of course it only covers a corn allergy, so if you have other allergies, such as penicillin, that need to be mentioned, it is only a starting point. Here it is:

Corn Allergy Emergency Medical Instructions – Letter size (designed for front and back)

Corn Allergy Emergency Medical Instructions – formatted for mobile

I’ll update here as I get more formats set up for wallet cards and mobile apps.  Different ICE apps have different features, but they all usually provide a widget so that the info can be accessed from the lock screen without unlocking the phone. This is important to me since I have all of my email and social networking accounts hooked up to my phone. While I’m not particularly concerned that an EMT would stop trying to safe me to try to hack into my stuff, I think that my phone could end up in ANYONE’s hands if I were incapacitated.

Note that the document is only meant to cover emergency room procedures- not routine medical care, nor longer term or inpatient procedures. I now have a post about longer hospital visits that is very much work-in-progress.

Dealing with Skeptics

Something that comes up often in any medical situation is skepticism that corn can be the root cause of all the reactions to various chemical derivatives. Rather than argue this in an emergency situation, the following tactics have worked in the past:

  • Claim chemical sensitivity: Say that you react to “preservatives,” “dyes,” and “additives.” People are for some reason more likely to believe that one can have a non-specific sensitivity to these things than that one can be reacting to the corn source of them.
  • Claim multiple sensitivities: For some reason people are more willing to believe that you are separately allergic to citric acid, potassium benzoate, polyethylene glycol, glycerine, and a dozen other ingredients than that you are only allergic to them when they are derived from corn.
  • Use the term “sensitivitiy” or “adverse reaction” rather than “allergy” unless you have a positive IgE test result to show. “Allergy” means something specific in the medical world, so if your adverse reactions are not proven to have IgE as a mediator, it’s only going to hurt your case to insist that you have an allergy. Adverse reactions can still be severe, so make sure that you stress that you have had severe adverse reactions to corn derivatives, preservatives, and excipients in medications.
  • Remain calm and be as logical as possible. If you seem emotional, you will not be taken seriously. I realize that the fear and the coursing adrenaline in emergent situations make this difficult. Try to breathe. If they are insisting that there is no choice other than a product or medication you fear you will react to, ask if they can try a small amount or do a skin test to make sure it’s safe. Also ask what their protocol is for severe reactions or anaphylaxis. This is both so that you understand what will be done if you react, and to remind them that anaphylaxis is a possibility.

Corn Free Probiotics: Home Ferments

As I’ve mentioned before, you won’t find a corn-free commercial probiotic supplement. If you do, I would LOVE to hear about it, but so far I have not.

Now, that does not mean that you can’t have probiotics. You can make your own. People always look at me funny when I say that. I think it’s because they don’t understand what probiotics are. They are microorganisms that live in your gut. Yes, they are little bugs, but the good kind. I know people think that because the  usual probiotic supplement comes in a pill format it must be dead and sterile, but actually they’re just  hella lab-processed versions of something you can *totally* do yourself, and control the ingredients on.

Lots of people are concerned about the safety of home ferments, and you do need to exercise basic caution. You  need to use clean equipment and follow instructions until you really understand what you are doing. If you  have a mold problem in your home, meaning lots of pesky aspergillus spores floating around, you probably want to reconsider wild fermentation. Definitely do your own research on safety in home ferments, but my reading tells me that that home ferments are pretty safe.

Here’s the round-up of probiotic foods and beverages you can make yourself at home.  This is *not* a how-to post- you can find all kinds of videos and blog posts about how to actually make these ferments all over the internet. This is just a rundown of the options out there to give you an idea of what might work for you and what you are interested in researching.

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Relief for Food Poisoning

I’ve been eating a lot of shellfish lately because I’ve got a local hookup who doesn’t slurry-ice them. Well, it turns out when I’ve been steaming them, I haven’t been cooking them long enough. The Washington state DOH says:

  • If boiling, continue to cook for 3 to 5 minutes after shells open.
  •  If steaming, continue to cook for 4 to 9 minutes after shells open.

I was just cooking them until their shells opened, which is what I had been taught by someone or other. That’s been fine for me for a while, but when I woke up at 3am this morning extremely nauseated, you know my first suspicion was the dozen steamed oysters I ate last night.

While I don’t know for SURE that what I had was food poisoning, it really felt like the beginnings of the last round that I had. Nausea, bloating, gas, cramping. Considering that the nausea was so intense that it woke me up out of a dead sleep, I assumed within the next 5-10 hours it’d be like someone stepped on a ketchup packet.

Well, I happened to have some activated charcoal, and I followed these instructions:

  • Took about 1/2-2/3rds tsp of activated charcoal. I dumped out capsules into water and chugged. I am no longer recommending the charcoal I’ve been using because I asked the manufacturer what the plant source was and they *didn’t know. Also it has come to my attention that there are different methods of “activating” charcoal. The manufacturer of CharcoCaps brand activated charcoal has assured me that their charcoal is from coconut husks and is steam-activated rather than acid activated. I will probably go with that after my current bottle runs out. Note that there is a “homeopathic remedy” from CharcoCaps that has lots of iffy ingredients, that is NOT what you want. You want this stuff.
  • Mixed about 2oz of Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar with a mug full of water and sipped. I heated my ACV in the microwave because I react to live yeast, but once it’s killed I am fine. Raw is better for you if you can tolerate it.

The nausea passed after the first dose, within 20 minutes. I had another hour or two of, ahem, toilet time, and then was able to fall asleep. I now feel weak, but never had the intense hours of expelling all of the water in my body from every orifice at once. I cannot properly express how relieved I am to not have gone through that again.

I don’t know for a fact that doing this actually stopped the progress of the food poisoning, but I don’t think doing any of it is harmful for ya, so I thought I’d pass it along as a thing to try. Oh,it is important to drink a LOT of water when using detox aids like charcoal or bentonite clay.