Month: June 2013

Corn-tamination Series: Avoiding Corn in Meat

There’s Corn In Meat?

Oh, of course there is. The degree  to which those with corn allergies have to worry about it will vary with the individual. Some are more reactive to corny washes than to corn feed, and some have to only worry about animals fed whole kernels of corn but not corn-derived vitamins or other corn products. It just depends on the person.

The two biggest ways corn gets into meat is the animal’s feed, and the disinfecting washes used on meat in processing. Not everyone is sensitive to both things or either of them. I started out having to worry about neither, and then progressed over a period of many years to having to worry about both, and to the point that not even the tiniest traces of corn based sanitizer used on the meat at any point were okay for me.

Finding Out Where the Corn Is Can Be Tricky

When I got more sensitive, I found that I even reacted to the pre-cut meat from local pastured meat ranches who swore to me that not only did their animals never eat any corn at all, but they didn’t rinse the meat off with any disinfectants.

I spent weeks on the phone trying to figure out what the problem was. The big clue came when I noticed that my reaction to a particular ranch’s beef was much more severe than to their pork. That ranch happened to have their own slaughter and butcher facilities (most ranchers send their animals to third parties for slaughter and butcher) so I called the facility manager. She kept insisting over and over that they didn’t spray the meat with anything, until finally, after the third conversation, she said, “Oh! you know, after we slaughter and skin, we do the acid wash. But that’s just white vinegar, that’s from rice right?” Wrong, vinegar is from corn and it’s bad news for me. Compared to lactic acid, which I still am sensitive to, it’s basically pure corn.

Turns out the reason the pork was better than the beef is that after the acid wash, a layer of outer fat is trimmed from the pork, while with the beef the butchering is done directly after. So more of the corny vinegar wash was trimmed away with the pork. It still really got in there, so I was unable to do it.

The Laundry List: How Corn Gets Into Meat

Here’s my understanding of how corn gets into meat in the USA:

  • Corn in the animal’s feed. Not everyone has to worry about this. I can’t eat corn fed meat but seem to be able to eat corn fed eggs and dairy. Many others cannot even do dairy or eggs from corn-fed animals. Note that some “grass-fed” beef is still “grain finished”: fed grain the few weeks before slaughter to fatten them up. So if you need to care about feed, also ask if it is grass finished. Some smaller farmers purchase their animals as weanlings from other farmers and raise them after that point. Also note that even though some feed labels do not contain actual corn kernels, they will still contain corn-derived vitamins such as tocopherol and ascorbic acid, and contain fermentation products that were fermented on corn sugar. Also some animals such as pigs will be supplemented with kitchen scraps that may be corny. Not everyone has to worry about this, but I seem to have to worry about all of the above, personally.
  • Corn in dietary supplements given outside of feed. Recently one of my corn-free friends ended up with 3/4 of a cow her allergic kids were reacting to, and the only variable that was different from their last (safe) beef was a “mineral lick” that contained a number of corn derivatives.
  • Corn fodder used in bedding that the animals may end up eating. 
  • Slaughter: Hot wax is often used to help in plucking poultry. The wax may not be corny but I’m not minded to risk it personally.
  • Slaughter: Antimicrobial solutions applied after skinning. With livestock (vs wild game), slaughtering and butchering are often done by two different people.  A guy will come out to the farm and slaughter and skin the animals, and for larger animals they will cut them into very large chunks. Then the chunks will be sent to the butcher to be further cut down and packaged.  The USDA requires some sort of antimicrobial solution be applied after skinning, and this solution is usually paracetic acid, acetic acid (vinegar), lactic acid, or citric acid. All of these are from corn, and I react to all of them.  Steam/hot water disinfecting is supposedly allowed but I rarely hear of it being done.  In some states, USDA rules *must* be obeyed even on custom processed animals. In other states, as long as you buy the whole animal you can dictate what is done to it, no problem.  When calling around, what you are looking for is “custom meat processors.”
  • Slaughter: USDA “roller brand” is applied to USDA certified meat classifying the grade. Not sure what this stamp is allowed to be made from but reports of people who had meat custom processed and reacted to it say that the stamp on their meat was made from grape juice, which of course has the potential to be corny.  Ask about the USDA stamp/”roller brand” and see if it can be skipped.
  • Slaughter: Detergent, soaps, and lubricants used on surfaces, cutting implements, and hands. Dawn, Dial, Bon Ami, and most other cleaners and soaps commonly used for washing hands and surfaces are corny.  The powder on powdered gloves is corny.   Some types of cutting tools are oiled with an oil that may not be safe for you.  If the processor uses gloves, identify a safe-for-you glove and provide those. Identify a safe-for-you detergent and cleaner and ask the processor to use those. If you can’t work that out, either consider finding another processor, or ask them to rinse their tools really, really, really well. Maybe see if they can use the tools on another animal first so that the corny detergent gets worked off of the tools. Of course if they are hosing their other animals off with a corny solution, that won’t help you as they’ll just be contaminating the tools more.
  • Butchering: Aging. Unlike lamb, beef has to be aged for 10-14 days after slaughter in order to be edible, otherwise the meat is very tough. Wet aging *should* involve just putting the beef into vacuum sealed packaging for sale and keeping it refrigerated for a period of weeks. If something is added in with the meat to “help” it age or inhibit “bad” bacteria, that would be a problem. Or if the beef were wet-aged in a different package from what it was sold in (unlikely), you’d have to ask About both packages. Dry aging involves hanging the carcass in a refrigerated locker at very specific temperature and humidity and.. letting it hang. This should be safe for corn, unless some kind of brine or antimicrobial spray is used during this process.Article on aging beef. Article on dry aging beef.
  • Note that the aging process makes breed high histamine so if you react to histamines in food, exercise caution with beef.

  • Butchering: Detergent, soaps, and lubricants used on surfaces, cutting implements, and hands.  Same story as above: Ask them to use safe for you soap, detergents, and gloves. Since the butcher will be doing a LOT more to the animal than the person who does the slaughter, it is particularly important that you work with someone who is truly custom and truly wants to do what YOU need. I found a place that is very small and actually only open “on demand,” that are very accommodating and are willing to do whatever I need.
  • Butchering: Meat grinders are washed and sanitized with corny solutions. Meat grinders being what they are, they are usually going to be washed and sanitized with something heavy duty and of course corny.  Additionally the act of grinding the meat exposes more surface to potential allergen contamination. You can ask the to just rinse the grinder really well with water after washing, but I ask them to skip all ground meat and instead do stew chunks. I can then grind those chunks into ground meat using my food processor, if I choose. How to grind meat in your food processor.
  • Butcher and slaughtering: Cross contamination if corny washes/cleaners/sprays are used. I prefer to only go with a facility that doesn’t ever use the corny washes if possible. If that weren’t possible, I’f try to get them to process my animal first, after washing all equipment in the safe soap/sanitizer I supply, so that any corny washes used for the other animals don’t get on my animal, but I’ve heard that cross contamination is frequent when the butcher typically used the corny washes and skips them on demand. I have heard stories from a number of people that their first meat order was a horrible failure because even though the processor didn’t use corny chemicals on their animal, there was corn just left over on their instruments and surfaces. In all cases, switching to a processor that didn’t use the corny washes *ever* was the solution.
  • Packaging: Butcher paper may have corn fiber in it. Waxed papers may use a corn-based wax.  Plastic liners may also contain corn polymers.  Stretch plastic wrap is  usually dusted with corn starch. All of the  other items may also be dusted with corn starch to keep them from sticking. You’ll need to get the item numbers and  manufacturers/suppliers name from your butcher and contact them about what’s in/on the packaging. My butchers have agreed to just put everything into Ziplock brand bags, which I know are safe for me.

The above refers to US practices as I live in the US, but many of the issues mentioned may be issues in other countries as well. The disinfecting wash mentioned seems to have been banned in the UK up until 2012, but is now approved by the Food Standards Agency. I think it is not yet common practice, and the European suppliers of lactic acid often use wheat rather than corn glucose to produce their lactic acid, however this may increasingly pose a problem for the more sensitive UK corn allergy sufferers.

So How To Get Corn-Free Meat?

Well, it depends on how corn-free you need it. Many people will not need to get their meat custom processed right away. I didn’t need to for many years.

If you (or your loved one for whom you cook) are reacting to your grocery store meat, there may be some steps you can take before you have to dive in to the expense and risk of getting meat custom processed.

First try to eliminate some variables. Grocery store meat is going to be rinsed in citric or lactic acid several times and possibly have dyes applied to keep it looking fresh, and then packaged with a citric acid soaker pad and then wrapped with plastic wrap that is dusted in corn starch. Try a butcher counter, and from a real, artisan butcher who can tell you what happened to the meat from the time it came to him. That won’t cut out the initial corny wash after slaughter, but maybe you can get away with that part of it if it isn’t then hosed down in more corny washes and then wrapped up in more corn.

If you find a good butcher and aren’t able to tolerate “light wash” meats, then figure out if corn fed is a problem for you, or corny washes, or both. One way to tell, if you don’t have an allergy to chicken, would be to get an Empire Kosher chicken. Many Trader Joe’s locations sell them as do many kosher stores. Affordable Kosher here in Seattle sells them, and you can order from Affordable Kosher via Amazon Fresh. The empire chickens are fed corn, but are not washed in citric acid or any other corn-based solution. I don’t know what the plastic packaging is made out of, so what I’d do to really isolate variables is get a whole chicken, then rinse and skin it before cooking. Make sure to cook in a fashion that won’t introduce corn. I had a lot of false reactions for a while because the oven in my rental house had some kind of corny buildup in it and was cooking corn into everything.

If the Empire Kosher chicken isn’t working for you, and you’re totally certain you don’t have an allergy to chicken, then it’s probably safe to bet that corn-fed meat is your problem. I react to Empire Kosher chicken.  There may be some other experimenting you can do around that, just depending on the resources available to you.

If you find yourself in a situation where none of the store-bought meats are working for you, you’ll need to locate some farmers that raise corn-free livestock and then negotiate custom slaughter and butchering. To locate the farmers, use Eat Wild and  Local Harvest. Locating safe butchers and slaughterers is another story. I actually just lucked into my butchers- the folks I bought poultry from used them for their lambs and I was able to negotiate something safe.

My Story and Experiences

As I mentioned earlier, after several years of avoiding corn, I eventually became unable to tolerate even the tiniest traces of corn derivatives used anywhere near my meat. When you get to that point, the only thing left to do is to choose the animal you want from a rancher that has never fed it anything that could be a problem, and control every step of processing from slaughter to butcher and packaging.

Unfortunately navigating the custom processing is not easy, and also carries a hefty financial risk. You generally need to order a large quantity of meat such as 1/4 cow (what that looks like) or 1/2 of a pig (what that looks like).  In addition to paying for the meat itself (from hundreds to even thousands of dollars), you will also be investing in a freezer in which to store it. That’s a pretty significant expense if you get it wrong and react.

I am very lucky to live in an area where there are a number of farms who raise non-corn-fed chickens and pigs. Outside of this area it seems that corn-free chicken and pig feed are unheard of. Here we have two feeds that don’t contain corn available. Both are described on this feed ingredients document from the Seattle Farm Co-op.

I have recently tried some chicken fed one of these “corn free” feeds, Scratch & Peck, and had a reaction. I am pretty sure it was the feed- there are a lot of corny vitamins and additives in it even though there aren’t any literal kernels of corn, so that could be the issue, or it could be a cross contamination thing. I am pretty sure it wasn’t a processing problem. The chicken I eat is fed a corn-free variety from InSeason Farms, but I don’t know which one. Have asked my farmers for details.

I also failed some pork that wasn’t fed actual corn kernels, but was given kitchen scraps as a dietary supplement that likely contained corn, and was fed expired dairy products. Not sure which products exactly, but many brands of sour cream contain corn starch and other dairy products have corny vitamins in them. I also cannot seem to tolerate meat from animals that were fed corn at the beginning of their lives but fed corn free later. Apparently any amount of corn in their diet is a no-go. So for me, my meat can’t even eat “corn lite,” it has to truly be corn free.

Not everyone will be this sensitive- just covering the bases of what is possible here.

Getting a large animal custom processed was beyond me last summer, but since many local farms slaughter and process the chickens themselves, I was able to get several safe chickens. Those ran out around January, though, and then I was down to just eggs for protein. (I haven’t found any beans that I don’t react to yet. Not sure if that is a bean problem or a corn problem.)

As of the last update of this post, I have successfully had chickens, lamb, and beef custom processed. The chickens were processed by the farmers who raised them, while the lamb and the cow were slaughtered by a contractor and then transported to a butcher for portioning out. The beef was dry aged for 14 days before butchering. The lamb was delicious, but also served as a lower-risk test to see if I’d covered all the bases with my instructions than an entire side of beef. The lamb cost me about $575 after the slaughter, transport, cut and wrap fees. I only got a quarter cow for my first beef order and all told it cost me about $560 for 175 lbs of beef. It worked out to about $11.50/lb for the lamb, where you’re usually paying $16-$20/lb in the store, and $3.20/lb for the beef which is a steal for grass fed and finished.

Question List

Here is the list of questions I advise people to ask of potential meat processors. First I have just the questions for copy/pasting. Below that, I’ve gone into each question and my commentary.

Ask First

  1. Who kills the animal and skins it? Then who cuts, and who packages?

Depending on the answer, you may need to ask up to 3 people these questions.

Kill/Slaughter

  1. What do you use to clean your knives, surfaces, and other equipment, including the interior of the truck for transport?
  2. Do you use any kind of antimicrobial wash after skinning?
  3. Do you use a roller brand after skinning?
  4. Are gloves used?

Butcher/cutting

  1. What detergent, soaps, and/or lubricants are used on surfaces, machinery, and cutting implements?
  2. Are gloves used?
  3. Do you dry age or wet age the meat?

If wet aged

  1. Just to double-check, you wet age by putting in the final packaging that you sell the meat in, right?

 

If dry aged

  1. What do you clean your aging locker with?
  2. Do you every apply any antimicrobial solution, brine, or anything else to the meat before or during aging?

Packaging

  1. Are gloves used?
  2. What brand packaging do you use?
  3. Would you be willing to use packaging I provide?
  4. Does the meat come in contact with any other packaging like wax paper?

What should these answers be?

In many cases it will depend on you/your sensitivity. Here are the answers I’m looking for:
Continue reading “Corn-tamination Series: Avoiding Corn in Meat”

Corn Free Medication: Getting Prescriptions Compounded

Compounding pharmacies are pharmacies that get the pure active ingredients for a medication and put them together into custom formulations for you. Since corn products are in so many medications, a compounding pharmacy is often the only way to get a corn-free version of a medication. Rather than repeat good information that’s already been given, I’m going to direct you to an excellent blog post on getting medications compounded corn free and then add my own notes to it:

Getting Medications Compounded on News for Corn Avoiders

My Additional Notes

  • Your doctor may not know how to write a compounding prescription. Here is a link on how to do so to print out. Basically, they need to write “Compounded medication. Free from corn, [other allergens].” Then the *generic* name of the medication, and the amount and prescribing instructions. As long as they write compounded, though, your pharmacy should be able to call them and get any details worked out.
  • Some insurances cover compounding prescriptions with no problems, some won’t cover them at all, and some only cover if the drug is in their formulary, meaning it would normally be a precription. So compounded meds like acetaminophen or Benadryl are often not covered because they are usually over the counter. You’ll just have to talk with your insurance. In general compounding pharmacies do not bill insurance for you, so you do have to pay up front and then submit later.
  • Call several pharmacies until you find one that is willing to work with you. Explain that you need everything done just right because you react to a number of preservatives, excipients, and sweeteners. If they are disbelieving, move on. Ask about whether you can bring in your own filler to use that you know you tolerate, since you may react to all the fillers they use normally. If they are hesitant, move on.
  • Some compounding pharmacies charge more than others. If you have a few that seem like they can work with you, ask them the price for a 90 day supply of the first drug that you want (probably Benadryl, since there is no corn free version available off the shelf) and use that as a comparison point.
  • When you fill your first prescription, less is more. Go small because if you react, the pharmacy will probably not give you your money back. Maybe they will, but I wouldn’t count on it. With compounding unfortunately you can’t really fill just 1 or 2 pills for just a few dollars, as they have to calibrate the machines and all that jazz for 1 pill or for 100. So usually there is a minimum charge for that, and then a discount for quantity. So for example, a 90 day supply may end up being not much more expensive than a 30 day supply, but a 10 day supply could cost the same as a 30 day. Usually the price breaking point where you are paying a decent amount per pill is about 30 days. Or that’s been my experience.
  • If you are getting a capsule with a filler included in addition to the medication, be sure the filler is safe for you. Lots of times pharmacists try to insist that microcrystalline celllulose and lactose monhydrate are corn free. Many corn allergics react to them all the same. (Note: They may also be safe for you, it’s just not impossible to react to them. You will need to make sure.) The gelatin or veggie capsules may be corny, even if the manufacturer states that they are not. If it is possible, see if you can get a sample of the filler and capsules they want to use, without the actual meds, to trial to make sure you tolerate them. If you can’t tolerate any fillers they stock, they should let you bring in your own. Or really just start out with bringing in your own to reduce variables.
  • Many medications can be compounded without a filler. Do that when possible. Benadryl usually requires a filler because the amount of active ingredient needed is too small for the machine to measure. Some pharmacists will hand-stuff the pills without the filler but very very few.
  • If you are someone who is really having a lot of trouble finding a filler you tolerate, due to multiple sensitivities or an extremely sensitive corn allergy, you may need to go to some effort to find a pharmacy who is willing to make some pills for you without filler. Normally for very small doses like 100mg or less (so that would be most antihistamines) people say that a pill “can’t” be made without a filler. What they mean is that it can’t be made EFFICIENTLY. When using a capsule machine, one mixes up enough med+ filler to just exactly fill each capsule with the right dose and then does all the pills at once. If one were to sit there and hand stuff each individual pill, they could do it without the filler. Now finding someone who is willing to do this may be hard, but is technically possible. People have accomplished it. So if you need to, and a

    Here is a youtube video showing how pills are made by one compounder.

  • In addition to the capsules, medication, and filler, watch out for them stuffing cotton into the bottle to keep the pills from rattling around. I swear the cotton my last pharmacy used was corny somehow. Also watch out for whether they ship their meds with packign peanuts in the box. Those are made from corn starch.
  • There are some pharmacies that say they do compounding but do not actually order the pure medications. They get their medications from a distributor that actually already has excipients, fillers, and inactive ingredients in it. McKesson one such company- they distribute powder-form drugs with fillers already in it at specific concentrations, and the fillers are often corny. When you contact a compounding pharmacy make sure that they are getting the PURE medications.
  • Note that some pure medications are corny. Acetaminophen is made with acetic acid, which can be from corn. Antibiotics are cultured on corn sugar. Any mineral that ends with “citrate” or “lactate” will be that mineral + citric acid or lactic acid from corn. If you need the drug you need the drug, but be aware that the pure meds themselves can cause a reaction.

Up to $100 off on EpiPens 2-Packs!

Mylan is offering a “copay card” that can get you $100 off of the copay your EpiPen 2-Pack or EpiPen Jr. 2-Pack prescription. The cash price for each 2-pack is generally in the range of $200-$250, so this is a *significant* savings. The  offer is valid for up to three 2-packs per prescription.

To apply for the card, go to the Copay Card Activation Site,  fill out the form as instructed, and download and print your card. You can then begin using it right away. The card should have instructions for your pharmacist, and a number to call with questions.

Terms and Conditions of the program. 

The press release from Mylan on the program.

The offer expires December 31, 2013!

Making Corn Free Hot Sauce

This will probably never be a recipe blog. I just don’t have enough safe foods to really have what you’d call “recipes.” Most of my meals consist of 3 safe foods prepared very simply, without cooking oils and with minimal spices. My taste buds are kind of broken after a long winter of very few foods I could tolerate, so these days the simplest things just taste wonderful to me. I’m okay with a number of things people find appalling to even consider: salad without dressing (if the ingredients are fresh and quality), cooked lettuce (tastes just like spinach!), food braised in water instead of sauteed in oil, and raw honey eaten by the spoonful as a snack.

But I do like some spice in my life, so of course my first post about food I *do* eat instead of food I *don’t* eat is about hot sauce.  I loooove hot sauce and put it on pretty much everything. The only time I refrain is when a food is still a “trial” item, as one of my first reactions is mouth and tongue burning and hot sauce confuses the issue. The sensation of spice is markedly different from the sensation of tongue swelling/burning, but I prefer to not confuse the issue.

Make sure to use safe-for-you ingredients. Peppers should be unwaxed and unsprayed. Vinegars, citrus juices, and additional vegetables and spices should be tested individually for safety before putting them in the recipe.

This is the first hot sauce I made, and followed the recipe exactly:  How to Make Hot Sauce on Omnomnomicon

It turned out wonderfully, but of course I am allergic to garlic now. Or, I reacted to several garlics, might still be corn. Haven’t checked.

Anyway since then I haven’t even been using a recipe- I chop the heads off of peppers and puree them with a vinegar (I use bragg’s apple cider vinegar and/or my own homemade kombucha vinegar, then heat on the stove for a time, probably 20-30 minutes, maybe longer if I’m getting in to a movie or something. (If you have an open kitchen, do this when it’s okay for the whole house to smell like hot vinegar.)

I taste-check every 10 minutes or so. Do this by dipping one tine of a fork in the sauce and barely licking it. Do NOT take a whole spoonful right away and do NOT stick your face over the pot to smell it. You’ll probably do this at least once without thinking, and regret it. Hot pepper and vinegar fumes are pretty caustic.

It’ll boil down over time, and I just taste and add more vinegar if needed and sort of spice up with whatever tastes good, then boil down more as needed until it tastes right to me. You’re basically trying to really infuse the vinegar with the peppers, then add other flavors and then cook just enough to infuse them without destroying them.

I think last time I added molasses, honey, salt, and a tiny bit of lemon juice at the end. I feel like maybe there was another spice there and that I told someone about it last week and they thought it was ingenious for me to put in hot sauce, but I can no longer remember.

But in general the recipe is very forgiving and you can get away with a LOT of experimentation. If you have a safe oven *, roasting the peppers first is really awesome for making a smokey taste.

Here is a recipe for hot sauce that involves lime juice instead of vinegar. Basically you just need some kind of acid.

*The oven in my rental house was baking corn into everything I made. I tried and tried to clean the death out of it, but eventually I just gave up and bought a really nice toaster oven

Avoiding Another Lean Winter: Planning out Your Schedule for Preserves

Eating corn free generally requires eating seasonally and at least semi-locally. Things that have been transported a long distance, or grown by a large corporate-style farm, generally have corny things done to them. But of course most foods aren’t available locally for the entire year, so you’ve really got to plan ahead to preserve, or you’ll end up with very little to eat.

Folks who are able to eat grocery store produce are in a somewhat better position, but even if you can eat grocery store food right now, I encourage you to at least store a little bit away in case of emergency. Allergic sensitivity can change rapidly.

Last winter I moved into a larger rental house with a big kitchen and lots of storage space in order to accommodate my increased sensitivity to corn, and during the winter a leak in the basement caused mold to run rampant in it. I am allergic to mold, and the exposure brought my histamine levels up so high (we call this a “full bucket” in the allergy world) that I became hypersensitive to the tiniest traces of corn in foods, meaning that I could no longer tolerate a number of foods that I had previously been okay with. Additionally, I developed (or discovered) new allergies to basically most of the winter vegetables. So the foods that I had available to me locally and totally corn-free were all poison for me anyway.

For about 8 weeks I ate literally two foods, without spices or cooking oils. There was actually few days where I started reacting to my two safe foods, too, and just ate small amounts at a time and waited for the throat constricting to pass before eating some more.

After I figured out about the mold and shut it away from the rest of the house, I was able to add a couple more foods back: Organic lettuce from the grocery store, local unwaxed apples, even some big-box organic berries. Not all brands of course, just a specific one.

But now that summer is here, there are all *kinds* of foods I can eat, and I intend to make sure that I have *plenty* put away to get me through the barren months of winter. And being the Type A personality that I am, I made a spreadsheet with fancy formulas to help me calculate how much I need to preserve each week.

I’ve made this sheet available as a google doc, so you can take advantage of my formulas. Hope it’s useful!

Food Preservation Planning Worksheet

This year I think I am mostly freezing stuff. I can and have done water-bath canning, but I honestly just don’t *like* doing it much. I also have a pressure canner for low-acid things like meat, but haven’t figured out how to use it yet. I have two 5-cubic-foot freezers, but I’m doing a *huge* meat order this summer now that I have some safe sources worked out, so those may fill up fast. Maybe I’ll have to can more.

My tolerated foods can be something of a moving target: I have discovered  a few new food allergies over time, and  also I will sometimes notice build-up reactions to foods that are ever-so-slightly corny and have to cut them. So rather than cooking entire recipes to preserve, I tend to try to store single ingredients without spices as much as possible. This helps cut down on the possibility of having to feed 20 pints of chicken stock to my non-allergic boyfriend just because I’m no longer tolerating a spice in it. Instead I cook the chicken down without even salt and add spices later.

Don’t know what’s in season in your area when? Here’s one way to find out. There may be better charts out there for your area, but that has all the states in the US pretty well covered.

New to the idea of eating locally/seasonally? Here’s a great intro article to get you acclimatized, with links to more resources.

On having an “invisible” illness.

Not all allergic reactions are visible. In fact the worst and most dangerous of my allergic reactions are *not* visible, because they involve the inside of my throat and mouth, my lungs, and my brain. You can’t see any of those things, but I will stop breathing all the same.

Many folks I know who have life-threatening allergic reactions experience only neurological or gastrointestinal symptoms which are in fact incredibly dangerous if allowed to continue, but not in any way visible. Getting people to understand what they go through and believe that the precautions they take are necessary and not just paranoid or attention-seeking is incredibly difficult in that kind of situation. Even well-meaning and otherwise reasonable loved ones will often conclude hypochondria, except that it *isn’t* hypochondria if you are actually sick!

Once upon a time, three years ago now, I had a severe and visible allergic reaction to the tiniest trace of corn derivative. It actually didn’t turn out to be that dangerous (never progressed into any internal issues), but it *could* have. At the time I took pictures because I thought it was weird and actually kind of hilarious in a sick way, but it turned out to be a very good way to get people to understand that yes, this allergy is real, and yes, it is possible to be *that* sensitive.

angioedema

If you or a loved one are an allergy sufferer, and have a visible reaction, I highly encourage you to document. Obviously do what you need to do to assure your safety first, but get pictures if you possibly can. It may come in handy later.

Corn Free Travel: To Baltimore and Back Again

Subtitle: Traveling When You are Allergic to the World

When you say something like, “I really hope I survive this trip I’m taking,” people assume it is hyperbole. I mean sure, we could all be hit by a car or struck by falling airplane shrapnel at any second, but in general, for *most* people, the actual possibility of death due to circumstances completely beyond our control is not a reality.

But when you have an anaphylactic and highly sensitive allergy to something that is found in body and personal care products, laundry products, water treatment chemicals, sanitizers, cleaners, fuels, and antimicrobial agents, it’s actually *not* hyperbole. I haven’t yet had an anaphylactic reaction to airborne–versus ingested–corn, but I’ve definitely had severe enough reactions (tongue and lip swelling) to demonstrate that it’s a possibility. So yes, I could literally die due to what someone else is releasing into the air via machinery or aerosol. That could realistically happen.

It’s pretty heavy when you really think about it, and I have no advice for coping with the weight of that. I just mostly do what I have to do and try not to think about it. I have my precautions in place as far as taking preventative medications and carrying emergency medications and gear on my person at all times and hope for the best. Once the precautions are in place, I mostly cope by just pretending it’s not happening.

I do well enough most days. There are a lot of things I’m not able to do anymore that I used to be able to, such as eating in restaurants or drinking in bars, and while I’m not happy about that, there really isn’t much to be done so I don’t see much of a point in complaining about it. I just do what I have to do.

As much as this allergy has shaped my life, I still don’t have to be entirely defined by it. I still have my hobbies and my career, at least mostly. Researching my health issues to figure out the next step to take takes up more of my time than I’d like, and I honestly can’t focus on work 24/7 the way I used to, and I can’t go out to lunch or happy hour with my coworkers or potential employers, so networking gets a little awkward. But I’m doing okay so far, for the most part.

One of my hobbies in the past has involved world travel for specific events related to my music fandom. In particular, I have gone to the same music festival in downtown Baltimore, Maryland every Memorial Day weekend since 2010. I started making plans for the 2013 festival almost as soon as I returned from the last one in 2012 . This year the possibility of being able to make the trip safely was looking pretty slim, though. I started getting more sensitive to traces of corn in food right after I returned from the festival last summer, and by midwinter I was reacting to more foods than I didn’t, and even reacting to *water*. I was unsure as to how I could possibly navigate a cross-country trip safely.

But you know, I’m pretty stubborn and pretty resourceful, and this was really important to me. So I made it happen. Here’s a breakdown of the challenges involved for me.

Continue reading “Corn Free Travel: To Baltimore and Back Again”

Preventing and Treating Allergic Reactions:

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How I Treat Reactions

Updated 12/2017:  I’ve edited this a bit to be more generalized because my specific methods have had to change due to my MCAS and G6PDD. 

Obviously I do my best to make safe decisions and not react. That’s what this blog is all about. But there are circumstances out of my control pretty often, especially since I have dangerous reactions to airborne corn, and honestly yeah, I do just screw up. My diet is pretty limited right now so I *have* to try new things. I am usually very careful and when a food fails I only deal with a very mild reaction before I call it quits, but sometimes I mess up, and sometimes the food is SO corny that trying only small amount causes a major reaction.

Here are some general things to try if you do react. This is loosely based on The Mastocytosis Society protocol, which even though it is for mast cell disease, can easily be applied to “regular” allergic reactions as well.

Note that all of my medications need to be compounded. This is due to corn derivatives found in many premade medications. Manufacturers and pharmacies may say that these derivatives cannot cause a corn reaction because the “proteins have been processed out”, but it has been demonstrated by those with corn allergies over and over that they DO react to these derivatives. Further, cross contamination during manufacture can cause an issue for the most sensitive even if the ingredients themselves are not sourced from corn. Add in multiple sensitivities, and you will probably have a very hard time with most excipients and inactive ingredients in medications. Here’s more info on how to find out the inactive ingredients in your meds.

The “magic formula” for treating reactions is:

  • An H1 antihistamine.  First generation antihistamines such as benadryl, or hydroxyzine would be the best bet for a strong reaction or a reaction involving neurological or mood changes, since these cross the blood-brainb arrier.  Typical is 25-50 mg for both. The max dose for hydroxyzine is higher than benadryl, but benadryl has some qualities that make it the prime choice for a reaction if it can be tolerated. More information on getting corn-free benadryl. Second generation antihistamines such as ceterizine (zyrtec), levocetirizine (xyzal), fexofenadine (allegra) may be a good choice for a less strong reaction
  • An H2 inhibitor, such as ranitidine (zantac) or famotidine (pepcid). This increases the effectiveness of the H1.
  • A mast cell stabillizer, such as cromolyn sodium or quercetin.  This *may* help prevent rebound reactions.
  • A steroid, such as methylprednisolone, prednisone, or dexmethasone. These should be used rarely and sparingly as side effects such as Addison’s disease and Cushing’s syndrome are a very real risk with steroid use.

Important: If you are having an anaphylactic reaction, simply taking these meds is not enough.  No antihistamine will stop anaphylaxis once it starts. The only thing that treats anaphylaxis is epinephrine. It is common hospital practice to adminster benadryl and “wait and see,” but this is NOT the correct treatment and can and has led to deaths.

If you are in doubt, epi. If you epi, always go to the hospital. 

Mayo Clinic Article on how to treat anaphylaxis


Manitoba, Canada public health department info in treating anaphylaxis

A Simple handout on how to recognize and treat anaphylaxis

An overview of the effects of anaphylaxis on the body

Rebound Reactions

When you have an allergic reaction, your body is flooded with histamines which run around creating inflammation all over your body. The actual symptoms of the reactions are due to your various cells’ response to the histamine. Antihistamines like benadryl simply block the receptors on your various cells that would notice and respond to the histamine. That means that when they wear off, if there is still histamine in your system, your cells will start responding again. This is known as a rebound.

I don’t have any scientific evidence of this, but it seems logical that a mast cell stabilizer may help to reduce the chance of a rebound reaction. Mast cell stabilizers actually help prevent the release of histamine in the first place, which *should* help prevent rebound reactions as the antihistamines wear off. I have noticed that it helps me.

Detoxing

After a reaction it will usually take me at least a day to recover, sometimes up to 10 days if it was a bad one. If I had to epi and go to the ER, I could be toxxed out for *weeks*. My tongue will burn every time I eat something and I will just feel like I’m mild-to-medium reacting constantly, or about to react. I call it “feeling full-buckety.” There’s no real cure for this other than time and lots of water, but there are a few things I do to help move the toxins out of my system faster.

How I Detox After A Reaction

  •  Bentonite clay baths or foot soaks in clay from Living Clay Company. I have only tried the pure bentonite clay (sold as the “detox clay powder”) and not any other products. I am on their mailing list and wait until they have free shipping promotions and then order large quantities at a time. I rarely have time for a full bath but I find that the foot soaks are 80% as effective as a full bath and easy to do often.
  • Bentonite Clay taken internally, with LOTS of water, to help absorb toxins/allergens and move them through the system faster.  I find this works better than activated charcoal at detoxing after a reaction, but I am mentioning both options.
  • Activated Charcoal, taken internally, for the same purpose as the bentonite clay. Again, lots of water to flush it through your system!  I am no longer recommending a specific brand of activated charcoal because the manufacturers keep changing what they do. You’ll need to do some research and find something that works for you.
  • Epsom salt baths and foot soaks- I am sulfur sensitive so I don’t do this anymore but it does help many. Dr Teal’s  unscented epsom salts are available at Kroger, Costco, Target, and on Amazon, and are safe for most.

A Note on Prevention

As i mentioned, antihistamines block the receptors that stimulate your mast cells to release histamines. Therefore blocking those receptors does not reduce the histamines already in your system, nor does it stop the inflammatory processes already happening from histamines that have already found a cell to stimulate. Thus it is better used to *prevent* reactions. Obviously avoiding triggers is the best bet, but something else I do is to take both antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers in advance when I know I am going into a dicey situation. Now, I don’t mean that I take antihistamines and then eat something bad. That’s stupid and dangerous. I just mean that if I think I am going somewhere where I could have an airborne exposure, (like Costco on a weekend when all the food samples are out)  or if I am in a situation where small children will be climbing all over me and possibly trying to stick hands and objects in my mouth, I take some appropriate precautions.

Before I go in to a potentially allergenic situation, I take:

  • 5 mg levocetrizine (xyzal)
  • 150mg zantac

I can still take up to 100mg of hydroxyzine on top of this. (It’s very sedating so I stick with 50mg or less typically). I avoid benadryl due to g6pdd one could also take up to 50mg of benadryl as well.

A Note on Zantac: Antacids to treat allergic reactions??!

When I have gone to the ER for an allergic reaction, they have given me two intravenous injections: Benadryl (diphenhydramine), and Zantac (ranitidine). The first time I got an injection of Zantac, I was totally confused. Isn’t that a medication for acid reflux?

Well, yes it is, but the mechanism by which it does that is by blocking (antagonizing) histamine receptors.  Compare to proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec (omeprazole).  Prilosec actually stops the production of stomach acid, while Zantac stops the signals for gastric acid secretion *and* allergic reactions from being noticed.

H1 and H2 blockers taken together are significantly more effective in treating an allergic reaction than either one taken on their own. 

Because of this, a number of folks with anaphylactic food allergies take a daily preventative H1 and H2 blocker.  I’m one of them. I don’t hope to be on this kind of medication for the rest of my life. For one thing, H2 blockers have a number of effects on vitamin and mineral absorption over the long timer, including interfering with absorption of vitamin B12. Also, taking drugs just masks symptoms, and I’d much rather find the cause of the problem and heal. But I’m totally okay with doing it right now to reduce the possibility of a life-threatening reaction.

Daily Medications- when you can’t avoid your allergens

I encourage you to avoid all of the allergens you can avoid. But if you can’t, such as if your allergens are in the air, it may be wise to take medication daily to help reduce the possibility of a severe/anaphylactic reaction from an unexpected exposure.

Typical daily allergy meds are:

  • A non-drowsy H1 antihistamine such as levocetirizine (xyzal), cetirizine (zyrtec), fexofenadine (allegra), or loratadine (claritin). In many cases, you can actually safely take more than the label recommended amount of these meds. Check with your pharmacist.
  • An h2 antihistamine such as ranitidine (zantac) or famotidine (pepcid).
  • A mast cell stabilizer such as quercetin, nettle, or cromolyn sodium.

The only pharmaceutical medication I currently use daily is a prescription mast cell stabilizer, antihistamine, and leukotrine inhibiter called ketotifen fumarate. It helps me so much that I’ve quit taking the cromolyn and don’t need any other daily antihistamines. Ketotifen does have some side effects, including sedation and weight gain, so it is not a first choice medication for me for those reasons. However it has really allowed me  more freedom to exist in the world without fearing for my life from a reaction to what someone else decides to eat or wear.

During heavy environmental allergy season, I also take:

  • 10mg levocetirizine (xyzal), compounded in a gelatin capsule daily.
  • 150mg ranitidine, compounded in a gelatin capsule, no filler, twice daily

If I am traveling or know I will be exposed to a lot of triggers, I go ahead and take a prophylactic hydroxyzine in the morning and at night. The hydroxyzine is compounded and I take 25mg at the same time as the ranitidine, morning and night.  More if needed. More on what I do when I travel.

About getting Xyzal compounded.

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Where’s the Corn in Non-Food Products?

Last updated: June 2, 2013

This research was originally done by the creator of the blog called Hidden Corn. This blog is no longer maintained as the author  was no longer keeping up on the newest developments. I wanted it to remain available for people, so I took the data over and am soliciting help from a trusted friend to keep it up to date. We are making changes and additions as we note missing or outdated information.  Please comment or email me at cornallergygirl@gmail.com  if you see anything that is incorrect, or any broken links.

3D PRINTER INK: The two available “inks” for 3D printers are ABS and PLA. PLA is polylactic acid, made from corn starch.

ADHESIVES / GUMMED PAPERS: The adhesive can be derived from corn.

ART SUPPLIES: Especially those geared towards kids, can contain corn-based ingredients, as these are generally considered to be a low allergy-risk (ha!) and non-toxic, as compared to petroleum-based ingredients. (source: News for Corn Avoiders)

BALLOONS: Can contain a dusting of cornstarch inside to keep the balloon from sticking to itself. (source: News for Corn Avoiders)

BEACH BALLS: Can contain a dusting of cornstarch inside to keep the ball from sticking to itself. (source: News for Corn Avoiders)

CARDBOARD: Many corrugated cardboards contain corn in some form or fashion. Keep in mind things like kids’ playhouses can sometimes include, or be made entirely of, corrugated cardboard. (source: News for Corn Avoiders)

Continue reading “Where’s the Corn in Non-Food Products?”

Where’s the Corn in Medical Supplies and Equipment?

Last updated:February 2017

This research was originally done by the creator of the blog called Hidden Corn. This blog is no longer maintained as the author  was no longer keeping up on the newest developments. I wanted it to remain available for people, so I took the data over and am soliciting help from a trusted friend to keep it up to date. We are making changes and additions as we note missing or outdated information.  Please comment or email me at cornallergygirl@gmail.com  if you see anything that is incorrect, or any broken links.

Do your legwork, people! Do it BEFORE you need medical care. And do your darndest to ensure you have someone who will advocate for you in those medical situations in which you are unable to advocate for yourself — this should be someone who is not timid about questioning medical care providers and who knows (for example) you need a saline IV rather than a glucose or dextrose IV and so forth.

Hospital And Medical Safety with a Corn Allergy

Emergency Room Safety with a Corn Allergy

ADHESIVES: Many corn allergics react to adhesives. I’m missing a source on why this is, but it’s been reported many times. If you need to avoid adhesives don’t claim it’s due to corn allergy, simply say that you have an adverse reaction to many adhesives.

ANTIBIOTICS: Corn is almost always the growth medium. There isn’t any avoiding this. If you need antibiotics, you’ll have to simply medicate to avoid a severe reaction.  Typical pre-medication would be an H1 antihistamine such as benadryl, an H2 antihistamine such as zantac or pepcid, and perhaps a prophylactic steroid. (Make sure you have corn free versions of all these!)  When taking any medication, you need to determine what the inactive ingredients are and from what they’re derived to choose something that is as corn-free as possible.  If you have time, it may be best to have your medications compounded to be as corn free as possible. Another option may be to use the intravenous version and that has a corn free ingredients list. Cross reference with the corn derivatives list  Keep in mind that even if the ingredients “look safe” you may still react to consider asking to trial a small amount of the medication before doing a full dose.

BODY BAGS: Can be made from corn. (source: Corn-Free Lifestyle)

BLOOD BAGS/BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS: Contain corn-based anticoagulants, specifically dextrose and citric acid. (2) If you need a blood transfusion, you need to medicate with a steroid, an h1 antihistamine such as benadryl, and an h2 anithistamine such as zantac or pepcid.  More info on premedication in my Hospital Safety post.

BLOOD PRESSURE CUFFS: Some folks report skin reactions due to the sanitizers used on these between patients. Bring the sleeve of an old t-shirt to put between you and the cuff if you have the presence of mind or have them take your BP over your shirt if you have sleeves on.

CT SCAN CONTRAST: The contrast solution, if flavored, will probably contain corn derivatives. Look for a contrast with the least amount of ingredients possible (will probably be unflavored), to be mixed in plain water. Ingredients should also be checked for IV contrasts. Note: reactions to CT contrast are common even in people without allergies, so radiologists may be more likely to understand concerns about reactions and have a protocol should you react.

DENTAL VISITS:  Pretty much all of the products used at a dental visit can be corny, from the medications and products themselves to the paper and gloves used for sanitation. Dental health is very important though, and many many corn allergics have managed safe dental care.  More on corn free dental care: Corn Allergy Safety at the Dentist.

FLUIDOTHERAPY / HAND THERAPY:  The cellulose used in Fluidotherapy machines used by some hand therapists is made from ground corn cobs. 

HAND SANITIZER: Almost all hand sanitizer contains ethanol from corn, and even not very sensitive people will have airborne reactions to corn-derived ethanol. Hand sanitizers also frequently contain scents which can be a concern for corn or chemical sensitivity. They will also contain inactive ingredients  that are often from corn such as glycerin that may cause a contact reaction if someone touches you after using it.  If staff insists on using hand sanitizer near you ask them to wear (powder free) gloves afterwards.

HAND SOAP: Almost all liquid hand soaps contain glycerin which may be from corn as well as citric acid and other ingredients commonly derived from corn. If you are skin-reactive, you may have a contact reaction to someone touching you who has used these soaps, or if you are highly airborne reactive you may have issues breathing near someone who has used them. Here is one example ingredients list from an antimicrobial soap used in surgical settings.

GLOVES: Powdered surgical and exam gloves are often powdered with corn starch. Effective Jan 19, 2017 the US FDA has banned the sale and use of powdered surgical and exam gloves, so that’s good news for us corn allergy sufferers. It make take some time for full compliance, and non-medical settings may still make use of them.

INTRAVENOUS SOLUTIONS: Lactated Ringers’ solution contains sodium lactate, which is made from lactic acid. Lactic acid isn’t *always* fermented on corn sugar but several of the major distributors of the product do use corn sugar. Given the volume of production of sodium lactate for medical purposes I doubt there’d be a way to know for sure which supplier the lactic acid came from. Additionally dextrose/glucose is often added to intravenous solutions and injectables. Ask for a saline IV fluid.  If you are inpatient, consider making signs to hang on the IV stand stating no lactated ringers and no dextrose as nurses will not always check your charts at shift change or will mix you up with other patients. Realize that the nurses may still not read the IV stand and remind them. Train an advocate such as a family member or close friend before you need one to help remind them!

NON-MEDICINAL INGREDIENTS aka Preservatives and Excipients: Go HERE to read an excellent article about corn derivatives used in non-medicinal ingredients. The article was in the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia’s May/June 2007 newsletter; it may be an older newsletter, but the information is still extremely applicable!

MEDICATIONS: Inactive ingredients of pills, injections, and topical products may contain corn. Get package inserts and compare the active and inactive ingredients with the corn derivative list. Finding the Inactive Ingredients of Medications.  In many cases you may need to have a medication custom made to be corn free. This is called “compounding.” Getting Medications Compounded. Finding a Compounding Pharmacy.

PREFILLED SALINE FLUSHES for IV lines and catheters contain a preservative. Staff needs to get a vial of plain saline and draw it into a syringe and use that to flush your line.

SANITIZERS: I don’t have a source on why anti-microbial floor and surface cleaners in hospitals seem to be a concern for people who are airborne reactive to corn, but reports from the corn allergy community, and my personal experience show that they are. Some contain ethanol from corn, some don’t. It may be that corn allergics are often also chemically sensitive. All I know is that even when I can’t smell any cleaners in hospitals, I react the entire time I’m inside on just from breathing the air, and many other airborne-reactive corn allergics experience the same. I wear a carbon filter mask, and if in-patient, ask for them to only mop the floor in my room with water. I also bring in a HEPA filter for my room and run that and put a sign on the door to keep the door closed at all times, even if just coming in for a second.

SUTURES: Absorbable sutures may be made from PLA or polylactic acid, which is frequently made from corn.  I am told some non-dissolvable sutures may be dusted with corn starch, although I have no source to prove this. I have also heard reports of those with corn allergies reacting to sutures that should be corn-free, so exercise caution.

SYNTHETIC INGREDIENTS: If you are attempting to determine the source of an ingredient and are told it’s “synthetic,” don’t let that be the end of the line in your questioning or you will be taking a risk that your medication might contain a corny ingredient. See if you can find out which raw ingredients are used in the chemical process that creates the synthetic ingredient.

TUBING FOR OXYGEN MASKS: You may react, I don’t know if this is  corn starch dusting or what. Ask to have them wiped or rinsed with water.

TONGUE DEPRESSORS: Can be made from corn. (source: Corn-Free Lifestyle)