Living with a corn allergy often feels like you’re living with a walking bomb, just waiting to be set off. But when it comes to life with kids, there are certain risks you might not otherwise even think about. Whether your child is the one with the corn allergy, or you are, the risk of exposure is there. Even if you know not to eat the offending product, touching your face or sweeping the hair out of your eyes (and then getting your hair in your mouth…something you don’t even think about) can be enough to “get” you.
A list of potential risks:
Baby Wipes (often used for quick “hand washing” after a messy activity.)
Balloons (May be dusted on the inside with corn starch. Use caution when blowing them up)
Crayons (Binder may be corn derived, the molds they are made in may be dusted with corn starch, imbedding corn starch into the crayons, the paper on the crayons may use a corn based adhesive.)
Facial Tissues (some are dusted with cornstarch. Offer to donate some boxes that are safe. Scott’s Tissue is one corn free brand)
Finger paints (Preschools love to use food as finger paint. There are pudding, kool aide and egg based finger paints.)
Oobleck or Gloop: This is a compound made by mixing corn starch and water. It is super cool to play in and has many merits as a chemistry lesson. It is not a good tactile experience for someone with corn allergies, or for a volunteer parent with corn allergies to help mix. Cornstarch is easily airborne, and can be inhaled through the mouth triggering allergic reactions.)
Paper mache (watch out for the glue solution used in the project, as well as the balloons that need to be blown up)
Plaster of paris projects (the mixture may contain corn derivatives. Especially be careful during the mixing process, as the dry mix becomes airborne)
Plastic toys: Soft plastic toys are often coated with somethng to keep them from sticking to the package, or to keep them soft and pliable. This substance is always non-toxic, but could cause an allergic reaction...and could be derived from corn. So far, companies have responded to our inquiries that they use a proprietary formula and can not reveal the ingredients, nor confirm or deny the presence of corn. So consumer beware. If you or your child experience an allergic reaction to a new toy, you can contact the manufacturer to report it and they will arrange for a full refund of the purchase price.
Play dough (may contain corn. Many clays do, whether they are home made or store bought. Ascertain the ingredients if the class makes their own or contact the company.)
Shaving Cream (This is used as a finger paint and sometimes to clean tables)
Its also important, as a parent, to know when food or food products might be used as a part of the curriculum or classroom activities.
Parties are obviously risky, and it is wise to make sure your child has safe treats on hand in the classroom, as well as a plan in place for the teacher to notify you in case of any upcoming birthdays; so that your child can be provided with a comparable cookie or cupcake.
The most popular party themes are: Halloween (a corn allergy nightmare in and of itself) Thanksgiving feasts (cornbread, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and eggnog are popular offerings) Christmas (Gingerbread houses, decorating cookies, and candy handouts are common throughout the Christmas season), Valentines day (a lot of schools embrace non religious holidays as “universally” celebrated and go all out with parties and candy and projects), St Patricks day (Yeah, I know, the first big St Pattys day celebration was a shock to me, too, but there are leprechaun hunts, golden candy coins, shamrock cookies, “green” themed parties (with lime jello, green punch, green popsicles, etc); Easter (Some schools still have Easter parties, including candy filled egg hunts, decorating eggs or egg shaped cookies etc. There are also “Spring themed” parties where kids decorate cupcakes or cookies with cornstarch thickened frosting and all manner of corn sweetened candies) End of school brings more parties. Many schools also use pizza or ice cream parties as incentives for class accomplishments. Usually parents are notified, but sometimes as little as a nights notice is given. Field trips can also involve food (a trip to the pizza parlor, for example)
Certain curriculum themes lend themselves well to food manipulatives as well. The gingerbread Boy, Hansel and Gretel, Johnny Appleseed and The Mayflower are just a few examples of food friendly curriculum.
As a parent of a food allergic child, you should be prepared to volunteer a lot of time in the classroom to keep your child safe. Asking to be “room mother” gives you a lot of control over party planning. As a food allergic parent, its just as vital to know when *not* to volunteer. Its really hard to walk away when asked to mix up a big batch of Oobleck or to blow up a half dozen balloons, but your health depends on it. (And no, just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you should be a martyr to your kids. They need you to drive them home after school!)
Our society tends to revolve around food. As a parent you can help to make a shift to healthier parties, donating books instead of cookies for birthdays and other new traditions that may not be popular at first. But, other parents will follow and support you. Its not easy to be different, but it’s a lot easier to handle when you are well, and its easiest to stay well (and keep your kids healthy) if you know what to expect.