Thursday, March 4, 2010

STOP! Don't EAT that LATEX!

For years I have fought the battle of latex allergy. The medical professionals say up to 10% of the US population who wear latex on a regular basis may develop this devastating affliction.

What astounds me most is how naive many of the food service establishments still are when it comes to latex allergy. Hospitals nationwide have switched to a safer form of glove use to protect themselves and patients, and it is now rare to find a hospital using latex on a daily basis. But, the food service industry still acts much like an ostrich with its head in the proverbial sand (if they don't see the widespread reach of latex allergy, they won't be affected. Hmmpf!).

Yet, I didn't get latex allergy because I worked in the health-care industry. I was never an RN or a doctor, nor did I ever wear latex gloves on my hands on a regular basis (which is how most people believe latex allergy develops).

For some people, the exposure comes from partaking of latex on a regular basis, which is what happens whenever you eat at a restaurant, cafe or bistro where the workers wear latex gloves on their hands. I've had latex allergy for over 20 years. I don't need a scientific researcher to tell me that when latex touches my food, particles of latex can transfer onto the food. It's called cross-contamination. The anaphylaxis I've had eight times told me that much. Now, I avoid latex like a plague.

My plea to you is this: STOP! Don't EAT that LATEX! Don't risk developing latex allergy yourself because you are ingesting latex every time you eat in a food service establishment where the workers wear latex gloves when they prepare the food. Up to 10% of you (that's 1 in every 10 people) may develop latex allergy because of it!

STOP! Ask the restaurant, cafe, diner, bistro (etc.) where you plan to eat whether or not they wear latex gloves when they prepare their food. If the answer is yes, tell them why you won't eat there, then DON'T eat there! If enough of us adopt a latex-free attitude, fewer of us will develop latex allergy. And, soon more food service establishments will switch from latex to latex-FREE! In my opinion, going latex-free is every bit as important as going green, perhaps moreso because it just may save your life.

In the USA, there are states that regulate latex use in the food service industry. Many states recommend a safer alternative, some states have initiated a Latex Awareness Program, but Oregon has adopted the strictest ban against latex use in the food service industry to date. I have traveled the USA extensively and have found many states are woefully unaware of their potential for causing latex allergy events. Washington State, where I live, unfortunately has made little effort to protect employees or consumers from latex exposure (nor have several other states). Even NIOSH recommends a safer alternative in the food service industry than latex.

Unfortunately, many do not heed the warnings.

However, some do. I walked into a grocery store in Maine a few years back and asked if the meat department wore latex gloves when handling their meat. I was told, "Are you kidding? Latex kills people." Bravo!

Many food chains provide latex-free gloves for their employees, some of these include Applebees, Dennys, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, McDonald's, Burger King, etc. Also, many food manufacturing firms (perhaps 70%) wear a safer alternative than latex. So, the word is spreading . . . but not fast enough.

Now, it's up to the consumer. When people refuse to eat where latex gloves are used, restaurateurs will soon get the message and switch to something safer. I hope they do so before many are sued. There have been employees who developed latex allergy because an uninformed employer provided latex gloves on a regular basis. Some of these lawsuits have granted extraordinarily high compensation to the employees who sued.

Remember, as many as one in every ten people may develop latex allergy if exposed to latex on a regular basis. Please, please don't be one of them. It's simple, really. Just don't eat that latex!