Monday, May 25, 2009

Cake Wreck

I read somewhere online this weekend that for people with allergies, reading labels is as natural as buckling a seat belt when you get into a car.


On Thursday, I grabbed the cake mix and with my 2 youngest boys, began making a cake for my husband's birthday. They had a blast. I let them lick the mixer paddle. After I spooned the cake mix into the cake pan, I gave both of them spatula's and let them scrape out the bowl. My youngest has an intense appetite for sweets, so he wasn't going to stop until every last bit was gone from the bowl. My other son, David, decided he had had enough. I didn't give that a second thought. It isn't unusual for my 3rd son to continue on beyond a reasonable amount of sugar.

I took pictures of my kids making Daddy's cake. These pictures make me cringe now.

A few minutes later, David told me his throat was scratchy. I didn't give it much of a thought. I was busy cleaning the kitchen mess and David has seasonal allergies (we give him daily doses of Zyrtec this time of year). I suggested he get some water. I provided him with a glass of water. He drank it down pretty quickly. He said his throat felt scratchy when he swallowed. Still, I did not think about his peanut allergy.

Within minutes, as I continued to clean the kitchen, I noticed that David was laying down on the couch. That was noticeably unusual behavior. I went over to him to check on him. I asked if he was okay. Then, I noticed the hives on his mouth.

I got him up off the couch "So I could look at the itchy bumps on his face." I brought him outside in the sun so I could see his hives clearer.

My 1st reaction was to call my husband and grab the Benedryl. I gave David Benedryl. My husband said he was leaving work immediately.

I noticed David's bottom lip was red.

He said his bottom lip really itched. It was red and beginning to swell.

David wanted more water. He asked if I was going to take him to the doctor.

I called my husband. I asked him if he thought I should give David the Epipen or take him to the hospital. He said that he was more than half way home. I should keep watching David and he would be home pretty quick.

David told me that his throat was hurting constantly except when he swallowed water.

I called my husband back. I walked away from David. I told him about David's throat. I told him I was freaking out. I told him that the hives were going away but that David was really complaining about his throat. He said he thought I should wait and that he would be there in a matter of minutes.

By the time my husband got home, the hives were gone. David's lip was still red and it was still itchy but my husband couldn't tell noticeable swelling. David's throat was still hurting but he said it was getting better.

My husband called our allergist. First, he talked to the nurse. By the time the allergist called us back, David's symptoms were almost gone. The allergist said, if it has been an hour and half and his symptoms are gone, we did not need to do anything different. He said that what we did was "okay" but we should not ever hesitate to give the Epipen. He asked if we had ever let him eat cookie or cake batter before. We eat dough fairly often (we all love cookie dough here). He said it was definitely not an egg allergy (David was allergic to eggs as an infant but outgrew that by age 2).

Within two hours of eating the cake batter, David was totally fine.

I was not.

The cake mix that we used was Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Classic White Cake mix. It does not have peanuts or peanut flour listed in the ingredients. It only lists "Soy, Milk, Wheat" as allergens.

My husband did an Internet search on the mix and peanut allergies. He found other reports of allergic reactions to the cake from children with peanut allergies.

I was a wreck that night. There was irony in my day. That very morning I had emailed a friend about how we read cake mix labels (because we were talking about parties). That night, I found my Beyond a Peanut Flashcards in the mail that I won during the Food Allergy Twitter party. (By the way, these cards are wonderfully educational. They describe, quite accurately, the symptoms my son experienced.)

I spent the weekend bouncing between feeling extremely defeated (because the labeling failed me) and feeling extremely angry. I couldn't place my anger or decide who or what I was angry at. But, I was, indeed, very angry. I tried spending time on allergy websites. Everything says READ LABELS.

I called Duncan Hines. The cake mix is made by a third party manufacturer (which they cannot give me the location or name of). They are assured by this company that the product is made on a dedicated line (though there may be peanut products at the same plant). The DH representative called me back after my initial contact to make sure I knew they are in compliance with the law. Peanut is not listed on the box because it is not an ingredient and they have documentation from the company that the mix is not on a shared line. They are in compliance with the law.

Just an FYI: As I understand it, the law does not require allergen statements such as, "Made in a factory that produces peanuts" or "May contain peanuts".

I was told I would hear from Duncan Hines again.

In the meantime, we made a cake from scratch on Friday and celebrated my husband's birthday.

I continue to struggle.

I will continue to press on (and make more of my baked goods from scratch). I will continue to read labels. I will continue pray for the safety of my son. And, if anything like this happens again, both my husband and I will not take a chance on time. We will not wait- we will give my son his Epipen right away.


Reading labels is as second nature to me as putting on a seat belt.
The sad fact is, even with a seat belt, accidents happen. Cars still crash.
Labels are not full-proof. This is a harsh reality for me but I will still do everything I can to protect my son.


Kimberly said...

oh JA! I'm so, so sorry for this horrific event that really marred such a time of celebration for your family. thank you for sharing your story and experience even though its painful and hard to "relive". i'm sure that this will help us all be a little bit more aware of reading the labels and doing everything in our power to keep David safe!!!

Elaine at Matters of the Heart) said...

My heart goes out to you on this one. Something we all pray never happens. I am so glad David is okay. Another valuable lesson for us all, just sorry you had to go through it.

9to5to9 said...

How horrible for your entire family! My hat's off to you for posting it so quickly. We had one close call with anaphylaxis when my oldest was 10 months old. He'll be 6 in July and it took me until last week to write about it.

I checked my cabinet just now, and it's only by pure dumb luck that there's no Duncan Hines. I stock up when cake mix is on sale, and Duncan Hines hasn't been on sale when I've needed to reload. I use Pillsbury and Betty Crocker and I remember googling both brands before I had the nerve to try cake mix. We have an egg allergy as well, so I was more concerned about that than peanut after an egg contamination warning showed up on cake flour.

It's a good reminder, though, for me to search again periodically because these things can change, whether or not they show up on a label.

And it's also a good reminder to do what I vowed to do in the beginning: Stay away from manufactured food as much as possible. I've gotten "lazy" in the past few weeks and have actually bought bread, but this might be my wake-up call.

Please do keep us posted about anything else you hear from Duncan Hines!

Carrie said...

Wow, I'm so sorry that you both had to go through this because of failed labels...something you could not have known! THat is so scary! I didn't realize the Epipen could be used no matter what, either...that is comforting to know that you can't go wrong with that! Glad he is okay and you were quick to catch his symptoms! THey are such sweethearts! Hope you still had a great birthday celebration...and hopefully new labeling becomes law on that issue!

Unknown said...

I got goosebumps reading your post because we've been there too. It is horrible to watch your child have an allergic reaction. Your relief, as well as the anger, are perfectly natural responses afterward.

One thing that helped me was a conversation with our local ambulance. They told me not to ever hesitate to call them- that's what they're there for. They said they could be at our house in minutes and monitor the reaction.

Also, our allergist has said, "If you think you need to use an Epi-Pen, use it".

Take care!

everydayMOM said...

I know that was so awful, but I always think that those close calls are meant to prepare me so I will know what to do in future.

I won't ever buy Duncan Hines again! Oh my!!! SOOOOO scary!

We had a really close call like that one time and the allergist told us we SHOULD have used the epi-pen. I will know what to do next time.

I have also heard that if a child ingests something with peanuts, they can have a reaction HOURS later when it gets into the system. I don't know if this is true, but just more info to store away for future reference.

SOOOOOO glad your son is OK!

McCrakensx4 said...

I don't think I could ever imagine that. I hope and pray that things go well, but as you stated, things do happen even when we prepare. You are a good mom, don't ever forget that. I am glad that David is ok.

The Earnhardt Family said...

Jane Anne, I am praying for you today. I can not imagine the anger and the frustration about wanting to do something more. I'm so thankful to God that your son is alright and I know that He will give you the grace you need for the situations you are faced with. Rest in that my friend.

Gab said...

How scary - I'm so glad your son is ok! Don't think I'll be buying DH mix any time soon. A better response from them would have been nicer, instead of the equivalent of "it's not our fault! we're within the law!". Again, glad your little one is ok.

RLR said...

Jane Anne -

Thanks for sharing your experience with all of us, even though I'm sure it's still difficult.

I've learned that educating others is a constant in our lives, whether it's another mom or the folks that make the foods we eat. Unfortunately, we are the most well-prepared to do it!

Recently, our church celebrated Children's Sunday. Our 11am service was led entirely by the children and there was a festival in the late afternoon - including dinner. As we went through the line, I asked for a plate with no cookies on it. "Are you sure?" asked one of the folks serving, and I responded with a brief reminder about my daughter's food allergies. The other person serving was able to show me the packaging - which, in fact, had a "made in a facility that also processes..." warning. Indicating the warning, I declined again. The response? "Well, other people with nut allergies are eating them." The stinger for me was not only the response, but that it was from someone who I know very well. It wasn't even a big corporation.

I hope you hear back from Duncan Hines, with their gratitude for you contacting them to make them aware of the situation and with the apology that they owe your family.

ChupieandJ'smama (Janeen) said...

I read about this on Food Allergy Dad's blog last week. Reading it again still gives me goosebumps. Because my son is allergic to barley and rye (not top 8) along with the wheat, egg, peanut and tree nut, everytime we try something new I have to read the label and then still call. I'm SHOCKED at how many things are still possibly contaminated or actually contain wheat but aren't labeled for it. DH dropped the ball somewhere on this. Your little guys reaction proved that. I hope they figure it out and I hope it never happens again (but doubtful). I'm glad he's ok and sending HUGS to you.

Beth E. said...

Praise God that David is okay! We've been through similar situations. It's very frustrating to know that manufacturers just DON'T GET IT about the seriousness of food allergies.

He & Me + 3 said...

That would have scared me to death too. OMGosh, I am going to have to be more careful with the cakes too. I use Duncan hines all the time. Yikes.
So glad he is ok.
So true...we always read labels. Very scary.

Jessica said...

This post had my heart in my throat... How frightening. I'm so happy all turned out okay but sad that all this is weighted on you all the time. Hugs, thoughts and prayers sent to you..

mahardy said...

Thanks for sharing your story and so glad he recovered so quickly! Our Allergist and EMT's said the same, don't hesitate to give Epi and call for help! I like your car analogy. A great tip this year from a local support meeting...that food allergy safety is just one extra rule to follow for our kids, just like a seatbelt and looking both ways before crossing street, know ingredients and carry medicines.

Carey-Life in the Carpool Lane said...

Such a powerful post...I love the way you end it. I've never thought of it that way...I've always taken the labels at their word.
Glad his symptoms dissipated so quickly. I can't imagine what those 2 hours felt like for you...

aerotatt said...

next time i ask a question i'll knock on wood. I'm glad he is OK.

Unknown said...

I'm a mother of a 10 year old boy with PA and surfed in via google alerts. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I'm so glad it turned out okay.

We've had to give the epipen to our son once (when he got hit in the eye with a peanut on the playground (!)) and I'm so glad we did. Not sure if he really needed it, but now that we've done it once, we saw that it's really not hard (and he's not scared of it anymore). I'd advise anyone dealing with food allergies to never hesitate to use it.

I belong to a food allergy board, and a number of people there have had trouble with Duncan Hines. Here's a message thread if you are interested:

It's a great place to post questions and share information on different products that have worked for families dealing with peanut and other allergies.

Best wishes.

Sue said...

That is so scary. It's scary that no matter how careful we are. My daughter is allergic to dairy and I always use Cherry Brook Kitchens cake mixes. They are a dedicated peanut, tree nut, dairy and egg free.

Shawn said...

We feel your pain. We've done the same thing with cake mixes ... it's a special kind of dread.

Thankfully everything worked out for David. We're going to go re-check our cake mixes in the cupboard.

Jenn Casey said...

Thank you so much for sharing what happened. It is an invaluable reminder for us FA parents to always, always be vigilant--and also to remember that there is always, always a risk.

I am so glad he is okay and you handled the situation well and you have a plan for next time.

I'm also looking forward to hearing what you find out from DH. Yours is unfortunately not the first story I've read about this company. Yes they are in compliance with the law, and it's clear that THAT is all they are concerned with--not necessarily whether their customers enjoy and/or use their product safely. But no matter--there are plenty of alternatives to their products and I have happily been using those alternatives for years now. If they don't want my business and aren't willing to be more helpful, then that's fine with me. :o)

Sending virtual ((((((HUGS))))))

sarah said...

Wow! I really can't imagine how scary that must have been. I think your story is so important escpecially since you are so consciencious-it is good to know that companies may not be doing all they can in labeling and such. My heart goes out to you!!!

samantha said...

I'm so glad you posted this! We also use DH cake mix to avoid using bakerey cakes. I will not be using it anymore!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow! you might have saved our lives!!! I just MADE like 24 DH cupcakes for my severely pa daughter and was about to feed her one for her "early birthday treat". :( Then I remembered seeing a post on and came here....thanks so much for sharing this experience. I found some older (2003, 2004) posts from people saying DH was getting ready to fix their wording, but they HAVEN'T YET!! I am so angry with them. And whoever this "third party" is is DEFINITELY using the same lines! I don't care what their piece of paper says!

Rhonda Lewis said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I'm so glad that all is OK with David. Unfortunately, its a good reminder to always check labels again and again.

Melanie said...

Wow what an experience. My daughter also has a PA, and I know I've used DH on several occasions.

We've never had to use an EpiPen, and I can imagine how difficult it would be to make the call to use it. At a recent appointment at Duke, our doctor discussed this very issue. According to him, if you have just a rash or just vomiting, use Benadryl. If multiple systems are reacting, you have both rash and vomiting, then definitely use an EpiPen.

I'll be sharing the link to your post with my Parents of Allergic Kids group. Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention.

Anonymous said...

im so glad that you posted this story. i find myself now googling products before i trust the label. and My sons birthday is on Saterday. I wanted to make him a cake and thought id google to see if the cake mix is safe. My son doesn't have a peanut allergy.. BUT im having his 4th birthday party at a public place( bowling alley) and I worry that something I could do (taking peanut products in public) could cause someone to have an allegic raction, or perhaps if one of his guests comming has an allergy I, or their parents may not be aware of. So I want to thank you for this story. Because Now just to be safe Ill make the cake from scratch. Its just not worth it. And its frustrating that companies dont take more of an initiative to go above and beyond the law, to keep people with these allergies safe !like really how much more money does it cost them to print "Made in a factory where nuts may be used" on the box?

Michelle said...

Jane Anne, I am so sorry that you had to go through this! It is so scary. My 10 year old has a peanut allergy and we use this cake mix!! We will mot any longer though!! So scary but THANK YOU for posting and being proactive and calling the company....that is what it will take, we have to use our voices!!! Hugs to you and your family!

caramama said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I imagine it was really hard to go through and then to write about. But it's so important to read about!

We've just confirmed for sure that my daughter has a peanut allergy. I'm realizing that although I thought we were being careful before, now I realize that we haven't been careful enough. Simply very lucky.

We've been better about reading labels, but I'm learning that that just isn't enough. It's obvious by DH's response that many companies only care about complying with the law, not making sure the kids with food allergies are 100% safe. I'm now in full research mode, which brought me to your site. I'm sure I'll be back often.