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Traveling with an allergy?

Translation cards can help you avoid reactions

By Kevin G. Demarrais

Knight Ridder News Service

In Berlin, you'd say, "Ich bin allergiech gegen Erdnusse."

In Warsaw, it's "Mam alergie na orzeszki ziemne."

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But what if you're traveling, have a life-threatening food allergy, and don't know how to say, "I am allergic to peanuts," in the local language?

A small Wayne, N.J., company has a solution: laminated food allergy translation cards. For $6.95 and up, SelectWisely is selling wallet cards to help travelers avoid food to which they are allergic or sensitive.

They come in nine languages -- English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Russian, Polish, and two versions of Portuguese -- and give warnings about 27 foods. Included are products that most often cause problems, such as milk, nuts, shellfish, wheat, soy, and peanuts, as well as other foods and additives.

Three messages

Each card has three messages -- "I am allergic to peanuts," "Does this food contain peanuts?" and "No peanuts!" -- and consumers can substitute any of the other 26 foods for peanuts.

The cards are the brainchild of Jim and Pam Ahlberg, who run SelectWisely out of their Wayne home.

They got the idea when their college-age daughter, who is allergic to nuts and certain legumes, missed out on some culinary treats while traveling through Europe because she didn't speak the various languages.

"Not being able to tell food servers about her condition, she stuck with what she knew," Jim Ahlberg said.

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With millions of people facing a similar predicament, they came up with the card that can be customized with up to three languages or three foods.

selectwisely.com

After doing some testing with friends, the Ahlbergs created www.selectwisely.com, to sell the cards to the public.

The Ahlbergs gave the product a test on a recent trip to Spain, and "it actually works," he said. "I don't speak Spanish, and it worked great."

Pricing was difficult because there is nothing on the market like it, Jim Ahlberg said. And he's still not certain whether to charge for shipping (it's about $1 now).

They settled on $6.95 for a one-language, one-product card that can be downloaded from the Web site. For two customized laminated wallet-sized cards ordered over the Web site, whether for one language or food or multiples of either, the price is $14.95.

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