Cross Contamination and Peanut Allergies
Here is something you will never hear from a person with peanut allergy, "sure – I'll have some peanuts on that sundae!" Yet there are 150 deaths a year in the United States alone from peanut allergies and 1/3 of all peanut allergy sufferers will have a fatal or near fatal reaction in their lifetime. As a mother of a son with this allergy, the numbers are frightening. So, people, ask yourself, why that ratio is so high when all the person has to do is avoid peanuts?
Many people with this allergy and their families understand this is the real risk. Between 1 / 200-1 / 1000 of a piece of a peanut is enough to put a person with a peanut allergy in anaphylactic shock.
But many restaurant workers, school and daycare employees, and (sigh) other parents do not know this. I do not blame them. I did not until I spent hundreds of hours researching the topic. I did not even know this after I visited the allergist, got my son tested, and was given a prescription for an Epi Pen. No one told me. In fact, I took my son to a buffet and saved him a chocolate chip cookie from it the week he was diagnosed! I remember thinking to myself, all he has to do is not eat the peanut butter cookies. The chocolate chip is fine. Looking back, I committed two major sins in the food allergy world: buffets and baked goods! The other one is Asian Food.
Why are these so dangerous?
In a buffet, you have not one chef touching your food before you get it, but hundreds of people coming in contact with your food. They are carrying their plate around which could have something with peanuts on it and some could fly into the baked chicken! Also – utensils. How many times have you been to a buffet, and the spoon for the potatoes is sitting in the green beans? It could happen with a peanut product. So, sadly, when a peanut allergy sufferer goes to Vegas, they are going to have skip those big buffets Vegas is known for! Well, maybe it will give them more time to lose some more money, the other thing Vegas is known for!
Asian Food – more people have had reactions at Asian Food places than anywhere else. I can not give a medical reason why. But, do not worry. I'll give my researched reasons. The first is that Asian food uses peanut sauce or peanut products in many of their dishes. Basically, you have many products being prepared in the back that contain peanuts. So, chances are going to be higher that some will get in a peanut allergy person's food. Second, peanut allergies are practically unheard of in Asia. So, if you tell a waiter at an Asian restaurant that you have a peanut allergy, they may not quite grasp the severity of your condition, leave with your order, and not tell the chef anything.
Bakeries – read practically any baked good and it will tell you it is cross contaminated with peanuts and tree nuts. Bakeries make fudge and what goes on top of fudge? Peanuts. Bakeries make peanut butter cookies, peanut butter and fudge brownies, and peanut butter is even used in some chocolate chip recipes. So, if you have a peanut allergy, grab some flour, sugar, and eggs at your local supermarket and make your own cookies and cake! Use the money you saved from buying an overpriced pre-made one to hire a housekeeper to clean up the mess you made baking one. Is not that more fun anyway?
Peanut allergy sufferers and their families also need to learn to be excellent speed readers as we need to read every single label of anything we buy at the supermarket, even if we have bought it one hundred times before! It is amazing what can be cross contaminated. The most interesting I have found was fruit snacks. I always buy fruit snacks for my son. They are normally a safe food. But once while visiting a friend, they had a different brand of fruit snacks and offered one to us. My first instinct was simply to let my son have it. After all, it's FRUIT SNACKS. Safe, right? Well, my bionic peanut allergy mom senses kicked in and asked to read the package before I let him have it. Sure enough, it said it was cross contaminated with peanuts.
Also, read the labels of things you have bought before. Companies change manufacturing processes, outsource products, and add products to their line all their time. Everyone wants a buck right? Well, they do not advertise it because, well, most of the world will not really care if your favorite safe brand of sherbet is now made next to their new extra peanutty rocky road. So, it's up to you. Read the labels. Things change.
Okay, the chances are not 1: 1 that if you eat a food that may be contaminated, you will have a reaction. Honestly, they are low. But, most of deaths and near deaths from peanut allergies are from people who took the chance. Why risk it? Death is not fun and neither is the hospital if you are lucky enough to be saved. And, when you get that very large hospital bill, you will be asking yourself, "that one piece of cake really worth this 10K hospital bill".