Determining if a Food is Safe for a Peanut Allergic Individual
How do you determine if a food is safe for a peanut allergic individual?
The answer varies. “Peanut-free” means different things to different people. Nonetheless, all can agree that the “gold standard” is products that are manufactured in a dedicated facility, with ingredients certified by suppliers as having no contact with peanuts. Some manufacturers even test for peanut allergen.
Peanut Free Manufacturers
Among the food manufacturers that set the highest standards are Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates, Enjoy Life Foods, Cherrybrook Kitchen and Dr. Lucy’s Cookies.
While their products may be found in small quantities at local supermarkets—if you’re lucky—they are more readily available at stores such as the Whole Foods Market, specialty online shops like FAB Snacks, and other independent natural foods or specialty allergy grocery stores.
Use Your Judgement
Most foods, however, are not manufactured in a dedicated facility or on dedicaed machines, so your personal comfort level, judgment, and of course, advice from your physician must come into play. Even products labeled as “peanut-free” might contain traces of peanut, so homework may be necessary for all packaged foods.
To decide the best answer for you, ask yourself some key questions: Do you only need to avoid peanuts as an ingredient or do you need to avoid products which may contain trace amounts of peanut, such as those manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts? With a peanut allergy and other food allergies, you must be become an expert label reader.
In the United States, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act was passed in 2004, and now all foods containing dairy, eggs, fish, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat must be listed in the ingredients panel by their “common or usual name.” That means when you check the label, it should clearly state “peanut” or “peanuts” if there are any peanut ingredients in a food.
Canada has similar food allergen labeling requirements but also includes sesame in its list of common allergens. Europe’s labeling regulations generally require listing those allergens as well as a few more, such as celery.
Do Your Homework
If your physician recommends avoiding traces of peanut (as many allergists do) you will often find that you need more information than the food label provides. You may have to send emails, check manufacturer websites, and make phone calls to get answers to your questions. Questions to consider may include:
- Does the fact that a product does not contain peanuts as an ingredient qualify it as “peanut-safe”?
- Do you need to avoid tree nuts because of cross-contamination risks?
- Does the entire manufacturing facility need to be dedicated “peanut-free”?
- Is a dedicated line good enough to be “peanut-safe”?
- What about a manufacturer that switches to making "nut-free" products and is using the same equipment as before?
- Are Good Manufacturing Practices, including sanitization protocol, adequate to reduce the risk of cross-contamination for you?
- What about sanitization combined with allergen testing of the food products?
- What about the suppliers of the ingredients? Do they need to be “peanut-free” in order for the finished product to be “peanut-safe”?
Read Lables Carefully
Visits to the supermarket may take longer than they used to as you peruse labels to find the right product. Many families decide to make more homemade food so they can control the ingredients themselves. While you may not be able to find many convenience and snack foods at your local grocery store, peanut allergy and other food allergies have become so much more common, there are now online specialty stores, such as FAB Snacks, which carry snack foods and other products specifically manufactured for food allergic individuals.
New products and new food manufacturers are constantly appearing in the market, and existing food manufacturers are also becoming more aware of food allergies. Food choices and options for peanut allergic and other food allergic individuals are increasing and improving. There is no reason to stop enjoying food with a peanut allergy. Just become a more discerning and informed shopper and gather the important facts before eating. Bon appetit!
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