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Peanut-Free Diet

A peanut is a member of the legume family (e.g., beans, peas). The following precautions also apply to products containing other tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, hazelnuts) and any food-related allergen.

More and more these days, in our schools, social groups and community clubs, we have administrators and organizers requesting that people bring "peanut-free" snacks. For some people, the term "peanut-free" is a source of aggravation and annoyance, because peanut butter is almost universally a favorite food among young children. The unfortunate reality is that peanuts can pose a life-threatening risk for people with severe peanut allergy.

Food allergies appear to be increasing. People are becoming more aware of the severity of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction). Once aware of the serious consequences, most people are very willing to keep food-related social and school activities safe. Many people want to help reduce peanut allergens in social situations, but are not sure how to go about it. The two questions most commonly asked are: "What does peanut-free mean?" and "What is cross-contamination?"

What Does "Peanut-Free" Mean?

When a food is "peanut-free" it does not contain peanuts, peanut butter, peanut oil or any form or derivative of peanut at all! It must not contain peanut stearate or "traces of peanut." Even if the ingredient label says "May contain traces of nuts or peanuts," treat this label as if it says "Contains nuts or peanuts." A food item ay be labeled as having "mandelona" or "new nuts," which means it contains peanuts soaked in almond flavoring and cut to look like almonds. Avoid these products.

Shopping Tips

Following are a few tips when shopping for peanut-free foods:

  • Read Lists of Ingredients Every Time You Shop.
    • Avoid the following foods/ingredients: peanuts, mixed nuts, ground nuts, mandelonas, peanut butter, peanut oil, goober nuts, goober peas, beer nuts, peanut flour, artificial nuts, hydrolyzed peanut protein.
    • Read carefully: Foods that may contain peanuts include: cookies, chocolate bars, chili, egg rolls, Thai dishes, satay sauces, prepares soup (especially dried packaged soup mixes), prepared and frozen desserts, hydrogenated oil, candy, baked goods, Chinese food, potato chips, fried foods, salad dressings, macaroons, icing paste, almond paste, vegetable burgers, vegetable oil, vegetable shortening, lard, margarine, canned sardines.
    • Beware of "new nut" products. New nut products contain peanuts that are deflavored, pressed, and sold as almonds, walnuts, and other fruit.
  • Avoid Cross Contamination.
    • Do not buy from bulk bins.
    • Don't purchase baked goods from bakeries or donut shops where the food has been sitting with other goods under the same glass display or where peanut products are produced. There are many, many ways that our purchase could have been cross-contaminated with peanut.
  • Eating Out.
    • Always ask about the ingredients and the way the food is prepared before you order. Even if the restaurant is part of a chain, there can be differences between restaurants.
    • Order simply prepared foods. Foods like baked potatoes, steamed vegetables, and broiled meat are less likely to create problems. Avoid added sauces and flavorings.
    • Avoid buffets and salad bars.
    • Asian, Thai, and African foods often contain peanuts. So do muffins and desserts.
    • Peanut butter is sometimes used as a thickener, or even to hide a burnt taste in spaghetti sauce, chili, or gravy. Peanuts may also be used in pie crusts.
    • Ask what oil is used. Most good Italian restaurants use olive oil, but this should be checked. Fondues and stir fries often use peanut oil because of its high smoking point.

What is Cross-Contamination?

Cross-contamination occurs when a safe food comes in contact with a food allergen such as peanuts or nuts. For those with a severe peanut allergy, eating even the slightest trace of an allergic food can cause a potentially life-threatening or fatal reaction. Although not everyone with a food allergy is this sensitive, it's still important to be very careful and follow precautions. Reactions can occur by several means:

  • By eating a peanut product
  • Unwittingly eating a food that did not contain peanut, but was contaminated with peanut. This can occur through an unintended ingredient or from being in contact with peanut during preparation, storage, or serving.
  • Touching something with traces of peanut, and then putting their hands in their mouth or touching their eyes. The most common instance of direct contact is when someone eats a peanut product and then touches a chair or table, leaving a smear or trace of peanut. The next person to use that table or chair, if he or she is severely peanut allergic, may suffer a reaction.

Recent research shows that simply being near peanuts or peanut-containing foods will not cause anaphylaxis in most cases. The asthmatic with peanut allergy will probably wheeze and/or have hives—symptoms which can be defined as an anaphylactic reaction, and are often treated with epinephrine. Follow your doctor's treatment instructions.

If homemade goods are allowed in class, thoroughly clean all baking pans and utensils to remove any traces of peanuts or nuts if previously used in your last baking. When cutting up squares, start with a clean plate and clean knife (not just wiped). When packaging them, keep them from touching peanut products until they are used.

Examples of how cross-contamination occurs:

  • You place a wrapped "safe" cheese sandwich in the same container as a wrapped "food allergen" such as a peanut butter sandwich. Both sandwiches were wrapped separately, but placed in the same storage container.
  • You make a peanut butter sandwich, using the same knife to spread the peanut butter, add and spread the jelly, jam or honey, and cut the sandwich in half. Then you wipe the knife with a dishcloth. You now have traces of peanut butter in the jelly, jam or honey, on the surface where you made the sandwich, on the dishcloth—and on everything else the dishcloth touches.
  • You eat peanuts, or a products containing peanuts, and then kiss or share your drink with someone with a peanut allergy.
  • You stored peanut butter cookies in a jar, and then put sugar cookies in the jar without first thoroughly washing out the cookie jar. The sugar cookies now contain traces of peanut butter.
  • Crafts or games involving peanuts, or craft items stored in used peanut butter jars.

Additional Resources

For more information or peanut-free products: