Questions From FARE’s Mailbag: Allergens in Non-Food Items

mailbagEvery day we receive dozens of phone calls, emails, and letters from individuals and families who have questions about food allergies. Many of these questions are concerning non-food items that may contain food allergens and if they are a risk to those with food allergies. Below are answers to a few questions that we have received recently about non-food items:

  1. Is there any risk from using ant baits that have peanut?

Although it is not required to be labeled since it is not a food product, many ant baits or traps display a label warning that the products contain peanut. As long as these traps are not handled by the person who is allergic (or wear gloves while handling), and they are placed in an area that is out of reach (such as in a garage or behind a bookshelf), they should not pose a threat. There are alternative or natural options for ant baits that do not contain peanuts, however, which may be a better choice if the peanut-containing traps are a worry to you.

  1. Do those with tree nut allergies need to avoid shea nut butter in cosmetic products, such as lotion?

Shea nuts are considered tree nuts, and are designated as such according to the Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act. If they are included as an ingredient in food products, they must be labeled. When used in cosmetic products, such as lotion, shea nuts are turned into “butter” by processing their oil, which is highly refined. A 2010 study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that shea nut butter poses little to no risk to the peanut or tree nut allergic because it contains no IgE-binding soluble proteins. While the risk is minimal, consult with your doctor if you believe you or your child is allergic to shea nut.

Also note: there is a recent case study that indicated that if you have a skin inflammation such as eczema, using skin cream that contains food ingredients could lead to an allergic reaction. The researchers who piloted the case study remind clinicians and patients that “skin care ought to be bland, advocating avoidance of agents capable of sensitization – especially foods.”

  1. I’ve heard that some asthma inhalers contain lactose (a milk sugar). Are these inhalers a risk to those with milk allergy?

Pharmaceutical grade lactose may contain trace milk proteins and could rarely induce reactions in inhaled or injected medications. A 2014 article in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology indicated that reactions are “quite a rare phenomenon given the large number of children with milk allergy who use lactose-containing dry powder inhalers uneventfully.”Any inhaler that contains milk should indicate so in the patient information insert.

  1. Is pet food that contains my child’s allergens okay to purchase?

It is best to avoid purchasing food for your pets, especially dogs, that contains your child’s allergen. The food’s proteins can be transferred through saliva if the dog licks your child, or the child may handle or even eat some of the pet food. If there are pets that your child is visiting or encounters outside of your home, you will want to closely observe their interaction.

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