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.

Questions from FARE’s Mail Bag

Every day we receive dozens of phone calls, emails, and letters from individuals and families who have questions about food allergies. Below are answers to just a handful of these questions that we have received recently and thought others may benefit from knowing as well.

Can a person with a peanut and/or tree nut allergy eat nutmeg?

Although the word “nutmeg” contains the word “nut,” it is actually a seed, not a nut. Used as a spice in baking and many ethnic cuisines, nutmeg is safe for everyone who does not have an allergy to nutmeg itself.

Can having a blood transfusion cause an allergic reaction because of allergens in the donated blood?

Dr. Scott Sicherer addresses this question in his book “Food Allergies: A Complete Guide for Eating When Your Life Depends On It.” He says, “When blood transfusions are processed, the liquid (serum) is washed away, so even if trace food proteins had been in the blood donation, the amount left in the material that is transfused would be negligible. There have not been reports of reactions in this situation, although it may be reasonable for a donor providing a directed donation to a person with a food allergy to avoid the allergen for several hours prior to the donation. There is one report of a platelet donation causing a reaction in a child with a peanut allergy (platelets are the blood-clotting component transfused without being separated from the serum). The report is not completely verified, but there may be risk.”

If a product is labeled “Kosher Pareve,” is it safe for someone with a milk allergy?

Kosher pareve is a kosher classification for a food that contains neither dairy nor meat, generally speaking. Kosher classifications do not address cross-contact, however, so a product can still be considered pareve if the product is made in the same facility as or has come in contact with milk. We advise you to not use Kosher labeling as a guide for if a product is safe for those with milk allergies.

I’ve heard some cities are using cheese brine mixed with ice salt as a de-icing agent for roadways. Does this pose a threat to those with milk allergies?

FARE investigated this question with the City of Milwaukee Health Department. Information provided by the Health Department and reviewed by allergists indicates this is a very low risk practice. There is an extremely small amount of protein content in the salt brine, roughly equivalent to three drops of milk per square yard of roadway. This amount is further diluted by mixing with melting snow and ice. It is very unlikely that a reaction could occur from this practice, and any reactions would likely be localized to the skin contact area.