Hidden Allergens: Read This Before You Take a Bite

Hidden Allergens: Read This Before You Take a Bite

There’s more to avoiding food allergens than skipping the edible items that clearly contain them. Sure, you know your peanut-allergic niece is going to need to skip the traditional recipe for “Ants on a Log” (aka: raisins trekking across a piece of celery filled with peanut butter). You know your egg-allergic nephew is going to need to avoid the quiche at the family brunch next week and daughter’s friend isn’t going to be able to slice into the ice cream cake because of her milk allergy. That’s a great start, but it is just a start. 

If you’ve been reading our blog or walking the allergy path for a while, you also know that reading labels and asking questions is an integral part of allergy management. You should be reading labels on everything, every time. Sure, you may not think about your shellfish allergy when you reach for a glucosamine pill for your achy joints, but there are shellfish-derived ingredients in some glucosamine products that could become an issue for an allergic person.  

We’ll say it again: read every label, every time, to be sure the products you're eating and using are safe for you and your allergic family and friends. The following list of potential ‘hiding spots’ for allergens, however, can also help remind you to stay on your toes and scanning ingredient lists and warning labels. Remember, the law requires packaged foods to be labeled clearly for peanut, tree nut, egg, soy, wheat, milk, shellfish, fish, and sesame. That will help with your label reading. Those laws don’t extend to prepared foods sold at restaurants, buffets, and markets, nor to potential allergens beyond that list. You’ll need to ask questions and the following list should help you hone in on some specifics. 

Sauces and Toppings

Asian-style dipping sauces, curry, and barbeque sauce recipes can include peanut. Pesto often contains pine nuts (which can be an issue for tree-nut-allergic folks.) Satay, curry, salad dressings, spreads like nut butters, natural flavorings, and oils may also contain tree nut proteins. Likewise, milk can be an issue with ghee, kumiss, broths, butter flavoring, dips and dressings, and other related products. Eggs can be a common component in some fat replacers, creamy dressings, and sauces like Bearnaise, tartar, alfredo sauce, and others. You may also find fish and shellfish, fruits and vegetables, soy, sesame, and mustard, among other allergens, in this category of products. Like we said above, read all the labels, all the time. Ask questions. 

Pet Products

Dogs love peanut butter. It’s not a secret. It’s also why a quick scan of treats and tasty things made specifically for Fido will include a minefield of peanut-laden products. Keep in mind that it’s not just about what the allergic person in your family is eating. It’s about what they’re handling. It’s about what the dog eats right before depositing a big sloppy puppy kiss on your peanut-allergic child. Make sure you’re scanning pet products before you feed your favorite furry (or scaly) friend. Peanuts can also be present in bird seed, suet mixtures, and ant traps. Wheat, fish, egg, and dairy, among others, can also be present in pet foods. 

Body Products

From lotions that contain nut oils to soy-based soaps and everything in between, beauty and health products can contain food allergens. These items are also not included in the laws requiring clear labeling for food allergens, so you’re going to need to be aware of some potential alternative ingredient names that may be worth avoiding. Resources this PDF from Foodallergy.org are worth reading through. 

Deep Fried Goodness 

Eating out? Ask some questions before you order anything fried. Busy restaurants don’t often have dedicated fryers which means everything they fry may end up the same oil as the otherwise safe fried chicken fingers your daughter wants to order. That means the shrimp she’s allergic to may have shed some of the proteins that would trigger a reaction into the oil her chicken is going to go into, thereby cross-contaminating. It may mean that mozzarella sticks your dairy allergic pal can’t eat have also created a cross-contamination risk for the fried zucchini strips she’s craving. Ask your server about whether the items you want to order will be fried alongside the things allergies have you avoiding. If the answer is yes, you may want to go back to the menu and pick again.

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