Despite your best efforts to avoid allergens, you or your child could be the victim of a sneak attack. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology in 2007 found that more than 20 percent of food allergy reactions are triggered by hidden allergens.
Allergen exposure can occur from cross contact during food prep, sharing utensils, and even kissing. What’s more, allergens are in many common products you may come into contact with on a daily basis.”People often don’t realize that food allergens can be lurking in non-food items that may trigger severe allergic reactions,” says Vandana Sheth, RD, CDE, a dietitian in the Los Angeles area and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) identifies peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soybeans as the eight most notorious allergenic foods, causing 90 percent of food allergy reactions. The FALCPA mandates that food items be labeled to clearly identify when these items or derivatives are in a food item.
But what about non-food items? Here is where those common allergens may be found.
Peanut allergies account for the majority of severe food-related allergic reactions and are among the most common cause of anaphylaxis-related death.
While peanuts are typically listed on food labels, peanuts, peanut shells, and peanut oil can also be found in a lot of non-food products. For example, beware of beanbags and stuffed toys — crushed peanut shells are sometimes used in the stuffing. Landscaping is another area of concern because peanut shells can be present in compost, potting soil, and mulch. Other items that could trigger a peanut allergy: your pet’s food, sunscreen lotion, fireplace logs, and some types of dental cleaners.
Tree nuts such as walnuts, cashews, almonds, and hazelnuts can cause anaphylaxis. “Tree nuts and tree nut oils may be found in soaps, lotions, beauty and hair products, shampoo, bath oils, and suntan lotion products,” Sheth says. Be sure to read ingredient labels when choosing new products. If you have small pets such as gerbils and hamsters, be aware that their foods may contain tree nuts, too.
Milk allergies are complex. There are at least 20 milk proteins that could trigger an allergic reaction — and some of these proteins are used to produce non-food items. For instance, some types of dustless chalk contain casein, a milk protein, explains Sheth. Whey, another milk protein, and lactose, a milk sugar, can be found in common medications such as prednisone, allergy drugs, and others. Certain cosmetics and bath products also contain milk derivatives. Keep in mind that you don’t have to ingest a product to have an allergic reaction — do your best to avoid all contact.
Egg protein is used as a binder or emulsifier for many products and is in some vaccinations, including flu shots and MMR vaccines. However, these vaccinations have been safely given to people who are allergic to eggs, Sheth says. “Cosmetics, shampoo, and some art supplies may also contain eggs,” she says. Terms such as lecithin, globulin, albumin, silici, simplesse, and vitellin on food and other product labels can indicate that egg protein is present.
Soy is used to make many different products including candles, crayons, games, cleaning products, inks, pet food, synthetic fabrics, artificial logs, and stuffed animal fillings. When reading labels, be aware of all the terms on a product or food label that could indicate soy is present: soy lecithin, miso, mono-diglyceride, natto, tofu, vegetable oil, vitamin E, glycine max, and tempeh.
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