Food allergies, school, and the real world

School desks | When Peanuts Attack

“Eventually you’re going to have to teach that kid to live in the real world, you know.”

In the context of conversations about the management of food allergies in school, I have heard this phrase more times than I can count, offered as an argument against making accommodations to keep children with food allergies safe and included in school environments. And over the many times I’ve heard it, I have come to realize that it is a very illogical argument. There are at least two major logical problems with it:

First, let’s address that word, “eventually.”

Eventually, three-year-olds will be twelve-year-olds, and will need to cross streets on their own, without holding anyone’s hand. Does that mean we should let three-year-olds cross busy intersections alone now, without help, unsupervised?

Eventually five-year-olds will be sixteen, and will need to know how to drive. Does that mean we should hand five-year-olds the keys to our cars, and let them start practicing today?

Eventually ten-year-olds will be twenty, and will (we hope), move out of their parents’ houses, and live on their own. Does that mean we should make ten-year-olds, now, regularly spend entire weekends home alone, cooking, cleaning and managing the whole household for themselves?

Eventually children will be adults. And while it’s absolutely true that it is vitally important to prepare all children for adulthood by teaching children how to make responsible decisions and take good care of themselves, children are not adults now, and should not be expected to take on adult responsibilities before they are ready.

Children are still learning how to navigate the “real world” adults live in, and need education, guidance, and assistance from adults to do so safely. Whether we are talking about crossing the street, or reading a food label, driving a car, or self-administering an EpiPen during a severe allergic reaction, children should not be expected to take on responsibilities they are not mentally or physically ready to handle.

Here is a simple fact that seems to come as a genuine surprise to some adults who lack experience dealing with food allergic kids, but is incontrovertibly true: children with food allergies are not naturally wiser or more mature than other children. Developing a dairy allergy does not magically grant a two-year-old the ability to read food labels for the word “milk;” getting diagnosed with a peanut allergy does not instantly make a three-year-old more capable of self-control when faced with a tempting candy bar. Having to carry an EpiPen does not necessarily cure a four-year-old of a fear of needles. A five-year-old with a tree nut allergy who is forced to sit in the hallway during a kindergarten cupcake party feels just as left out as any child that age excluded from a party would.

The issue of schoolchildren with food allergies being children, with a maturity level similar to that of any other children, does not disappear at the middle or high school level, either. Studies show that tweens and teens are impulsive, and take risks, because their still-developing brains lack adult-level impulse control. Teens with food allergies have the same teenage brains as teens without food allergies. Teens with food allergies are, also, subject to the same forces of school stress and peer pressure that teens without food allergies deal with. And like, other teens, as teens with food allergies gain independence and spend more time away from their parents, they sometimes face tough decisions that their still-growing brains may not be fully equipped to handle well.

In fact, teens with food allergies face a higher risk of suffering a fatal allergic reaction than young children with food allergies do.

Kids with food allergies are just that– kids. Like other kids, they are still learning; like other kids, they can be impulsive, or forgetful; they don’t always listen to adults, and don’t always follow directions. Like other kids, they want to be included in a group, and feel hurt when they are left out.

So, even though it’s true that children with food allergies will eventually be adults, it is not appropriate or safe to treat children now as if they were already adults.

Here is a second major logical problem with this argument:

Schools for children are not at all like “the real world” adults live in.

The rules for adults in the real world and the rules for children in school are very different, and for good reason. In order to function, schools need to have conduct rules in place that keep children focused on their schoolwork, and safety rules that protect children from their own immaturity and lack of life experience. It is very common for schools to have rules such as: you must follow the same schedule as the rest of the classroom. You must ask a teacher for permission to speak. You may not leave the classroom without permission. You may not leave the building during the school day. Etc.

But, some of the very same restrictions and rules that help schools function as safe, orderly places for educating children can actually cause pretty serious day-to-day challenges for children with food allergies, of a sort that most adults with food allergies do not actually face on a daily basis in “the real world.”

Imagine you are an adult with a peanut allergy. Imagine that you work at an office with a cafeteria area, where employees can eat lunches that they have brought from home. Suppose you have a co-worker who is relentlessly fond of eating peanuts and peanut butter, who nearly always brings these foods at lunch time, and sometimes even heats peanutty foods in the office microwave, causing allergenic proteins to aerosolize and fill the cafeteria with fumes that could, at best, make you sneeze and cough, or, at worst, send you to the hospital.

As an adult, working in an office environment, you have many choices.

Perhaps the simplest choice you have is to avoid the workplace cafeteria altogether. You can eat lunch at your desk, or go out every day to an allergy-friendly restaurant that is safe for you.

Or, you can have a friendly conversation with your coworkers, explain how this problem affects you, and ask if they would be willing to keep the peanuts at home. As an adult, your explanation of your health issues is likely to be taken seriously. Because the coworkers you are talking to about your problem are also adults, they can control what they choose to bring in for lunch daily; they can most likely easily choose to accommodate you.

If your coworkers are not accommodating, you can choose to take the issue up with your manager, or with your workplace’s human resources department. You can choose to file an ADA complaint. You can choose to ask to be transferred to a different office, or to work remotely. You can even choose if necessary, to quit, and find another job.

Now imagine that you are an elementary-aged child with a peanut allergy who eats lunch in a school cafeteria where, every day, other children bring lunches containing peanuts and peanut butter to school. And imagine that your school has made no accommodations for your allergy.

Can you choose to eat at your desk? Probably not. Most schools require children to eat lunch in the lunchroom. If your school makes no accommodations for your allergy, you will have to eat in the cafeteria, right next to the kids eating your allergen at school.

Can you choose to leave school and have lunch elsewhere? Almost certainly not! Elementary school students aren’t allowed to leave school without permission. They cannot drive themselves home, or to safe restaurants, to eat in safety and peace. Most kids in school have busy, working parents who would not necessarily be able to pick them up for lunch every day even if it were allowed.

Can you try to have a friendly conversation with your fellow students? Sure. But remember: they are kids. Do they understand what food allergies are? Will they believe you when you say, “This food you love to eat could kill me”? If your school is making no accommodations, it’s unlikely that the school has held any special awareness assemblies about food allergies to educate your fellow students. And anyway, if you’re in elementary school, your fellow students are probably not packing their own lunches: their parents are.

So do you, a child, try to contact your friends’ parents and explain?

What about contacting HR? Nope, no such department for students. The management? Well, that would be your teachers and school administrators, who, as we mentioned have already decided against accommodating you. Can you switch schools? Sure, if your parents can afford and are willing to move to a new school district, or pay for you to go to a private school, or arrange to have you homeschooled.

But what if none of those possibilities will work for your family?

The “real world” children encounter in school is a far different one than the “real world” adults encounter in the workplace. Children with food allergies who are in school have far less control over their own environment, and less freedom to make choices to keep themselves safe. For that reason alone, it’s essential for the safety of children with food allergies that adults in charge in the school environment cooperate with the families of children with food allergies to make sure those children can attend school safely.

Eventually, kids with food allergies will be adults living in an adult world. To help them get there safely, though, they need understanding and assistance now from the adults who have been charged with helping to guide them through life.

Road Tripping with Food Allergies, Part Two: How to Pack

Pack your suitcase | When Peanuts AttackPicture this: After a long day of driving that included a wrong turn at Albuquerque, a crazy detour around unexpected road construction, a sudden thunderstorm, and at least five separate arguments between two cranky kids in the back seat of your car, it’s well past dinner time, and you find yourself, not sitting down to eat at the amazing, allergy-friendly restaurant you made a reservation at two weeks ago, but instead, standing in front of a rest stop vending machine, staring in despair at a selection of 12 suspicious looking snack-foods you cannot see the ingredient labels for.

Fear not, food allergic friends! This sad scene won’t happen to you on your road trip, because you are going to follow these tips on packing for food-allergy-friendly travel by car. Here’s how to avoid running out of safe meals and snacks.

Pack more allergy-safe, non-perishable food than you think you will need.

During travel, delays and detours happen. Plan ahead for the possibility of missed turns and missed safe meal destinations– by packing extra emergency snacks. If your trunk space is limited, and you have to make a choice between packing safe food, or an extra pair of flip-flops, pack the food. You can buy a pair of souvenir flip-flops when you get to Florida.

While it’s a good idea to bring a cooler or an insulated bag with ice packs and a few tasty safe perishables, keep in mind that, unless you are traveling in an RV with a fridge, you will probably only reasonably be able to keep your food temperature-safe for a few hours on the road. When packing for a journey, focus primarily on nonperishable snacks that won’t quickly melt or spoil. Depending on your allergies, allergy-safe snack bars, dried fruit, applesauce, jerky, pretzels, crackers, or popcorn can be good shelf-stable options. Fresh fruits, like oranges and bananas, hold up well for a day or two in the car, and come in their own biodegradable packaging. (Make sure, if you do bring fresh fruit, that you wash it well before you pack it, so that you don’t find yourself trying to decide whether rinse your apple in a gas station bathroom sink.)

And if you do want to bring along some fresh potato salad, or your famous bacon-swiss-and-avocado sandwiches, consider freezing perishable foods overnight before packing them in your cooler, to help them stay in a safe temperature range longer.

If you find yourself strapped for cooler space for both perishables and cold drinks, consider freezing few bottles of water or and using them in place of ice packs.

Pack wet wipes and cleaning supplies to clean allergens from your hands and surfaces.

Washing your hands before you eat is a healthy practice in general, but for people with food allergies, hand washing before eating can be life-or-death essential. Keep a pack of hand wipes or baby wipes in a place in your car that is easy for both the driver and the passengers to reach. That way if you wind up having lunch on the go, you’ll be prepared.

Pack some extra cleaning wipes, or a spray cleaner and some paper towels, in your trunk to wipe down restaurant tables, picnic tables, and hotel room surfaces.

Consider packing your own small cooking appliances. When you’re traveling with food allergies, a mini microwave, a hot plate, an Instant Pot, or a rice cooker can really come in handy, allowing you to prepare safe meals on your own clean equipment in a hotel, at a campground, or in a relative’s home.

If you do decide to BYO small kitchen appliance, do a little research on the places you’ll be staying to make sure that your appliance will be allowed, and that you will have a safe, clean place to plug it in and set it up.

Pack your epinephrine autoinjectors, your antihistamines, and any other allergy medication you think you might need, and make a plan to keep your medicine in a safe temperature range and close at hand.

A person with a food allergy should never leave home without epinephrine! It’s especially important to make sure not to forget your epi when traveling. Triple-check before you leave to make sure that any medications you may need on your trip are packed safely in a place where you can easily access them in an emergency.

To maintain full effectiveness, epinephrine autoinjectors must be kept within a certain safe temperature range. This can be especially difficult to manage when traveling in the summer. Autoinjectors should never be left sitting for hours in a hot car! Exposure to high heat degrades epinephrine and can damage the autoinjector device.

Make sure before you leave that you have a way to keep your epinephrine from overheating– or freezing– on the road. Insulated epinephrine carriers can help, but they may not be enough when you are traveling far. And while ice packs can keep epinephrine autoinjectors cool, if you place an autoinjector directly in ice or next to an ice pack in a cooler or insulated bag, you risk freezing your medicine instead of overheating it!

Many people with food allergies recommend using the Frio brand evaporative cooling pack for trips in the summer heat. Originally designed to keep insulin at room temperature, it also works well to cool (but not freeze) epinephrine autoinjectors. And you don’t need a freezer to recharge the Frio– all you need is clean water. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to keep your medicine dry and keep your Frio working properly.

You can also try this road-tested food allergy travel trick: put your epinephrine in a small insulated bag, put a small ice pack in a second small insulated bag, and put them both in a larger insulated bag. This system protects the epinephrine autoinjector from direct contact with an ice pack, which helps to prevent freezing. If you do try this route, make sure you monitor the temperature of your epinephrine regularly to make sure it does not get too hot or too cold.

Read more food allergy travel tips:

Road Tripping with Food Allergies, Part One: Plan your Route
Road Tripping with Food Allergies, Part Three: Find Safe Food on the Road

Road Tripping with Food Allergies, Part One: Plan Your Route

Road trip | When Peanuts AttackAh, the open road. How it calls in the summer. Pack a suitcase, grab a friend, or your family, and get away from it all! Set out in your car with the windows down, the radio on, and a map to someplace you’ve never been before in your pocket. See the sights: rolling hills, cows, impressive sculptures of cows, and giant balls of twine!

Eat at random roadside cafes and truck stop diners!

Wait. Actually, if you have a food allergy, you should probably not do that last thing.

Use these actually road-tested tips for taking a safe road trip with a food allergy instead.

Before you go, plan your route.

When I say plan your route, I do not mean, put your destination into the map app on your phone on your way out the door.

I mean, a few days or weeks before your trip, sit down and do some real research. Try to figure out which roads you are likely to take, and which towns you are likely to make stops in, and map out essential allergy resources along your path. You can use Google Maps to find allergy-friendly restaurants you trust, and grocery stores where you can buy extra food in a pinch. Try to find at least two or three safe sources of food in each town you plan to stop for a meal in, in case it turns out that a restaurant or store on your route has changed policies or is closed.

You can also use Google Maps to locate hospitals along your route or at your destination, just in case.

You may want to print this information out and put it in a folder, in case you run into areas with poor cell phone service coverage and no WiFi.

While drawing up your road trip game plan, make sure to leave a little wiggle room in your stop and meal schedule for spontaneous side-trips or unscheduled detours along the way. (If the kids decide they really DO want to see that giant ball of twine, you won’t want to disappoint them, right?)

It’s extra work, but a bit of allergy-related planning before you leave can save you from big headaches later on the road.

Call ahead to hotels or motels you plan to stay at, to ask allergy-related questions and request accommodations in advance.

When you make your reservation, ask to have a note put into your reservation file that a person with a life-threatening food allergy will be staying in the room. Why is this important? Well, some hotels offer complementary snacks or meals to guests– and if you have a peanut allergy, you probably do not want someone handing you an unwrapped fresh-baked peanut butter cookie at the front desk, or leaving the “gift” of a bag of chocolate covered peanuts on your pillow. Also, some hotels offer special deep cleaning services for guests with allergies– to make extra sure that the previous guests’ cookie crumbs don’t wind up in your bed. Some hotels even offer special allergy-friendly rooms, with features like carpet-free floors, allergy-blocking mattress covers, and built-in air filters. But you won’t know if these services are available unless you ask!

And don’t forget to ask hotel staff whether a fridge or a microwave will be available for you to use. Even when hotels advertise that fridges and microwaves are available, it is sometimes the case that they are located not in the guest rooms but in shared common areas, or only available in certain rooms. So if keeping and cooking safe food in your room is part of your plan (and if you are traveling with a food allergy, it probably should be), make sure you discuss the details on exactly which kitchen appliances will be available, and where.

If you will be staying with friends or family along the way, make sure you speak with them well ahead of time about what your needs will be while traveling.

Remember that even very well-meaning and sympathetic people who do not manage food allergies in their own households on a daily basis may forget things that seem obvious to you. Talk to your hosts early enough in your planning phase that, if it turns out you do not feel comfortable staying with them after all, you will be able to make alternate arrangements.

Read more in this series:

Road Tripping with Food Allergies, Part Two: How to Pack.
Road Tripping with Food Allergies, Part Three: Find Safe Food on the Road.

There is no A for effort in food allergies

FAILIt does not matter how much love you put into it.

It does not matter how long you spent preparing it.

It does not matter how pretty it looks, or how much money you spent on it.

It does not matter whether it’s delicious.

It doesn’t matter how hard you feel you tried to make the food safe, or how much you wanted the food to be safe.

If a food is not safe for a person with a food allergy to eat, it’s just not. And you should not expect a person with a food allergy to eat it.

So you tracked down that peanut-free cupcake mix– the expensive one, that says “nut-free facility” in  bold print, right on the box. You scrubbed out your pans, and you made sure that you used clean bowls and spoons. You made the frosting from scratch– just butter and sugar and vanilla, you swear! And you checked the ingredients on that vanilla, too? Great job.


Then you forgot, and put those sprinkles on top. The ones that say, on the back of the package, MAY CONTAIN PEANUTS.


Now you’re not sure it’s safe.

You went to all this trouble. You really, really wanted to make a safe cake. The sprinkles were an accident. And now you’re so disappointed, to think that all of your earnest effort might go to waste. I get that. Really, I do.

But . . .

If you focus on your feelings now, instead of the health and safety of the person you meant to make a cake for, and try to hide your mistake, or pressure that person into eating food you’re not sure is safe,  you will be risking making a small mistake into a very, very, very big mistake.

A call-the-ambulance mistake.

That’s not really what you want to do, is it?

I certainly hope not.

So, take a deep breath. Own up. Tell the truth.

When it comes to cooking for a person with a food allergy, there is no A for effort. Food, no matter how lovingly prepared, if not safe, IS NOT SAFE, and should not be eaten. The most delicious food in the world is not worth risking a life over. And you need to learn not to take that personally.

How to report an allergic reaction to the FDA or USDA

U.S. government chemist Margaret FosterDid you know that undeclared food allergens are a leading cause of food recalls in the United States? According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), from September 2009 to September 2012, about one-third of reports to the agency for serious food safety violations involved top 8 food allergens that were not properly listed on food labels.

The foods most often reported to the FDA for containing undeclared allergens include bakery products (like bread, cakes, and cupcakes), snack foods, candy, and dairy products. The allergens most often involved in FDA food safety recalls have been milk, wheat and soy.

The FDA has found that common causes of recalls for undeclared allergens in foods include accidental cross contact due to the processing of multiple types of food on shared equipment, and labeling errors that cause allergenic ingredients that were intentionally included in a food not to be properly listed on the ingredient label. On rare occasions foods are contaminated with allergens, either deliberately or accidentally, through no fault of the food manufacturer, before they ever reach the factory, as was the case in 2015 when a spate of recalls for undeclared peanut involving a wide variety of items containing the spice cumin happened after a large supply of ground cumin was adulterated (possibly deliberately) with ground peanut shells and/or peanut flour.

The FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) urge Americans who have experienced allergic reactions after eating products that were not properly labeled for allergen content to report those reactions to the appropriate food safety agency. Reactions to most common pre-packaged, processed foods such as bread, cereal, crackers, snack bars, fruit snacks, prepared frozen meals, bottled drinks, etc. should be reported to the FDA. Reactions to fresh meat products, like fresh cuts of beef, chicken or turkey, should be reported to the USDA. (If you are not sure which agency to contact for a particular food product, I suggest trying the FDA first, as the FDA is responsible for about 80% of U.S. food.)

You can make a report to the FDA or the USDA by following the directions at the links below:

Report an allergic reaction to the FDA

Report an allergic reaction to the USDA

The FDA says people with peanut allergies should avoid all ground cumin for now. How do you?

How to avoid cumin | When Peanuts AttackAfter months of recalls of cumin, spice mixes that contain cumin, and hundreds of thousands of pounds of packaged foods that contain cumin due to the presence of undeclared peanut and tree nut ingredients, on February 18th, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finally issued a public advisory statement warning people with peanut allergies “to consider avoiding products that contain ground cumin or cumin powder.”

The advisory goes on to say:

The FDA is continuing to identify companies that received shipments of the ground cumin that contained undeclared peanuts and work with them to remove these products from the market. While this investigation is underway, the FDA wants consumers who are highly allergic or sensitive to peanuts to consider taking precautions with any product [emphasis mine]—not just those that have been recalled—that contains ground cumin. The FDA will continue to update the list of recalled products.


So basically: multiple shipments of ground cumin recently imported into the United States (and, I should note, other countries, including Canada and the UK) have been found to contain undeclared peanut protein. The FDA does not know how many U.S. spice companies may have received shipments of peanut-contaminated cumin; the FDA does not know for certain which overseas spice suppliers may be contributing to this problem; the FDA does not know how many food products the contaminated cumin may already have been added to; the FDA does not know which future shipments of ground cumin may also be contaminated; the FDA is working on it.

And in the meantime, if peanuts happen to be a thing that can kill you in small doses, the FDA is gently advising you to “consider” avoiding all ground cumin, all spice mixes that contain ground cumin, all packaged foods that contain ground cumin, and all packaged foods that contain unspecified “spices” that may or may not include ground cumin.


How do you do that?

I’ve been trying to help my peanut allergic son avoid cumin in his diet for a few months now, ever since I first got an inkling of the magnitude of this recall situation, and let me tell you: it’s not easy. Here are some tips:


Go beyond reading food labels.


This is really important: According to U.S. food labeling law, cumin is not considered one of the top 8 food allergens. That means that FDA and USDA labeling regulations do not require that cumin be labeled under the same “plain language” labeling rules as ingredients derived from milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish or soy. The official guidance the FDA offers food makers on labeling their products for spices is:

How are spices, natural flavors or artificial flavors declared in ingredient lists?

Answer: These may be declared in ingredient lists by using either specific common or usual names or by using the declarations “spices,” “flavor” or “natural flavor,” or “artificial flavor.”

“INGREDIENTS: Apple Slices, Water, Cane Syrup, Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Spices, Salt, Natural Flavor and Artificial Flavor”

However, products that are spices or spice blends, flavors or colors must list each ingredient by name.

So if you are looking at any packaged food that is not actually container of spice or spice mix, know that the ingredient label does not have to list cumin even if cumin is an ingredient. Cumin could be listed as “spice,” “spices,” “flavor,” or “natural flavor.” Even a food label that declares some spices by name in the ingredient list may not declare all of the spices by name. For example, a food label for sausage might read, “Pork, salt, black pepper, spices,” or “Chicken, salt, oregano, natural flavors.” Either of those items might contain cumin, even though they do not explicitly say so on the label.

This is perfectly legal. Food companies in the U.S. are just flat out not legally required to specifically list spices or flavorings on ingredient labels, or be consistent about how they do list specific spices and flavorings when they do bother to list them. (Yes, this can and does cause major problems for people with food allergies to spices or flavorings, and I if I listen hard, think I can hear a chorus of non-top-8 food allergy sufferers right now, shouting, “Welcome to our world, people with peanut allergies!”)

This means if you are currently avoiding cumin due to peanut contamination risk, you are going to need to call or email companies that make packaged foods that are likely to contain cumin and ask them whether their products contain cumin. There is no easy way around this. There is no magical list of U.S. products that contain / do not contain cumin. To stay away from cumin for the duration of this recall, you are going to have to do some serious food ingredient research homework.


What foods are likely to contain cumin? If you don’t know, it’s time to find out.


If you don’t cook with cumin often in your own kitchen, you may not be that familiar with  which foods are most likely to contain it. Cumin is considered a warm, earthy, peppery spice, often used to flavor foods that are thought of as “hot” or “spicy.” Here are a few to watch out for:

Spice mixes: BBQ rubs, chili flavoring, curry spice mixes, spicy stir fry mixes, sausage spice mixes, and spices labeled as Mexican, Cajun, Middle Eastern, Indian or Chinese spice mixes often contain cumin.

Spicy sauces: Cumin is a common ingredient in barbecue sauce, curry sauce and many stir fry sauces.

Salsa: Cumin is commonly used in Mexican-style cooking and is sometimes used to flavor salsa.

Meats: Spicy packaged meats such as sausages or pre-seasoned, barbecue-style pork and beef cuts are likely to contain cumin– thousands of pounds of these types of items have already been recalled for undeclared peanut due to the use of contaminated cumin.

Chili: Just as cumin is a common ingredient in chili spice mixes, cumin is an ingredient in many commercial chili recipes. Several chili products have already been involved in this set of recalls.

Seasoned black beans or black bean soup: Cumin is a common seasoning for spicy dishes that contain black beans. Two Goya products that contain black beans have already been recalled for undeclared peanut due to contaminated cumin.

Veggie burgers: Any sort of “spicy black bean” or “southwestern style” veggie burgers are likely to contain cumin; Morningstar Farms has already recalled some lots of black bean veggie burgers for undeclared peanut due to the use of contaminated cumin.

Hummus: Cumin is commonly used to flavor hummus.

Any BBQ flavored anything: Since barbecue rubs, sauces and spice mixes often contain cumin, any food that advertises itself as barbecue-flavored needs to be on your check-twice list.

Any spicy food that advertises Southwestern, Mexican, Cajun, Middle Eastern or Indian flavor: cumin is a signature spice ingredient in all of these regional cuisines.

Foods that are not likely to contain cumin include fresh whole produce, unflavored meats, plain breads and pastas, unflavored rice, unflavored beans etc. For the duration of the recall, if you are craving spicy foods that ordinarily contain cumin, it’s probably best to skip the store-bought pre-packaged options and make your spicy dishes yourself, with simple whole ingredients and spices you have checked on and trust.


Don’t forget about restaurants.


The FDA alert on peanuts in cumin says nothing specific about avoiding restaurant food– but that’s because the FDA does not actually regulate food safety in restaurants; that’s handled by a patchwork of local health departments and agencies, and the USDA. The USDA website currently redirects people with queries about the cumin recalls to the FDA advisory statement, which is not super helpful if you’re trying to get safety advice about food that is not regulated by the FDA.

But I would say it’s safe to assume that many restaurants may be serving up contaminated cumin at the moment– and they may not even know it. Literally hundreds of thousands of pounds of food, spices and spice mixes from dozens of different companies have been recalled for undeclared peanut since November 2014, so it would be easy for even a diligent restaurant chef to miss an item on the list. Besides, according to the FDA, the investigation into this problem is still underway, so it is entirely possible that multiple brands of spice products, meats, sauces, and other food items that contain contaminated cumin have yet to be recalled and are still being sold to restaurants as well as consumers.

Since cumin allergies are not common, restaurant servers and chefs may not be accustomed to requests from customers to avoid cumin in dishes, and given the U.S. food labeling law loopholes mentioned above, restaurant staff may honestly not even know which of their dishes contain cumin.

For anyone with a peanut allergy, I would recommend exercising extreme caution eating at restaurants at this time– even when eating out at restaurants with a good reputation for being food allergy friendly.

So is any cumin safe for people with peanut allergies to eat right now? Do we really really have to avoid all of it?


So here’s the honest truth: all those foods I listed above that are likely to contain cumin? Like, you know, BBQ sauce, black bean veggie burgers, hummus, burritos, enchiladas, chana masala?


NOT MORE THAN I LOVE MY AMAZING, KIND BRILLIANT HANDSOME GENEROUS CREATIVE FUNNY AND WONDERFUL FIRSTBORN AND ONLY CHILD, of course. So I’d happily give cumin up, just as I’ve given up peanuts (and peanut butter and granola bars and M&Ms and Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and most kinds of chocolate actually and Pad Thai). If I had to ban peanut entirely from my home to keep my kid safe? I would do that. NO QUESTION.

But is there a way for me to get safe, peanut-free cumin to make safe versions of cumin-heavy dishes from scratch? Luckily, there do seem to be a few safe options for cumin-lovers who need to avoid peanut. Here are some tips for tracking down peanut-free cumin to use at home:

Whole cumin is safer than ground cumin: So far, all of the peanut-contaminated cumin found in the U.S., UK and Canada has been ground cumin. There is probably a reason for this: ground cumin looks very similar to peanut flour and / or ground peanut shells. So if, say, a cumin supplier suffering from a cumin shortage caused by a particularly bad cumin harvest in India this season did, say, want to, shall we say, stretch cumin shipments by illegally adding in a similarly colored, cheaper filler, adding peanut flour or ground peanut shells to ground cumin would be the way to go. It would be much harder to hide fillers like peanut shells or peanut flour in whole cumin seed, which looks like this:

Whole cumin seed | When Peanuts Attack


You can look for recipes that use whole cumin seeds instead of ground cumin, or buy whole cumin and then grind it yourself at home with a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle.

Some spice brands are safer than others: Spice maker McCormick, well known in food allergy circles already for having a peanut-free processing facility, has issued a public statement to reassure their customers that none of their cumin-containing products, have been involved in any of the recent cumin recalls; McCormick states that they source their cumin as whole seeds, clean it to remove impurities, and then grind it in their own peanut-free facilities.


Have any other single-ingredient spices been involved in recalls for undeclared allergens lately?


Yes. A couple of brands of paprika were recently recalled in the U.S. for undeclared peanut and in the UK for undeclared almond. I do not know whether this is a separate, isolated incident, or is directly connected to the cumin recalls. The FDA has yet to issue any sort of general warning about paprika as they have about cumin, but more paprika recalls are definitely something to keep an eye on over the next few weeks.


What about people who are allergic to tree nuts, but not peanuts? Do they still need to avoid cumin?


Honestly I do not know why the FDA failed to include a warning to people with tree nut allergies in this advisory statement. While most of the recent cumin recalls have involved undeclared peanut, it is absolutely the case that a few of the recalls of cumin / products that contain cumin– including recalls for Ortega taco spice and Cool Runnings curry seasonings— also involved undeclared almonds. And as mentioned above, one of the recent paprika recalls was related to undeclared almonds. If you have an allergy to almonds or other tree nuts, then you should absolutely be paying close attention to this spice recall situation, too.

Food safety alert! Peanuts might be in your cumin.

Ground cumin and peanut flour | When Peanuts Attack

Totally easy to tell apart, right? I’m sure no one would ever mix these up.

On October 30th, 2014, the parent company of the brand Ortega in Canada, B.H. Foods, announced a recall, in cooperation with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, of a single lot of Ortega Taco Seasoning Mix in the 35.4 grams size, with a best by date of May 8, 2016.

The recall notice read, “B.H. Kosher Select Food Dist. is recalling Ortega brand Taco Seasoning Mix from the marketplace because it contains peanut and almond which are not declared on the label. People with an allergy to peanut or almond should not consume the recalled product described below.”

Curiously, the next day, October 31st, a different Canadian company, Universal Impex of Canada, also announced a recall of a different spice product– Cool Runnings Jamaican Style Curry Powder. Different company. Different spice mix. But the recall language was strikingly similar: “Universal Impex Corp. is recalling Cool Runnings brand Jamaican Style Curry Powder from the marketplace because it may contain peanut and almond which are not declared on the label. People with an allergy to peanut or almond should not consume the recalled product described below.”

On November 11th, B.H. Foods expanded its recall of Ortega branded products in Canada to include a second lot of Taco Seasoning Mix, with a best by date of June 26, 2016.

On November 14th, B.H. announced through the CFIA that its recall for undeclared peanut and almond ingredients had expanded to include multiple lots of 29 different products under the Ortega and Las Palmas brand including taco seasoning mix, taco sauce, taco dinner kits, commercial taco seasoning spice for restaurants, and more. B&G Foods, the name for Ortega’s parent company in the United States, simultaneously announced a recall through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that included a similarly long list of Ortega and Las Palmas products including taco spice mix, taco kits, enchilada sauce, hot sauce packets and more.

The FDA recall page read, in part, “B&G Foods announced today it is voluntarily recalling certain Ortega Taco Seasoning Mix, Ortega Taco Sauce, Ortega Enchilada Sauce and Ortega Taco Kit products and certain Las Palmas Taco Seasoning Mix and Las Palmas Taco Sauce products after learning that one or more of the spice ingredients purchased from a third party supplier contain peanuts and almonds, allergens that are not declared on the products’ ingredient statements.”

On November 20th and again on November 28th, Universal Impex of Canada expanded their recall to include more curry products.

On December 19th, Reily Foods issued a recall through the U.S. FDA of its Carroll Shelby and Wick Fowler brand chili seasoning kits, after, according to the recall notice, “learning that one or more of the spice ingredients purchased from a third-party supplier contain peanut and almond allergens that are not declared on the products’ ingredient statements.”

And that’s when I started to get suspicious.

I hear about most U.S. recalls for food products that contain undeclared peanut. “Undeclared” allergen recalls happen in the U.S. when a packaged food product is found to to contain a significant amount of a top 8 food allergen (meaning milk, egg, wheat, soy, shellfish, fish, tree nuts or peanuts) that is not listed on the product’s ingredient label.

As the mother of a child with a life-threatening peanut allergy, I’d better make sure I hear about recalls for undeclared peanut. As little as one 1/100th of one peanut can cause allergic symptoms in a person with a severe peanut allergy, so even trace amounts of peanut that make their way into a food product by accident can cause a problem for my son. Savvy food allergy parents know to sign up for recall alerts from the FDA.

I also get a heads-up on peanut-related recalls from food allergy advocacy organizations like FAACT and FARE. And as a member of No Nuts Moms and a number of other online food allergy support groups for parents of children with food allergies, I am connected to a virtual army of thousands of mothers and fathers who are always on the lookout for food safety issues that might affect children with food allergies.

So thanks to the awesome power of the internet, I’d already heard about the Ortega recalls in Canada and the U.S. I’d missed the Universal Impex recall (since it was in Canada). But when the Reily recall popped up across my news feeds in December, I asked some of my food allergy advocate friends, “Do you think this Reily spice recall could be related to that Ortega spice recall from November?”

No one I asked knew.

The FDA had not publicly announced any connection between them.

And try as I might, I could not find any information on the B&G or Reily websites identifying the “third-party supplier” both companies mentioned as the source of their contaminated product.

On December 26th,  Adams Flavors announced a recall of multiple spice products that contained cumin, including single-ingredient cumin packages, chili powder and various spiced meat rubs, saying, “We were notified by one of our third party suppliers that one of the spice ingredients purchased contains peanut proteins, allergens that are not declared on the products’ ingredient statements. People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to peanuts run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products.”

That was when I decided it was time to start making a list of spice recalls for undeclared peanut or almond that seemed like they might be related.

My list has gotten very, very long.

Dozens of brands, hundreds of products, and hundreds of thousands of pounds of food long. All of which seem to contain cumin or spice mixes that might contain cumin.

Though perfectly safe for people without any food allergies to consume, any one of these products that have been recalled for undeclared peanut and/or almond protein could potentially kill a person with a life-threatening peanut or tree nut allergy.

Keep in mind that during this entire set of recalls, the FDA, the USDA, and the CFIA have, as far as I know, issued no official public statements linking all of these recalls, nor has any of these agencies issued any general public alert (not related to a specific recall) regarding a nationwide food safety issue with cumin or other spices. The FDA, USDA and the CFIA have not publicly named a potential source for this apparently industry-wide problem. And as far as I know there has also been no national media coverage of these recalls that mentions that they may be related.

The national food safety agencies and national media in the U.S. and Canada aren’t warning the public that the presence of undeclared nuts in cumin could be a systemic, continent-wide food safety emergency for people with allergies to peanuts or almonds. So I am. If you know someone who has a peanut or tree nut allergy or has a child with a peanut or tree nut allergy, please share this post with them and let them know that eating any of these recalled foods may put them in danger.

Here is my list. SO FAR. (I will continue to update this post with new potentially related recalls as I find them.)

October 30th: B.H. Foods (AKA Ortega in Canada) recalls their taco spice mix in Canada. (Mentioned above.)

October 31st: Universal Impex of Canada recalls Cool Runnings brand Jamaican style curry powder. (Mentioned above.)

November 10th: B.H. Foods (AKA Ortega in Canada) expands their taco spice recall in Canada. (Mentioned above.)

November 14th: B.H. Foods (AKA Ortega in Canada) and B&G Foods (AKA Ortega in the U.S.) recall taco spice mix and dozens of related products that contain taco spice mix in both the U.S. and Canada. (Mentioned above.)

November 20th: Universal Impex of Canada expands their recall to include more curry products. (Mentioned above.)

November 28th: Universal Impex of Canada expands their recall to include even more curry products. (Mentioned above.)

December 19th: Reily Foods recalls chili seasoning kits through the FDA. (Mentioned above.)

December 26th: Adams Flavors recalls multiple products that contain cumin, including single-ingredient cumin packages, chili powder and various spiced meat rubs. (Mentioned above.)

December 26th: C.F. Sauer recalls barbeque grill seasoning, chili powder and ground cumin with UPC codes and code dates between June 13 2014 and October 21, 2014. They blame a spice supplier by the name of Schiff Foods and state that Schiff sold them cumin “which could have come into contact with peanuts in the manufacturing environment and could have issues for anyone with peanut allergies.” (As far as I can tell, this recall has ONLY been published to the Sauer site so far, and is not on the FDA site.)

December 27th: Garcia Foods in Texas recalls 190,450 pounds of pork products that were seasoned with spices obtained from Adams Flavors for undeclared peanut, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture; this is publicly linked by both the FDA and USDA to the Adams Flavors recall.

December 29th: Jardine recalls multiple chili spice mix products, stating: “We were notified by one of our third party suppliers that one of the spice ingredients purchased contains peanut proteins, an allergen which is not declared on the products’ ingredient statement.”

December 29th: Hausman Foods in Texas recalls 38,400 pounds of beef and pork products that were seasoned with spices obtained from Adams Flavors for undeclared peanut; this is publicly linked by the FDA and USDA to the Adams recall.

December 29th: J & B Sausage in Texas recalls 45,904 pounds of chicken and beef products that were seasoned with spices obtained from Adams Flavors for undeclared peanut; this is publicly linked by the FDA and USDA to the Adams recall.

December 29th: HEB Meat in Texas recalls 83,666 pounds of pork products that were seasoned with spices obtained from Adams Flavors for undeclared peanut; this is publicly linked by the FDA and USDA to the Adams recall.

December 30th: J & B Sausage expands their recall to include more meat products.

December 31st: Campos Foods of Tennessee recalls 5,300 pounds of chicken products that were seasoned with spices obtained from Adams Flavors for undeclared peanut; this is publicly linked by the FDA and USDA to the Adams recall.

December 31st: Adams Foods expands their recall for undeclared peanut to include multiple flavors of Private Selection brand panko breadcrumbs.

January 2nd: Zilks Foods recalls all flavors of its 8 oz size packages of hummus. Zilks says the hummus ” may contain undeclared peanuts” because “a spice ingredient from a single supplier used in the affected products was contaminated with peanut allergens.”

January 7th: Fresh Food Manufacturing recalls 5,865 pounds of chili products for undeclared peanut. They say they were notified by an unnamed “spice supplier” that “cumin used in the chili may have been contaminated with peanut allergens.”

January 7th: HEB issues a new recall (through the FDA this time not the USDA), this time for soup and chowder products. They say, “H-E-B was notified of this issue on January 5, 2015 by the vendor Southern Style Spices that one of the spice blend ingredient components used in the products had tested positive for peanut residue.”

January 8th: The Daniel Weaver Company recalls 7,092 pounds of Yoruk Halal Beef products, saying the company was “notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the sausage may have been contaminated with peanut allergens.” The supplier is not named.

January 9th: Con Yeager Spice Company recalls OVER 100 VARIETIES of cumin and spice mixes that contain cumin, sold nationwide under multiple brand names, including Con Yeager, Shop N Save, Trader Horn, Bi Lo, Burning Asphalt, Country Smokehouse, Ray’s Recipes, and more. Con Yeager says they were “notified by the supplier Morris J. Golombeck Inc. that the ground cumin product had tested positive for traces of peanut protein.”

January 9th: MorningStar Farms recalls Spicy Black Bean veggie burgers and Chipotle Black Bean veggie burgers. MorningStar says, “MorningStar Farms was notified by a third party supplier that one of the spice ingredients used in Spicy Black Bean Burgers and Chipotle Black Bean Burgers may inadvertently contain peanut, an allergen that is not declared on the products’ ingredient statements.”

January 9th: Taj Indian Gourmet recalls three flavors of sauce “due to undeclared peanut allergen in a spice provided by a third-party supplier.”

January 9th: Shirk’s Meats recalls 1,062 pounds of pork sausage products through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered when Shirk’s Meats company was notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the sausage may have been contaminated with peanut allergens.”

January 12th: Spice N’More recalls cumin powder sold under multiple brand names including Casablanca, Spice Class, La Mina, All Island Spice, and more, saying “The recall was initiated after it was discovered that the peanut-containing product was distributed in packaging that did not reveal the presence of peanuts. Subsequent investigation indicates the problem was caused by contamination of the product from its country of origin.”

January 12th: La Flor Products recalls multiple sizes of ground cumin products through the FDA, saying, “The recall was initiated after it was revealed by a supplier that the product we received contained traces of peanut and we distributed this product in packaging that did not reveal or state the presence of peanuts.”

January 12th: Zenobia recalls multiple sizes of ground cumin products through the FDA, saying, “The recall was initiated after our supplier notified us that the Cumin Ground containing peanut protein was shipped to us by them unknowingly.”

January 12th: U.S. Foods recalls 700 pounds of beef products through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered by US Foods when the company was notified by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration alert and became aware that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the beef fajita strips may have been contaminated with peanut residue.”

January 13th: Condies Foods recalls multiple brands and flavors of salsa through the FDA “because they contain the recalled spice cumin which may contain undeclared peanut protein,” stating “The recall was initiated after Condies Foods discovered through the FDA Recalls, Withdrawals and Safety Alerts that a certain lot of cumin used in Condies products had been recalled.”

January 13th:  HEB expands their recall for undeclared peanut to include HEB brand Texas Ranch Casserole and Gumbo.

January 14th: NAC Foods recalls multiple sizes of ground cumin, sold under the brand names Mimi’s Products and Rosa Maria, for undeclared peanut.

January 14th: Publix announces a recall of multiple beef, chicken and pork products through its website, stating, “they may contain peanuts that are not declared on the packaging.” As far as I know, this recall has only been announced through the Publix website, not through the USDA or the FDA.

January 15th: Franklin Farms recalls multiple lots of chili bean veggie burgers for undeclared peanut through the FDA, saying, “Franklin Farms was notified by a third party supplier that one of the spice ingredients used in Chili-Bean Veggiburgers may inadvertently contain peanut, an allergen that is not declared on the products’ ingredient statements.”

January 15th: Publix announces a second recall of multiple ready-to-eat deli products for undeclared peanut. This recall, like the previous one, was announced on Publix’s website and not through the FDA or USDA.

January 15th: Classic Cooking, LLC recalls five varieties of Garden Lites frozen products, through the FDA, saying, “The ingredient cumin provided by a third party vendor was contaminated with peanut allergen.”

January 16th: B&M, Inc. recalls Harris Teeter Blue Cheese Jalapeno Seasoning through the FDA, saying, “B&M, Inc. was notified by one of their suppliers that one lot of Cumin Ground Conventional and some of the seasonings containing this lot had potentially been contaminated with peanut protein.”

January 16th: B&M, Inc. also recalls multiple varieties of ground cumin and chili powder, sold under the brand names Archer Farms (sold at Target) and The Fresh Market, for undeclared peanut.

January 16th: Heywood’s Meat Haus recalls over 900 pounds of pork shoulder products through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered when the company’s ingredient supplier informed them that the ground cumin spice, used to produce the Tasso, may have been contaminated with peanut residue.”

January 16th: Buffalo Provision recalls 48,210 pounds of chorizo products, in multiple flavors, through the USDA, stating, “The problem was discovered when Buffalo Provisions was notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the products may have been contaminated with peanut allergens..”

January 16th: Kabob’s Acquisition recalls over 800 pounds of beef and chicken products for undeclared peanut through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered when the company’s ingredient supplier informed them that the ground cumin spice, used to produce the products, may have been contaminated with peanut residue.”

January 17th: Sentry Food Solutions recalls 14,130 pounds of chicken and beef products for undeclared peanut through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered when Sentry Food Solutions was notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the products may have been contaminated with peanut allergens.”

January 21st: Holiday Foods recalls 1,819 pounds of beef, chicken and pork products for undeclared peanut through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered when Holiday Foods was notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the products may have been contaminated with peanuts.”

January 23rd: REO Spice & Seasoning recalls its Country Style Chili Seasoning for undeclared peanut through the FDA, stating, “This recall is being conducted with the knowledge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after it was discovered that a single ingredient from a supplier used in the affected product was contaminated with peanut allergens.”

January 29th: Aleias Gluten Free Foods recalls two varieties of gluten-free croutons for undeclared peanut through the FDA, saying, “This recall was initiated due to the possibility of undeclared peanut protein in the cumin provided by a third-party supplier.”

January 29th: Spiceco recalls Pride of Szeged Sweet Hungarian Paprika for undeclared peanut through the FDA and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, stating that the product tested positive for peanut protein during tests performed by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. NOTE: This is the first time since this series of cumin-related recalls started that paprika has been recalled for undeclared peanut. I do not know for certain that this is related to the cumin-based recalls, and I also do not know whether this recall means that more paprika recalls might be coming. Keep an eye on this one.

January 30th: Clemens Food group recalls pork rib products through the USDA, stating, “The problem was discovered when Clemens Food Group was notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the products may have been contaminated with peanut. Clemens Food Group then informed FSIS of the issue.”

January 30th: Morrison Meat Packers recalls 70,077 pounds of cooked pork products for undeclared peanut through the USDA, saying, “The problem was discovered when the establishment was notified by its spice supplier that the cumin in a spice mix used to formulate the pork products may have been contaminated with peanut allergens.”

January 31st: The cumin recalls reach the United Kingdom. The Food Standards Agency of the UK announces a recall of Bart ground cumin for undeclared almond. (Note that though most of the cumin-related recalls have been for undeclared peanut, the earliest recalls of Ortega and Cool Runnings brand spice products were for both undeclared peanut and undeclared almond, so this recall does fit the profile of some of the others in this list and is, I think, potentially related.)

February 2nd: The Spice Mill recalls ground cumin and Cajun Seasoning products for undeclared peanut through the FDA. The recall states, “This recall was initiated after it was discovered that ingredients from a single supplier used in the affected products were contaminated with peanut proteins. This allergen was not declared on the products’ ingredient statement.”

February 9th: Whole Foods recalls a very long list of prepared fresh foods through the FDA, stating, “Whole Foods Market has recalled items prepared with a supplier’s ground cumin spice ingredient that may have contained undeclared peanut. People with an allergy or severe sensitivity to peanuts run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products.” This list includes multiple flavors of fresh salads, soups, chili, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, wraps, sauces, seasoned meats and many, many other items prepared between January 14th and February 6th. If you shop at Whole Foods you should definitely check this list out.

February 10th: Whole Foods recalls an additional list of prepared products through the USDA, also for undeclared peanut due to contaminated cumin.

February 13th: Goya Foods announces a recall of Kirby brand black beans with creole seasoning and Goya brand black bean soup through the FDA. The recall states, “The voluntary recall was announced after the Company was notified by one of its ingredient suppliers that one lot of ground cumin had potentially been produced with undeclared peanut protein”

February 17th: Spiceco issues a correction to its recall of Pride of Szeged paprika for undeclared peanut.

February 20th: Con Yeager Spice Company revises its cumin-related recall for undeclared peanut to include updated brand names and varieties.


Cumin image derived from work by Giovanni Dall’Orto. Used with permission via Wikimedia Commons.

How to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project this Halloween

Teal Pumpkin Project | When Peanuts Attack

Two years ago, Becky Basalone, mother of a child with life-threatening food allergies and founder of FACET, a food allergy support group in Tennessee, painted a pumpkin teal, the color for food allergy awareness, and took it along with some allergy-friendly non-food treats to a local trunk-or-treat for Halloween. Two years later, her Teal Pumpkin Project is taking off across America, with backing from the national group, Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) and nationwide press coverage, including articles on CNN and the Today Show website. As a result, thousands of children who find trick-or-treating much scarier than it ought to be will have something special to look forward to this Halloween: allergy-safe treats they can keep.

Participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project to support children with food allergies is easy. And traditionalists and candy-lovers, take heart: you can participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project and still offer Halloween candy to those kids who can enjoy it. Here’s how you can join in:

Step One: Paint a pumpkin teal. Or purchase a pumpkin that is already teal-colored. Or print off a free Teal Pumpkin Poster from FARE, and tape it up in your window or on your front door, so that kids with food allergies will know that safe treats are available at your home.

Step Two: Buy some kid-friendly, food-free treats like stickers, glow sticks, glow bracelets, bubble bottles, spinning tops, toy spiders, or bouncy balls. (Avoid toys that contain food, like playdough, which often contains wheat– a top 8 food allergen.)

Step Three: Put your non-food treats in a separate bowl from your Halloween candy, to avoid accidentally contaminating the non-food treats with food from any candy packages that may come open.

Step Four: Offer a choice of candy or non-food treats to the trick-or-treaters who come to your door, and enjoy making this holiday safer and more fun for kids with food allergies!


Teal pumpkin | When Peanuts Attack

Peanut allergy myth: Peanut allergies were invented by overprotective parents

You're Nuts | When Peanuts AttackMyth: Back when I was a kid, no one I knew was allergic to peanuts. So peanut allergies must be a silly fake illness made up by today’s overprotective parents.

Reality: A peanut allergy is a real and serious medical condition. Peanut allergies ARE on the rise among children, but scientists do not know why.

It’s absolutely true that a few decades ago, peanut allergy diagnoses were not as common as they are today. However, peanut allergies are not some sort of psychosomatic illness foisted on children by their crazy helicopter parents.

According to multiple studies published by respected groups like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, food allergies in general and peanut allergies in particular have increased sharply over the past few decades.

One survey study by allergists at Mount Sinai Hospital, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that while 0.4% of children surveyed were reported to have a peanut allergy in 1997, 1.4% percent of children reported a peanut allergy in 2008 — indicating that the number of children with peanut allergies tripled in just one decade.

Though there are many interesting theories on what may be behind this increase in dangerous food allergies among children, there is as yet no scientific consensus on a primary cause.

But it is undeniable that food allergies, including peanut allergies, truly exist. Food allergies are widely recognized as a serious medical condition by the medical community. 

The CDC says, “Food allergies are a growing food safety and public health concern [ . . . ]  Allergic reactions can be life threatening and have far-reaching effects on children and their families.” The Mayo Clinic says, “Even a tiny amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives or swollen airways. In some people, a food allergy can cause severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.”

And in most cases, is a fairly simple matter for a doctor to determine whether or not a person genuinely has a serious food allergy. Doctors can test for food allergies in a clinical setting using a blood test, a skin prick test, or a food challenge to prove that a person has a true food allergy. And most doctors will not prescribe medication or a treatment plan for a person with a food allergy until they have performed such testing.

So when a parent says, “An allergist diagnosed my child with a peanut allergy,” that means that the child has been tested by a medical professional and shown to have a real and serious medical issue.

Managing a life-threatening peanut allergy is difficult and stressful. The parent of a child with a peanut allergy must monitor every single piece of food his or her child eats, take the child to all sorts of extra doctors’ appointments, and constantly carry around expensive life-saving medication. It is not a thing an even marginally sane parent would make up just to get attention. Trust me on this one. If I could give my child back the life he had before his peanut allergy diagnosis, I would do so in a heartbeat.