Can You Safely Buy in Bulk With a Peanut Allergy?

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Published: August 14, 2017
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Q: My 10-month-old grandson is allergic to peanuts and eggs, so we want to keep our food shopping safe for him. My husband and I usually buy legumes in bulk, but I’m concerned they might be handled in a facility along with peanuts. Will washing legumes thoroughly before cooking remove any cross-contamination, or should we simply stop bulk shopping?

Dr. Sharma: Shopping from bulk food containers certainly poses a risk for those with food allergies like your grandson. There is a chance of cross-contact with allergens, such as peanuts or tree nuts, if the scoops for bagging are shared between bins, if the bins are not adequately cleaned between use for different foods or if the bulk food itself has had cross-contact during the handling and distribution process.

It is difficult to quantify this risk, but for some people with peanut allergy who are highly sensitive, consuming as little as one milligram or less can cause an allergic reaction. Given this risk, especially for these highly sensitive individuals, many bulk food containers have advisory allergen labels.

Unfortunately, washing of food is not a reliable way to remove allergens. So for your grandson, the safest way to avoid his food allergens would be to avoid bulk shopping.

Dr. Sharma is an allergist, clinical researcher and associate professor of pediatrics. He is Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C. and Director of the Food Allergy Program. He co-authors “The Food Allergy Experts” column in Allergic Living magazine. Questions submitted will be considered for answer in the magazine.

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