May 29, 2024

Food Allergens Can Become Airborne: How to Handle the Risk

Food Poisoning Bulletin constantly reports on food recalls for the eight major food allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, fin fish, shellfish, wheat, eggs, and soy. Those eight allergens together cause at least 30,000 emergency room visits, 2000 hospitalizations, and 150 deaths in the U.S. every year. Recently we became aware that some foodborne allergens can become airborne.

Food Allergens Can Become Airborne: How to Handle the Risk

Some of the allergens are more of a risk than others. For instance, peanut allergens usually do not become airborne, and allergic reactions are not triggered from peanut butter vapors, according to a study published in the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Since peanuts allergies are typically more severe and more likely to trigger anaphylactic shock, this is a relief.

Some other food allergens can become airborne. The allergic reactions they triggered, however, are usually mild and similar to reactions from pollen, including itchy eyes and cough, and thankfully do not include anaphylaxis. The allergens that can become airborne include proteins from milk, shellfish, fish, eggs, and flour.

Cooking the food is the main way the allergens aerosolize. When milk is boiled it can release allergens. Boiling soup, cooking eggs, or frying fish can also put allergens into the air. Flour is a concern, of course, because the finely divided solid easily becomes airborne.

Parents can help avoid aerosolizing food allergens by making simple changes in food preparation. Keep your child away from cooking food, preferably in another room. You can also air out the kitchen before your child comes back in. Also think about improving air circulation in the kitchen by using fans or opening windows.

How food is cooked can also have an effect. For instance, cover soups that are boiling, simmer pasta instead of boiling it, or steam fish in an enclosed container rather than frying it in oil. Simmer soups or milk instead of boiling them.

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