Being severely allergic to a food, people assume that most settings are safe, and that moving through life being mindful of what you eat is your main focus! As it turns out, cross-contamination is a much larger and difficult problem to control. Being allergic to the dust of my allergen is the scariest part for me! I would imagine those allergic to things like poison ivy or poison oak understand this aspect of an allergy! It’s invisible to the naked eye and potentially e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.
Tying into my earlier article on pets and cross-contamination of peanuts, I’ve learned not only homes and vehicles of friends and family with pets are contaminated, but the entire world is covered in peanut dust, and that isn’t even an exaggeration! There’s just no way to control miniscule amounts of particles and completely remove them from an area.
Thinking about cross-contamination from a commercial kitchen or food manufacturing standpoint, if the allergens are present, they’re very likely to end up in trace amounts within the final product. Take a look at my photo of the salt below, I was shocked to see soy being a possibility! This is in no way a diss to Trader Joe’s, it’s great that they label and are aware of allergens! I’ve even seen a bag of kiwis that were labeled “may contain peanuts” once… I assume they were bagged on shared equipment.
I feel the risk of my actions greatly, but do occasionally eat at restaurants like Qdoba, where the allergens are listed online, and I know there aren’t peanut products on the menu and used in the kitchen. I try to limit my going out to restaurants that don’t use peanuts overall, because it is still a risk in-store and at the food facility level.
Having an allergen menu online is much appreciated, but it doesn’t guarantee the person making my food isn’t snacking on a peanut item, or that the facility of the tortillas or salsa aren’t making the product on shared lines with peanuts. Cross-contamination can come from a million various situations. In kitchens, both in homes and in restaurants, it can come from dishes with peanut residue on them contaminating all the other plates/utensils, the preparation of food in the same areas, or shared pans and ovens! The particles can get on hands, cabinet doors, in the pantry on items, anywhere!
At Qdoba specifically, it’s moderately safe for me to eat a meal from there, but what about people inside Qdoba? The customers bringing in their outside items, or the employees on break? I’ve on more than one occasion seen someone eating a snickers inside at a table, or with their child playing with and spreading out their peanut m&ms out on the outside tables. This could very well have been the same table I am sitting at, or person I’m next to, causing me to have an airborne reaction. Every day I see at least one situation that could put me in danger, just by touching something.
At work for example, I know a few people who eat their peanut products outside, because they aren’t allowed on my floor. I greatly appreciate that, because it does limit dust in the break room, bathroom, and common areas (and then there’s the whole airborne aspect as well!) Although, twice now, I’ve seen someone eating a small bag of peanuts outside in a common area in front of my building, then open the front entrance door handle, press the ‘up’ elevator button, and use the door handle to get into my floor. The last time I witnessed this, I waited 5 minutes, then followed cautiously trying to hold my breath as much as possible, and immediately went and washed my hands. There’s no getting around particles traveling by air or objects, whether it be dairy, soy, peanuts, or another allergen.
One bad reaction of mine was in a shared conference room at Spalding University when I was giving my final senior presentation. I was sitting in a room with 4 other students, presenting to two professors, and the stakes were high. Suddenly I started to feel my face get really hot and my lip itchy and swollen. I had already presented, luckily, and was sitting in one of the leather office chairs sitting around an oval table. I’m sure I was going over my presentation in my head and touching my face nervously. I looked down in the back of my seat to check my surroundings and reassure myself it was probably nothing, and it looked as if someone had eaten peanuts in my chair! There were a few actual whole peanut pieces around the seat crease.
In shock, I hesitantly interrupted the other student presenting, to let them know I needed to leave immediately because of my chair! They were equally as shocked and horrified. It was absolutely not intentional, I was a part of the discussion when we randomly chose the office, and I chose my own seat. It was just a fluke, and something I now am on the lookout for in shared spaces!
I’ve been inside a friend’s car who warned me they’ve eaten peanut products in them recently, potentially wiping their hands on the seat or shared spaces as the passenger’s side. My fried Laura once lost a peanut in her car for over a week, and would not let me in it until she found it!
In general, everyday life is peanut-y, and you’d never notice unless you needed to. That’s all for my hopefully informative rant on daily encounters with cross-contamination!