Efforts to muzzle peanut and tree nut allergies are meeting with some success. This summer, researchers in North Carolina announced they were able to deactivate the three proteins in peanuts that provoke an immune response. So far, peanuts have received the most attention, since they rank as one of the top 5 allergies in the United States.
All nuts have the potential to cause trouble, however. A new report out of Great Britain shows that cashews can provoke bad reactions in children. Consumers with these allergies walk a minefield each time they enter a store or go to a restaurant. Nuts are nearly ubi-quitous ingredients, found in everything from pesto sauce to shampoo.
“Even trace amounts can be enough to cause problems — sometimes just through skin contact, or from inhalation when food is being cooked,” said Anne Munoz-Furlong, founder and chief executive officer of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.
The incidence of food allergies has skyrocketed, doubling in the last 10 years. More than 12 million Americans — one in 25 — suffer from the problem, including 2.2 million school-age children. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act that took effect in 2006 requires that food manufacturers identify, on the package, the presence of any of the eight major food allergens — milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy. Retailers must do this with their private-label products, though supermarkets have gone steps further by reaching out to shoppers through in-store educational events.
“I routinely do food demonstrations — we just did some — that talk about this whole idea of food allergies,” said Judy Dodd, food and nutrition advisor for Giant Eagle, a Pittsburgh-based supermarket chain. “The three big issues for us are gluten intolerance, tree nuts and peanuts, especially during this back-to-school time.
“We're always alerting our customers to these kinds of things,” she added.