I have such a love/fear relationship with peanuts. Love because peanut products are some of my favourite everyday treats. Crunchy peanut butter spread thickly on doorsteps of freshly baked bread was always a hunger ‘go to’. Honey roasted peanuts, Snickers, either as the chocolate bar or ice cream, were more. You can see I have none of those food allergies, lucky me. But also that I used the past tense in describing my love, more later…
And why fear? This has only arisen as a consequence of becoming a provider of allergen free cake kits. As I’ve mentioned I do not personally have any food allergies and so my learning about these has come from the experiences of friends or TV/reading/research. What I have learned from those sources makes me feel that, of all the food allergens, peanut has the ability to give the most immediately dangerous effects.
Are peanuts nuts?
Well, that’s a bit of a leading question because as I mentioned in my last blog peanuts, also called ground nuts, are not actually nuts. They are legumes, so of the same family as soya beans and lupin. I will talk about both these listed food allergens in later blogs, but how ‘interesting’ that they are all listed as having a major impact.
So, what are legumes? I found the clearest and easiest to understand definition from the website Ultimate Paleo Guide who write…
‘A legume is a simple, dry fruit contained within a shed or a pod. The most well-known legumes are peas, beans, peanuts, and alfalfa…’
As a side note it’s fascinating to notice how much material about food allergens may be found on ‘lifestyle’ sites, such as vegan, paleo, clean living etc. It’s definitely worth you checking them out as a resource.
Who’s afraid of peanuts then?
Well I’m guessing, first and foremost every person with, or parent of children who have, a peanut allergy. It sounds simply terrifying! And to someone like me who does not have it, peanut allergy is the one that seems to have the most dramatic effects. Tiny, tiny amounts of peanut ingested can cause an anaphylactic shock – or even just airborne particles. This article by the Mail Online is just one example of the type of impact that comes to my mind when I think about peanut allergy. I suspect it is much the same for just about every other food manufacturer or producer too!
Continued learning and research into food allergies has taught me that other foods can also have this effect. The Food Standards Agency has produced this useful information sheet about this. The FSA advice shows that any food a person has an allergy to, rather than an intolerance of, is capable of causing an anaphylactic shock. Again, I think that my perception that the media focus on anaphylactic shock caused by peanuts rather than every food allergy is the same reason for other food producers. And may be the root cause for us being unwilling to take any ‘chances’.
Risk, health and safety… and food labeling
We live in a highly critical and litigious world. The smallest of problems with products can cause even major food brands to lose consumer confidence. As you might imagine a small business could be completely wiped out by this. But also, the best of us sign up to health and safety in the noblest of manners. We care about you, our customers, and want to do everything we can to ensure your safety as well as pleasure in our products. It is not just business, it is personal!
This is why I, and I believe most other food producers, ensure that we have a statement to say that our products ‘might’ have traces of peanuts. Even while we know that irritates the consumer hugely we want to help you to be 100% safe.
To the best of my knowledge peanuts do not have a statutory limit which must not be exceeded to consider a product to be free from. This exists for gluten and for sulphites and enables us to be very clear in our statements. This would be a very helpful approach for business and customers for all the listed food allergens. But I’m not aware of any work being undertaken to do so.
My peanut fear, and what I do about it
So, back to the beginning of this post where I highlighted that my love of some favourite treats was past tense. Since I have started my business I have no peanut products in my home, none! This is to avoid the possibility of cross contamination. When the urge gets too strong I visit a friend to have a spoonful of peanut butter or a Snickers. and make sure to wash up before I come home. This is me putting my customers first.
I also seek to buy products from which I make my kits from peanut free suppliers whenever possible. But with the best will in the world I cannot 100% guarantee that there are absolutely no traces of peanut in them. And, without a target to measure my products by so that I can absolutely say that there are no peanuts, the best I can do is let you know this. I do believe my products to be entirely peanut free and yet am too scared for you to stop at that statement.
Some potential advice
For what it’s worth my advice for any consumer would be to look at the ingredients in any product and make a judgement from that. If there are nuts in there then perhaps there is a potential for there to be peanut traces also. Some cereals might come from lines where nuts/peanuts could find traces to cross contaminate so perhaps these should be avoided. My apologies if my ignorance makes that a stupid sounding suggestion.
But I feel that, until we have a specific measurement, this is the best we can all do. I hope in the future it will no longer be needed and that I and others can stop our statements at ‘free from peanut’. But please, until then, can you think kindly of us for making you aware of our concerns for you?
That was quite some essay! I didn’t realise at the start just how much I wanted to share with you. I hope you found it helpful and interesting and will forgive me for not including a recipe this time.
I would love to have your thoughts on this or any of my blogs. Also, any ideas of topics that you would like me to cover.
My next planned blog will be about Soya. Wishing you safe and happy times until then.
Images by Max Pixel