Published: February 27, 2009 12:12 am   

Uncovering secret peanut hiding places

Source of Article:

By J.M. Hirsch
Associated Press

A massive salmonella-triggered recall of foods has the whole nation looking askance at foods once noshed with abandon.

The lesson is a familiar one to people with food allergies: Peanuts and peanut products can appear in all manner of unlikely foods, from egg rolls and ice cream to chili, candy and chocolate.

"People who are sensitive or allergic to items really get good at being super sleuths at finding them," said Dee Sandquist, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

And for the moment, everyone else would be wise to turn detective, too. The government has warned consumers to check foods containing peanuts and peanut products against a list of recalled products, available at

The good news is national brands of jarred peanut butter sold directly to consumers, as well as the perennial must-have Girl Scout Cookies, so far have been unaffected by the recalls.

The bad news is the outbreak has been traced to a Georgia plant that processes peanuts for institutions and food companies.

And those peanuts have found their way into hundreds of prepared foods, from cookies and cakes to ice cream and snack bars, even pet food. Hundreds of products have been recalled.

In packaged foods, finding peanuts usually is just a matter of looking at the labels, said Anne Munoz-Furlong, founder of The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, an advocacy group. Manufacturers must label foods that contain peanuts.

That's good, because items such as SunRidge's Energy Nuggets and Archer Farms' Milk Chocolate Monster Chewy Soft Baked Cookies don't give consumers much of a clue by name alone. Both products have been recalled.

"Anything you're buying, particularly if it's a processed food, read the label," said Ann McMeans, a dietitian with the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine. "Anything that's a mixture of foods, read the label."

Foods with few ingredients, such as produce, meats, seafoods and dairy products, are the easiest, she said. Not only will it be more obvious if peanuts are involved, the labels also will require less deciphering.

While mostly a concern for people with allergies, peanuts can slip into products under guises that are less than obvious, such as oils or even artificial nuts (peanuts flavored to taste like other nuts).

A tougher time is had in restaurants, which are not subject to labeling regulations. Determining whether menu items contain peanuts or peanut products can take aggressive questioning of waitstaff and cooks, Munoz-Furlong said.

"Enchilada sauce, chili sauce, meat marinades these are places you wouldn't expect peanut butter," but where it nevertheless is common, she said. "We have learned that the hard way."

Asian and other ethnic cuisines commonly have hidden peanuts, said Dr. Vivian Saper, an associate professor of allergy and immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

Spring rolls and egg rolls often are "glued" shut with peanut butter. Many Thai dishes are garnished or tossed with crushed peanuts. Vegetarian meat substitutes also often contain peanut products.

People with peanut allergies are used to thinking about cross-contamination. Even if a food doesn't contain peanuts, if it was produced or prepared on equipment that uses peanuts in other foods, it must be treated as suspect.

Cross-contamination is less of a threat with salmonella. While even a gram of peanut can be life-threatening to someone with allergies, the immune systems of most healthy people can fend off salmonella.

But that doesn't mean cross-contamination can't happen. The recalled products include pet foods and treats. While the risk to the animals are low, the concern is that people touching the pet foods could transfer the bacteria to themselves or others.

If any good can come out of the salmonella scare, it might be an increased awareness of what is in our food and the dangers those ingredients can pose to some people, Saper said.

"Welcome to the world of the poor individuals who have peanut allergies," Saper said. "This is an inside look at the fear that patients and their families go through."

Playing detective

Here are some common foods that contain peanuts and peanut products:

Baked goods, such as cakes, cookies and pie and pastry crusts

Breakfast cereals, including granolas

Candy, especially chocolates and nougat

Chili and pasta sauces


Ethnic cuisines, especially African, Chinese, Thai and Mexican

Ice creams and frozen yogurts

Trail mix

Source: Federal Drug Administration,



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