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Where is peanut butter lurking?

For parents of food allergic children, especially those who could have an anaphylactic reaction, it is very scary to think about where the food allergen may be lurking. Even if parents are able to control what their child eats, they still have to worry about what other kids have on their hands, and what is left on desks, cafeteria tables, drinking fountains and playgrounds. I have wondered how much of the allergen is really left in these places — how dangerous is it? As long as everyone uses wipes, is it okay?

One 2004 study shed some light on these questions. The purpose of the study was “to detect peanut allergen under various environmental conditions and examine the effectiveness of cleaning agents for allergen removal.” Here’s what they did:

Here were the results:

The researchers concluded overall that “there is a relatively low risk of exposure to significant concentrations of [peanut allergen] when table surfaces and hands are cleaned with common household cleaning agents and that school cafeteria tables and desks are not likely to be a source of significant exposure for most peanut allergic patients.”

Does that make parents feel better about the possibility of exposure to peanut allergen while at school? I’m not sure. On one hand, it’s great to know that normal cleaning of tables and hands pretty much takes care of things. On the other hand, parents of allergic children can’t be sure that other parents and school staff are cleaning tables properly and wiping kids’ hands after they eat.

Still, I think I feel better overall, knowing that peanut allergen, or any other allergen, isn’t some super-entity that can only be removed with special powers — thank goodness for wipes! (But stay away from the drinking fountain?)

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