“CSI Menu” (E) Peanuts and products thereof

If one decided to use the metaphor for the 14 main allergens, allergen E – peanuts and products thereof would be enemy of the state number one. To “make” it on the first place of allergenic substances, both the peanut and the hazelnut result in violent allergic reactions, and recently it put a restaurateur from Great Britain behind bars. It is obvious that as an allergen the peanut is not to be underestimated. But what makes the peanut so dangerous?


A recent event clearly shows that peanuts are not to be underestimated. As a result, an English restaurateur has been jailed for six years because a customer died of an allergic shock. Manslaughter, according to the Teesside Crown Court. Despite the customer saying that he was allergic to peanuts, this concern was played down. Instead of using ground almonds, peanuts were used to save costs, without even informing the customer.

Asides from the need to carefully label the main allergen, what else does this story tell us?

1) The peanut is often found in the most unexpected products

Which products contain peanuts?

It should be fairly easy and obvious to see where peanuts have been included. Names such as peanut butter, peanut flips or the like should provide a clue that peanuts have been added. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. The peanut’s reputation for being a “hidden allergen” is well deserved, as it is contained in countless foods. They are not only found in pastries, sweets or ready meals, but increasingly as a substitute for other foodstuffs: instead of walnuts or almonds for example, as these are cheaper alternatives. The same applies for peanut flour or peanut paste, which is a good substitute for milk. As in the case from Great Britain, a problem is when cost saving is a priority.

Peanut products:

Roast peanuts, peanut oil, peanut butter, peanut flakes, peanut flour

Products derived from peanuts:

Margarine, bread, cakes, pastries chocolate cream, vegetarian sandwich spreads, delicatessen salads, marinades, satay sauce, ice, aromatized coffee, liquor, meals fried in peanut oil (French fries), vegetarian meat substitute, nut mixtures

2) Peanuts can trigger violent allergic reactions, which may result in deat

Severity and frequency of peanut allergies

What the example from Great Britain has tragically demonstrated: in individual cases, peanut allergies can be so violent that they result in death.

Peanut and nut allergies count as most severe food allergies. This is made clear by the number of suffers and the intensity of the allergies.

Frequency of peanut allergies

Peanut allergies are considered to be the most frequent food allergy and this is increasing. This is because peanut products are increasingly being used in foodstuffs and even in the cosmetics industry, whereby the number of sufferers is constantly increasing. A study from the USA has demonstrated that from 1997 to 2008, the number of children sufferers has doubled to 1.4%. Even in Germany, around 1% of the population suffers from peanut allergies; and this too is increasing. Once affected, the allergy will usually remain lifelong.

Intensity of peanut allergies:

Similar to fish allergies, even a small amount triggers symptoms. A microgram is sufficient to cause problems with breathing, rashes, diarrhea, vomiting, as well as palpitations, dizziness, unconsciousness, or life threatening shock. In individual cases, even the smallest particles in the air are sufficient.

Those who suffer from a peanut allergy must avoid all foodstuffs, which contain trace amounts of peanuts. This is not easy. Despite most peanut allergy sufferers knowing about their illness, cases of sufferers dying often occur 

according to Professor Bodo Niggemann from the German Society for Allergology and Clinical Immunology in September 2004 at an allergy congress in Aachen.


Danger of traces!

Small and large amounts of peanuts should therefore be avoided at all costs by sufferers. Labelling food containing peanuts with the letter “E” has certainly made life easier for sufferers. However, this often does not go far enough. It might help in avoiding larger amounts, maybe smaller ones, but not the smallest. These are called traces – and providing information on contaminants in food is voluntary. These may already be sufficient to trigger a severe allergic reaction. And such trace amounts of nuts and peanuts are common: these are found in countless different foodstuffs, particularly in snacks. Through the common use of production machines, foods which should be free of peanuts can often include traces.

Did you know that peanuts are not nuts?

A rather curious fact: peanuts are not nuts. At least not from a botanical point of view. Sounds strange, but it’s true. The South American fruit of the “Arachis hypogaea” bush is actually a member of the pulse family, hence the name PEAnut. Regardless, there is generally no parallel allergy to soya or beans. Only around 5% of peanut allergy suffers react to pulses (excluding peanuts), whereas 25-50% may suffer from cross-reactions to tree nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds or pistachio nuts).


What you should know about peanut allergies:

  • Don’t underestimate the “E”! Peanut allergies are the most common food allergy, trigger severe allergic reactions and in some cases can cause death.
  • If at all possible, make sure you label traces of peanuts in your foods. Allergy sufferers will be thankful and you will stay on the safe side.
  • Should you suffer from a peanut allergy, make sure you have an emergency kit just in case. These contain adrenaline/epinephrine and cortisone to treat the symptoms.
  • If you use peanuts as a substitute for other nuts, make sure you list the correct ingredients. Cost savings do not have priority over the heath of your customers.