Why the "may contain traces of nuts" disclaimer?

Here’s a question I’ve been wondering at.

On the boxes of certain types of food (e.g. muesli) after the list of ingredients, sometimes there’s an additional line that says “may contain traces of nuts” or something similar, while there aren’t supposed to be any nuts in it. Also, some products which contain almonds have a line that says “May contain traces of peanuts”. I’m not an expert on either chemistry or cooking, but it seems to me that if there are no nuts in there, there shouldn’t be trades of them either. Or am I just wrong?

The disclaimer is for people who are allergic to peanuts. Of course, the disclaimer wouldn’t stop someone who is allergic from suing the food company.

Wouldn’t it though? But, anyway, yes, the companis are simply “covering their asses” so to speak. I am sure I have seen the same little “warning” on packets thaat ONLY contain nuts.

A bit like sleeping tablets warning that “product may cause drowsienss - if affected, do not blah blah blah”.

I’d agree with that.

As to why there could be traces to begin with: My understanding is that there are two primary reasons. The packaging equipment, or even the factory in general, may run product with peanuts, and it is not practical to clean the equipment in between runs to such an extent to satisfactorily protect someone with a severe allergy.

The other reason is that while it may not be readily apparent, some of the additives may involve peanut oils or extracts.

Products like muesli (which you mention) and chocolate, often come in different varietes, some containing nuts of some kind or another, and some not. Maintaining separate machinery for the varietes is not cost effective, so, since some people are highly allergic to, for instance, peanuts, all the products produced with this machinery are labled to warn consumers that some nutty bits might have been missed when preparing for the next batch.

The disclaimer may not prevent someone from suing the companies, but I suspect it would prevent them from winning a case.

In other words…


Remember airline peanuts? They’re pretty good. But over the past several years I’ve noticed that many airlines have switched to pretzels. I’ve heard this is because they don’t want people to have an allergic reaction to nuts. But what happens if a passenger brings his or her own peanuts aboard and a particularly sensitive person has a reaction? Is the passenger with the nuts subject to a lawsuit? Is the airline, for allowing a passenger to eat his own peanuts? Or is it assumed that the person with the problem is responsible for taking precautions when he knows, or should know, that he may be exposed to peanuts?

Pardon the slight hijack, but has the percentage of people allergic to peanuts grown exponentially in the last few years? I think I read somewhere that it was because of our food being too sterile or something like that, but I’m not so sure.

I guess that makes sense, although I’m a bit disappointed when it comes to the hygiene standards maintained by the factories.

As for the allergies, I’ve always heard (no cite) that all kinds of allergies are on the rise. I’m not sure "exponentially’ is the word to use here, but it seems to be true that our high standards of hygiene have paradoxically left us more vulnerable to outside threats. I don’t know what causes that, however: is it that our body no longer sufficiently ‘learns’ to deal with potentially dangerous substances (or, on the contrary, has learned to ‘overreact’ to them, which is basically what an allergy is) or is it that so many people who would have died in other times survive now, causing the relative number of allergies to go up?

It could also be an issue of increased diagnosis, as opposed to increased incidence. More doctors are looking out for the symptoms, so the allergies are detected more frequently.

Not saying this is the sole reason, but its a factor to consider.

I think Doc_Miller is right - it’s not necessarily that there are more allergy sufferers, it’s just that more conditions are being linked to allergies.

Slightly off-topic, I recently had an allergy test as recommended by a doctor who practices Traditional Chinese Herbal medicine - she’s been treating me very successfully for skin problems. Their test was extremely comprehensive and covered a total of 118 different things. It turns out that I’m allergic to milk products and although I’m fine with peanuts, I’m allergic to hazelnuts. Since I started cutting out things that showed up on the allergy test, I’ve seen a huge improvement in my skin. - I’m well impressed with the results.

By the way, peanuts are NOT nuts. I have a friend who is severely allergic to all nuts, but he can still eat peanuts because they are technically legumes.

Chew on that.

With out modern medicine my friend who is allergic to peanuts would be dead right now.

Perhaps it just seems like more people are allergic because they don’t die as often now as they use to.

That seems to be the most logical answer to me.

A peanut is indeed not a nut, but a legume (or “pod”, much like beans and peas).

I’ve seen packaging that adivses: “This product was manufactured in a facility which also process nuts”

For certain people with certain allergies, and peanut allergy comes close to topping this list, the amount of the allergen needed to trigger an episode with potentially life-threatening consequences is fantastically small. I believe it can be measured in nanograms, amounts so small that they can easily disperse through the air without anyone noticing. It is therefore fantastically difficult to clean production lines so that these small traces of allergens are completely eliminated.

This is a true problem for manufacturers, not one of ordinary hygiene standards. An ordinary cleaning will meet those just fine, but still not be sufficient for someone with an allergy.

I am allergic to tree nuts, peanuts and soy beans, yes it takes very little to trigger a reaction and yes peanuts are the ones that seem to cause a reaction in the smallest dose. Just the aerosol produced by someone else eating them nearby is sufficient. Hazelnuts and walnuts are two other big ones. The fun part is when a reaction occurs for no apparent reason, probably trace residue as noted above.

It’s interesting that the focus in this thread is on companies covering themselves to prevent lawsuits. As someone who is allergic to peanuts, I really appreciate the bold line at the bottom of the ingredients that says the product contains peanuts. Maybe the main reason is cya, but I’m sure it is greatly appreciated by anyone who is severly allergic (as it is greatly appreciated by me).

I’ve got a friend whose daughter is severely allergic to peanuts. He’s sent rants to me about how all of the other kids at the day-care center are “covered in peanut butter” even after baths.

My kid went to an allergist after a slight reaction to eggs (his cheeks went red). The allergist tested for a bunch of stuff, confirmed the egg allergy (we’ve got a couple of Epipens we’ve never had to use, yet) and suggested we avoid feeding him anything peanut-based until he’s at least three. One of his grandmothers gave him some peanut-butter-based confection without knowing the alleged dangers, but he didn’t show a reaction at all. I’m hoping that will continue to be the case.

Oh, as to the desensitizing aspects: I’ve read a couple of abstracts which claim that kids raised in rural areas - exposed to lots of animals and dirt - have fewer allergies than city-raised kids. On the other hand, there exist abstracts which claim that the rate of allergies is about equal.

If the amount needed to cause an alergic reaction is so small (in some people anyway), then how do these people go shopping for groceries? Wouldn’t the very act of walking by the boxes of these products cause a reaction? Or walking into the gorcery store at all… a grocery store is just filled with peanuts and peanut derived products. Aren’t the grocery stores vunerable to lawsuits? Perhap’s there should be a warning on the outside of the store…:wink: