What is cross-contamination?

Cross-contamination is a concern that needs to be kept in mind when providing food for those with food allergies. Cross-contamination means that a food does not actually have the allergen in question as an ingredient, but has come into contact with the allergen, and is therefore not safe to eat.

How to avoid cross-contamination when preparing non-allergenic foods

  • Make sure the preparation area, as well as any dishes or utensils being used, are all freshly cleaned.
  • If you are making a special batch of something to be allergen-free, make that batch first before you make the batch with the allergens. Make sure the allergen-free batch is stored safely away before starting the batch with the allergens.
  • Do not place allergen-free foods in the same container as those with allergens (for example, peanut butter cookies on the same plate as chocolate chip cookies for someone with a peanut allergy).

Cross-contamination on Labels

When you buy food for people with allergies, it is important to check the labels. As far as cross-contamination goes, you need to check not only for ingredients, but where it says "May contain" or "Made in a facility that also processes". For example, even plain M&Ms are not safe for those with peanut allergies due to possible cross-contamination. All M&M labels say "May contain peanuts." Also, foods that would not logically seem to be a problem, such as fruit snacks, sauces, candy, pretzels, bread, etc., often are labeled that they are made in a facility or on machinery that also processes one or many allergens.

It is important to remember that, for many people, just a small trace of an allergen can cause a serious reaction. Therefore, cross-contamination needs to be taken just as seriously as the allergen as an actual ingredient.