Tested: Are peanut-free food requests really safe?

In tonight’s instalment of our 'Food for Thought' series on Seven Sharp, Carolyn Robinson tests whether "nut free" really means nut free.

Eating out is something many of us don't think twice about.

Other than choosing a restaurant and taking into account the location, price, reputation and, of course, the menu.

But for the thousands of people who have a serious food allergy, eating out is a lot more complicated. They have to assess their chances of dying.

There are two things our experiment on ordering dairy-free food showed - firstly; that cross contamination is a huge issue.

How difficult is it to eat out with a life-threatening allergy? Carolyn Robinson went to see how many people could safely offer her lunch. Source: Seven Sharp

And secondly; some food providers are completely ignorant about what an allergen is. When confronted, one of the bakeries that failed our test did not realise that milk powder contained milk!

Today we are going back to the lab, this time testing for peanuts in food I've ordered, specifying it needs to be peanut-free.

And to be honest I expect today to go much better. After all, peanut allergies are probably the best known and most studied of all the food allergies.

Even this week, new evidence has been presented about when to introduce allergens like peanuts into an infant's diet.

Peanut is also the food allergy most likely to persist for life, and therefore the most common cause of food-induced anaphylaxis.

And unlike dairy, there's no such thing as a "no-peanut-diet" for lifestyle reasons (that I’m aware of!).

So there's no muddying of the waters here – a peanut allergy is likely to be serious, very serious indeed.

However, while I expect there to be no misunderstanding of the core ingredients, I am far less certain about cross contamination.

'So many opportunities for cross contamination'

Was the pan the peanut satay was cooked in, also used to cook the green curry?

Was it washed in between? How was it washed? Was it served with the same ladle? Was that washed? Again, how?

So many opportunities for cross contamination here - so many opportunities for disaster.

Every time I remember Paul Wilson, the UK man who died after eating curry made with ground nut powder containing peanuts, I feel sad and even a little angry.

It's not mandatory to report anaphylaxis deaths here in New Zealand, though deaths are rare.

Certainly Allergy New Zealand is not aware of any in the past five years.

However, hospital admissions, due to food-induced anaphylaxis, have at least doubled in the past decade – in line with increasing food allergies.

In my opinion if Epipens were at regular stations around New Zealand - and at restaurants, too - we could feel safe in the knowledge that if a mistake was made, there's every chance to save someone.

And if rugby players who beat up four people get a second chance (wait, isn't that four chances?), allergy sufferers deserve to as well.

Fingers crossed that tonight we're bringing you good news. Right, off to the lab….

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