With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

19 March 2012

Does heat kill food allergens?

Every day people Google some variation of the question “does heat kill major food allergens?” Germs and bacteria are different than allergens, and many can be killed by cooking food at a proper temperature--that prevents food poisoning. But, food allergens are not germs or bacteria. They cannot be killed.

The FDA provides the following definition for major food allergen

"Under FALCPA, a "major food allergen" is an ingredient that is one of the following five foods or from one of the following three food groups or is an ingredient that contains protein derived from one of the following:

  • milk
  • egg
  • fish
  • Crustacean shellfish
  • tree nuts
  • wheat
  • peanuts
  • soybeans"

Among other food allergens not included in that list are foods such as strawberries, kiwi, corn, sesame seeds, mustard, etc. None of these food allergens can be killed. They cannot be killed with heat, or cold, or any other method. 

Some food proteins--the operative word being some--however, are heat-labile while others are heat resistant. What this means is that some proteins change when heated--causing fewer allergic reactions--while others stay the same despite heating. Dr. Leo explains this in the House Call column in the December/January 2012 issue of Living Without magazine:

"The best example of a heat-labile protein is an egg. When a raw egg is heated and becomes hard boiled, the process can’t be reversed due to changes in the chemical structure of the egg proteins. The immune system that recognizes and reacts to egg protein may not recognize it after it’s cooked inside a cake because heat changes the protein structure. This is why some egg-allergic people can tolerate highly baked items like muffins but have difficulty with lower baked products like brownies."

Please visit the above Living Without link to read the entire answer from Dr. Leo. I must note that he cautions "Testing proteins on food-allergic individuals should never occur outside a closely supervised medical setting." Please do consult with your physician and don't experiment on your own!

In other words, you can't clean peanut or nuts or other food allergens off of a pan by heating the pan. No matter how hot that pan gets, the peanut or nut or other food allergen proteins aren't going anywhere and will not transform to a harmless, non-allergenic form. They're just as dangerous heated or unheated. The only way to get allergens off of a surface is to use soap and hot water. Kids With Food Allergies' 8 Tips for Avoiding Cross-Contamination states:

"Wash Dishes Thoroughly 
Mixing bowls, pots, pans, utensils, and so forth that have been used in the preparation of allergenic foods must be thoroughly washed in hot, sudsy water prior to being used to prepare food for your allergic child. In addition, to avoid having stray bits of dried allergenic food stick to your "clean" dishes, it is best to rinse off dirty dishes and utensils that are "contaminated" with allergenic foods prior to loading them into your dishwasher."

What about cleaning food allergens off furniture? Well...we'll have to save that for a discussion on another day! In the meantime, feel free to share your opinion, your tips and your advice about removing food allergen residue/protein/traces in a comment below. Thanks!


Mary Hudak-Collins livingthescripture.com said...

What an informational post! Thank you for sharing this information ☺

Heidi said...

I work in food and have recently had to do some risk assessments for potential cross contamination routes. I found some research to say that some allergens, particularly nuts can be made more potent by heating. Certainly the general agreement was that you could not rely on heating as a method to get rid of allergenic ingredients and, in some cases, cooking may make things worse.

Anonymous said...

In a similar vein, I come across many, many people who think that using hand sanitizer will get rid of allergens. It won't! It just spreads them around!

(Mom of a child who has been severely allergic to several allergens)