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Is there any evidence regarding the risks of allergen cross-contamination in a typical residential kitchen environment?

Specifically, I'm wondering about situations like:

1) If a seasoned cast-iron skillet comes into contact with an allergen (e.g. gluten, soy), does a risk of cross-contamination still exist after washing/rinsing it? (it seems like it would be unavoidable that some residue gets incorporated into the pan's seasoning layer?)

2) A typical dishwasher may only use a few gallons of water and only perform 2 rinses in a cycle. Is it possible that some low concentration of allergen get "distributed" onto all the dishes and remains after the cycle is complete?

3) For non-porous surfaces (stainless steel, plastic cutting boards), is there any risk of allergens still being present after soap/water cleaning?

4) What about for porous surfaces (wooden cutting boards, wooden stir spoons)?

Ultimately, I'm trying to decide if a food allergy requires that my kitchen be completely devoid of the allergens (or anything that has ever come into contact with them), or if methods like soap+water washing are known to be sufficient to reduce allergen concentration to a safe level.

  • Anecdotally, I can say that the mix of allergies with myself and my roommates hasn't resulted in any problems from dishes run through the dishwasher, and we just keep any actual food waste carefully disposed of. I'm interested to hear a more scientific answer. – Allison C Feb 13 at 14:51
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    It will depend on the severity of the allergy, for example some peanut allergies are severe enough that they can be triggered by airborne allergens, and not mildly. – Chris H Feb 13 at 15:47
  • i don't think gluten is a worry in your scenarios, but peanut could be for a small group of peanut allergy suffferers – dandavis Feb 13 at 16:16
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If you do need indeed an allergen free kitchen, you have to ban the allergen in question from the kitchen. Cross contamination will happen in all situations you describe. Even for non-porous surfaces, your allergens will live on in your dishsponge and get redeposited. The other option beside outright banning is to keep a second set of utensils, dish sponges, towels, etc. which never come in contact with the allergen, and wipe down surfaces and so on before cooking for the allergic person - which is rarely practicable.

The other question is whether you actually need the kitchen to be allergen-free. In typical allergy cases, there is a tollerable daily intake which will not trigger the allergy. It differs by allergen - for example, if you live with a celiac patient, the tolerable bound is so low you will always exceed it if you don't keep the kitchen free of flour. In fact, the flour particles left in the air after baking are sufficient to trigger a celiac episode. But for many other allergens, the person can eat from a contaminated pan, and as long as they are not actively biting into the allergen, it won't cause a reaction.

So, speak to the person you need to protect, and ask what level of cleanliness is needed. You cannot rely on the average tolerable limits per allergen, since some patients react to smaller amounts. They are likely to have been in this situation before and can tell you whether the cross contamination from washed utensils matters to them or not.

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Remember there is no zero-risk environment.

At home, use simple and well practice hygiene, hot water, soap, paper towels..

Something like this.

Most modern Dishwashers have a sanitize/sterilized mode, I don't know if it helps in regards to allergens.

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  • The one somehow detailed got downvoted... Plus 1 for the link. Though sterilisation does not fit in at all. – Alchimista Feb 16 at 4:37

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