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Delta: Cashews, Instead of Peanuts, Won't Make Allergy Patients Safer

Updated on Monday, July 25, 2016

This past week, Delta Airlines announced that it was testing new in-flight snacks on some routes out of Atlanta and Minneapolis. Part of that test includes offering cashews in place of peanuts. If Delta’s intent is to make their food allergic customers safer, their efforts although well meaning, are misguided based on science.

Peanuts actually belong to the legume family and grow under the ground. Cashews are in the tree nut family along with other nuts like walnut, almond, hazelnut, cashew, pistachio, and Brazil nuts. However, based on recent studies, it is estimated that 25-40 percent of people who have a peanut allergy are also allergic to tree nuts. Additionally, peanuts and tree nuts often come into contact with one another during the manufacturing process. “For these reasons, we frequently tell our patients with a confirmed peanut allergy to avoid tree nuts as well” advises Dr. Stanley Fineman, allergist with Atlanta Allergy & Asthma.

Food allergy is a serious issue and it appears that peanut allergy, in particular, is on the rise among children. A study funded by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) concluded that the number of children in the U.S. with peanut allergy had tripled between 1997 and 2008.

Important facts:
  • A person who is allergic to one tree nut has a higher chance of being allergic to another type of tree nut. We recommend that a patient who has had a reaction to any food, particularly nuts, see a board certified allergist for evaluation and possible testing.
  • Although peanuts are not a part of the same family as tree nuts, it is estimated that 25-40% of those with a peanut allergy are also allergic to tree nuts.
  • Peanuts and tree nuts are often part of the same manufacturing and serving processes causing increased risk for exposure.
  • Younger siblings of children allergic to peanuts may be at increased risk for allergy to peanuts. See your allergist for more information on risk and proper management of children in this situation.
  • All people at risk for a serious allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, should carry injectable epinephrine on them – at all times.

    We applaud all efforts to raise awareness and lower risk of exposure in the peanut allergic population. The true risk for patients with peanut allergy is via ingestion or direct contact. It is recommended that patients be vigilant about cleaning areas, such as airline seats and trays, which may have small pieces of peanut. Aerosolized peanut protein is unlikely to cause an anaphylactic reaction.

    Airlines should consult with board certified allergists before establishing policies that may affect their customers with food allergies. We can work together to make this a safer world for adults and children at risk for serious allergic reaction to foods.