Food Allergy

Peanut Pandemonium: How to Handle Peanut Allergies in the Food Industry

Posted by
Trust20 Contributors • 9 minute read

Navigating food allergies may be one of the most challenging aspects of working in the food industry. And when it comes to the tiny–yet dangerous–little peanut, the stakes are higher than a six-tier wedding cake (especially if that cake has peanuts in it!).

Peanut allergies, once a rarity, are now a significant concern and affect millions of people around the world. It’s estimated that peanut allergies in children have increased by 21% since 2010, and the numbers continue to climb.1

As someone who’s tasked with serving safe food, staying mindful of food allergies isn’t just good practice–it’s non-negotiable.

In this post, we’ll provide you with the strategies you need to safely serve your customers with allergies.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is a Peanut Allergy?

Is a Tree Nut Allergy the Same Thing as a Peanut Allergy?

Cracking the Nut: How to Keep Customers With Peanut Allergies Safe

The Fight Against Allergens: Arm Yourself With the Tools of the Trade

What is a Peanut Allergy?

So what exactly is a peanut allergy, and why is it so common?

Peanut allergies are becoming more common and can be life-threatening. In serious cases, they can lead to anaphylaxis, which is a sudden, severe, and sometimes deadly allergic reaction.

Peanut allergies are an immune system response to an otherwise harmless substance–in this case, the proteins in peanuts. Upon initial exposure, the body’s immune system produces specific antibodies (IgE) against the peanut.

When a person comes into contact with the allergen later on, it triggers the immune system, releasing a variety of chemicals that then lead to a cascade of symptoms ranging from mild (itching, hives) to severe (drop in blood pressure, difficulty breathing).

This allergy is persistent, with only about 20% of children outgrowing it in adulthood.2

The one bit of good news? The peanut allergy is the only food allergy for which a treatment has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This medication, known as Palforzia, gradually increases the body’s ability to tolerate small amounts of peanuts. It can reduce the severity of allergic reactions over time.

Is a Tree Nut Allergy the Same Thing as a Peanut Allergy?

Let’s address a common misconception: peanuts are not tree nuts. They are not one and the same. Instead, peanuts are legumes. They’re more closely related to beans, soybeans, and lentils and grow in the ground (unlike tree nuts, which, as you’ve likely gathered by now, grow in…trees).

However, there is still a relationship between the two. About 40% of children with tree nut allergies also have an allergy to peanuts.2

To exacerbate the situation even further, peanuts are often processed on the same equipment as tree nuts, meaning there’s a high likelihood of cross-contamination here. Many people who are allergic to peanuts choose to avoid tree nuts for that reason.

Another allergen to watch out for is lupine. Lupines are commonly used in vegan cooking and often occur as allergens in patients who suffer from peanut allergies, too. 

Cracking the Nut: How to Keep Customers With Peanut Allergies Safe

Now that you know what peanut allergies are and how difficult they are to deal with, it’s time to get into the meat and potatoes of it all. Here’s how to create an allergen-safe environment for your customers.

1. Know How to Deal With an Allergic Reaction

The most important thing you can do as a foodservice professional, regardless of the allergen you might be dealing with, is to know the signs and best responses to an allergic reaction.

This isn’t always so cut and dry. Reactions, especially in milder cases, may not be evident right away. They can occur immediately after being exposed to an allergen or several hours later.

The symptoms can range from the classic hives and itching to a tingling sensation or even be as severe as coughing, vomiting, abdominal pain, or a severe drop in blood pressure. Difficulty breathing is one of the most dangerous signs of an allergic reaction, and it can be a key indicator of anaphylaxis.

No matter how severe or mild the response to the allergen might seem, you need to take action quickly and promptly. Each member of your team should be trained in spotting the signs of an allergic reaction and how to respond. In some cases, this might include using emergency medications like EpiPens. 

Of course, if you suspect an allergic reaction, call 911 immediately. While you wait for help to arrive, try to keep everyone calm and do your best to figure out what triggered the reaction. 

Learning what caused the problem in the first place will help you create safeguards against these kinds of issues in the future–and take care of the customer who is suffering from the allergic reaction.

2. Label All Menu Items Clearly

Clarity is key when it comes to dealing with food allergies. Use straightforward language and clear signage to indicate which items on your menu contain, or were prepared with or near, peanuts. You can use icons or color coding on your menu for easy definition.

Another option is to offer a “special menu” that clearly and comprehensively lists all the ingredients for customers with allergies. That way, they can make informed choices without having to comb through the fine print or squint at allergen disclaimers.

Not only will this help streamline your processes in your kitchen, but it will also build trust and loyalty among your customers, showing them that you’re honest and truly care about their safety. 

3. Check Ingredients 

Here’s where things get tricky: it’s often not so simple as looking at a dish and saying, “That definitely contains peanuts. I’d better be careful.”

Peanuts and tree nuts are found in all kinds of recipes, ranging from the obvious to the totally obscure. 

Train your staff to vet every single item, from flours and oils to sauces and garnishes. Avoid the pitfalls of assumption. Always ask your suppliers about allergens and double-check suspicious additions. 

Remember, peanuts and tree nuts often touch each other during the manufacturing process and can cause allergic reactions either way, so it’s best to avoid these if you’re not sure about the extent of a customer's allergy.

Peanuts are one of the nine major allergens that must be listed in plain language on ingredient lists, according to federal law. In addition to the words “nuts” and “peanuts,” also keep an eye out for foods that contain any of the ingredients listed below as they are either closely related to or are derivatives of peanuts:

  • Arachis oil

  • Beer nuts

  • Alternative nut butters (like soy nut butter—these are often produced on equipment shared with peanuts)

  • Artificial nuts

  • Extruded, expelled, or cold-pressed peanut oil

  • Ground notes

  • Lupine

  • Mixed nuts

  • Monkey nuts

  • Nut pieces

  • Nut meal

  • Mandelonas

  • Peanut flour

  • Peanut butter

  • Peanut protein hydrolysate.2

An interesting fact to note is that highly refined peanut oil is not required to be labeled as an allergen. Interestingly, most people with peanut allergies can eat this kind of peanut oil, but if you aren’t sure about your customers’ allergies, always ask them and avoid this oil just in case.

Peanuts are frequently found in African, Asian, and Mexican cuisine—there’s a high risk of cross-contact here. They are also common in ice cream, candy, chili, egg rolls, glazes, marinades, enchilada sauce, granola, grains (like Muesli),  pancakes, sunflower seeds, and trail mix. Vegetarian food products, particularly those marketed as meat substitutes, can be dangerous, too. 

4. Communicate With Your Customers 

Communication is key in the kitchen and beyond. From chef-staff interactions to the front-of-the-house engagement with guests, everybody needs to be on the same page about the potential risks and current menu options.

When taking orders, make sure the front-of-the-house staff confirms any allergies and can help guide customers through the menu choices. This is about more than just verbal communication —it’s making sure everyone is on the same page about handling orders safely. 

5. Be Mindful of the Risk of Cross-Contamination 

Cross-contamination is a real risk, and it can turn a harmless dish into an absolute minefield for your customers with allergies.

Consider having separate preparation areas in your kitchen for allergens and color-coding equipment. To prevent the spread of allergens, avoid sharing tools, too. 

And if cross-contamination does occur? Don’t serve the meal—even after you’ve removed the offending food item. Restart. Allergic reactions to trace amounts of peanuts are incredibly common and simply aren’t worth it. 

6. Watch Out for Risks Outside of the Kitchen

The kitchen might be the heart of your operation, but you need to think about allergens throughout your entire venue.

Lotions, soaps, alcohol, and even the lawn don’t get a free pass from your scrutiny. Peanuts, for example, are commonly found in bar areas. In addition, peanut hulls are often found in compost and then used as lawn fertilizer. Though it’s not common, even these have been known to trigger allergic reactions.4 

7. Have a Written Allergy Plan in Place 

One of the best things you can do to reduce the likelihood of allergic reactions is to implement a concrete protocol that clarifies your establishment’s commitment to allergy safety. Create a written plan that lists the steps for handling allergy-related situations, from ordering and prepping to serving and post-meal clean-up.

It should cover everything from who to notify in the event of an allergic reaction to the steps for identifying and mitigating cross-contamination risks.5

The more detailed and accessible the guide is, the more effective it will be for your team. 

8. Hang On to Labels

After you’ve prepped a dish, hang on to the labels. Have a system for recording and storing this information (like a digital file of scans, for example) so that you can pull it up if there’s ever a question about what ingredients might be lurking in a recipe. 

9. Store Food Properly

Storing food properly is vital to prevent cross-contact and allergen exposure. You may want to create separate storage areas for peanuts and peanut products and invest in clearly labeled containers and dedicated utensils. This can help reduce the risk of accidental exposure. 

10. Clean and Sanitize

Maintaining a clean and sanitary kitchen and dining area is always important, but when it comes to mitigating the risk of food allergies, these should always be at the top of your mind. Regularly clean surfaces, equipment, and utensils, particularly those that come into contact with peanuts. 

11. Rethink Your Bar and App Options

Many restaurants serve peanuts in the bar area. While these are nice to munch on for customers who don’t have allergies, they can be a real risk for those who do. Even peanut shells can pose a problem.

Consider offering alternative bar snacks like popcorn, pretzels, or other nut-free options to minimize the likelihood of allergic reactions.

The Fight Against Allergens: Arm Yourself With the Tools of the Trade

Knowledge is the greatest ally in the fight against allergens like peanuts. Ensuring every member of your team is allergen-aware helps streamline your establishment’s processes for the safest dining experience possible (Trust20 has a Food Allergy Certificate Training if you’re not sure where to start).

After all, combatting peanut allergies isn’t just about compliance or safety. It’s about building a connection with your customers and distinguishing yourself as an establishment that genuinely cares. 

So roll up your sleeves, put on your gloves, and get to work! Your reputation will reflect the care you put into every delicious and peanut-free plate. 

New call-to-action


  1. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology: Peanut Allergy | Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

  2. Food Allergy Research & Education: Peanut

  3. Kids With Food Allergies: A Guide to Managing Peanut Allergy

  4. University of Minnesota Extension: Food Allergies: What Food Handlers Need to Know Before Serving Customers

  5. CDC: Restaurants Can Reduce the Risk of Food Allergy Reactions