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SPECIAL REPORT: Testing food for peanuts as allergy cases rise in children

(WKOW) — In the past few years, there’s been a dramatic increase in food allergies, particularly peanut allergies in young people.

Amanda Perttunen knows this all too well.  She and her family had a huge lifestyle change when her son Wylie, now 4, was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy.

“Everything is an extra step,” said Perttunen.  “It got really hard when we went out in public.  We can’t go to restaurants a lot…  We had to carry an EpiPen with us all the time; had to start checking labels on everything that he ate.”

Statistics show their family is not alone.  The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reported nearly 2.5% of kids are living with a peanut allergy.  That’s a 21% increase since 2010.

“We talk now about a food allergy epidemic,” said Dr. Anne Marie Singh, an allergist at UW Health and the director of food allergy research and education clinical center of excellence.

She said there’s still a lot of research being done as to the cause behind the increase.  “The most important message is it’s real. Food allergy is real. Peanut allergy is real. If somebody tells you they have a food allergy or peanut allergy, take that at face value,” she said.  “And when they say it’s severe or potentially life threatening, that is also true. No one’s being dramatic. No one’s trying to make it sound worse than it is. It absolutely is true. Those things are true.”

There’s a new product on the market called the Nima sensor. It tests food for exposure to peanuts and touts a 97.6% accuracy rating.

We tested it out with three different samples with Perttunen and her son watching.  These were the results from the Nima:

  • Chicken cooked in olive oil: Safe to eat for people with peanut allergies
  • Chicken cooked in peanut oil: Safe to eat for people with peanut allergies
  • Candy with peanut butter: Not safe to eat for people with peanut allergies

Perttunen was a little concerned when the sample with peanut oil came back safe to eat.  There is research that foods cooked in peanut oil can actually be safe for people with the allergy though, as state on Nima’s website:

“Peanut oil is refined enough that the peanut protein is broken down enough that it should not affect people with peanut allergies but if there is peanut remaining, Nima may detect it.”

Dr. Singh said this is why people with an allergy still need to read labels, talk to restaurant staff or whomever is preparing the food.

“Even going through all of those steps, there’s a lot of anxiousness or anxiety, or you’re still really worried about it, then the product might be another adjunctive,” she said.

“I think we do just about as good of a job as the machine itself does monitoring the things that he eats,” Perttunen said after seeing the product in action.  She said she would use it in certain situations.  “Something where somebody is making a lot of homemade food where people may not tell you what they had in them or what was in their kitchen when they were prepping foods or at like a restaurant or something and they were going out to eat and they didn’t have a very specifically set allergen menu.”

In any case, Dr. Singh said with the rise in food allergies, you can expect to see more products like the Nima on the market.  “Within the past couple of years there’s been an explosion in new sorts of products.”


Caroline Bach

Anchor, 27 News at 11

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