Last night I was watching one of my favorite TV shows – Cupcake Wars. It was round 2 and the bakers needed to make 3 cupcakes that captured the essence of childhood fun & imagination. One of the bakers chose to make a hazelnut cupcake and then decided to make an allergen free cupcake: gluten, egg, dairy and nut free. I admired her desire to address the growing need for allergen safe food among children. However, given her limited time frame, I have serious doubts the nut free cupcake was truly nut free. While it didn’t have any nuts as an ingredient; surely it was made with the same utensils and equipment as the hazelnut cupcake. The probability that it was 100% nut free was greatly diminished by the prospect that it was subject to cross contamination.
Cross contamination is what happens when one food item is inadvertently transferred to another food item, often by way of unwashed utensils or equipment, such as spatulas and other mixing bowls, or even unwashed hands. Cross contamination could turn a seemingly safe treat into a life threatening event.
About 8 months ago I opened a nut free bakery to address this very issue. Traditional bakeries offer the prospect of cross contamination even if the item doesn’t have nuts in any of the ingredients. Consider the baker that doesn’t change their latex gloves as they go from filling the case with peanut butter cookies to chocolate chip. What if a baker used the same spoon to scoop walnuts into one batter and raisins into another? Even if a bakery is careful to watch out for this type of cross contamination, it’s hard to know if the ingredients they purchase from their vendors are not cross contaminated themselves. Just look at the back of any prepackaged national baked product or even the ingredients you use yourselves at home and it won’t take long before you find one of many variations of the voluntary warning statement “processed on shared equipment with peanuts and tree nuts”.
If you or someone you know has a nut allergy, be vigilant. Just because a food item doesn’t have “nuts” as an ingredient, it doesn’t guarantee that it is nut free. Read labels, talk to the bakers and chefs and know without a doubt that it’s truly nut free before allowing yourself or loved ones to eat it.