News: Canadian Transportation Agency Looks at Airborne Food Allergy Risk in Flight

UPDATE: September 16, 2016 - from Allergic Living magazine - Analysis: Canadian Airlines Report Misses the Mark on In-Flight Allergy Risks

UPDATE: August 29, 2016 -  From Food Allergy Canada  - New report from the Canadian Transportation Agency on air travel and food allergies


This article came out a few weeks back on the CBC: "No proof to back most peanut plane fears inquiry finds"

In it, "Former Conservative transportation minister Lisa Raitt directed the Canadian Transportation Agency to look into passenger allergies to nuts in 2015 following directives released in response to a series of passenger complaints.” 

They asked American allergist Dr Matthew Greenhawt to look into the matter.

(Dr Greenhawt has been exploring the issues of whether or not airborne allergens do indeed increase the chances of a severe allergic reaction mid-air and gave several medical quotes to my book, Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well with Food Allergies (Wiley, 2011))


From the CBC article:

“The risk analysis report was prepared by University of Colorado allergist and immunologist Dr. Matthew Greenhawt.

He says that while there is "general public concern" about the risks of inhalation or exposure through residue, the small number of studies that exist don't support the fear.

"The data that does exist has consistently shown that: a) peanut dust does not aerosolize; b) peanut butter contains no protein in its vapours; and c) surfaces can be effectively cleaned of any allergic residue and, moreover, there is minimal risk of anything more than a local irritation reaction from casual skin contact with the allergen," the inquiry says.

Greenhawt cites a study done in 2004 which was "unable to detect any circulating airborne allergen particles on filters worn at the level of the patient's neck after 15 bags of whole peanuts were shelled and then walked on in a small room, both with and without air ventilation."

Another study involved 29 participants with severe peanut allergies who were subjected to three ounces of peanut butter held 12 inches away from their noses. Researchers also smeared a small amount of peanut butter on their skin.

None of them had respiratory symptoms or systemic allergic reactions. But three patients developed localized redness on their skin.”


You can read the entire article here: "No proof to back most peanut plane fears inquiry finds - British Columbia - CBC News"

As always, consult with your personal board certified medical care consultant.

UPDATE: A reader suggested Dr Robert Wood has a different opinion from Dr Greenhawt and the literature. Here's a quote from a FARE interview in 2013 with Dr Robert Wood about airborne allergens:

FARE: For people with peanut or tree nut allergies, how dangerous are ball games, airplanes, and other places with lots of nuts?

Dr Wood: As a general rule, because ingestion is the main root of exposure that poses risk, being around nuts is not going to be dangerous. Now, airborne reactions can occur. They will typically only happen though if the nuts are being disturbed in a way that will create a dust and if you are in a very confined space. So if you think about how that might happen, you will definitely get more peanut allergen in the air if you’re cracking open nuts, especially if you’re throwing nuts on the floor and walking on the shells. Each of those activities may create some dust that does contain allergen. If you’re in a contained space – if you’re in the waiting area of a restaurant and everyone is cracking open nuts, and the floor of that waiting area has an inch-thick peanut shell on it – that is a place that you could have a dangerous airborne reaction. That same amount of peanut at a ball game, though, virtually never causes problems. In the outdoor air, it’s very rare to see true airborne reactions. Now on airplanes, if everyone was cracking open nuts, airplanes would be a scary place. But the truth is that just by opening bags of peanuts, there’s very little peanut allergen getting into the air. We can’t say that it’s a zero risk situation. I can’t say that ball games are zero risk; I can say they’re very low risk. For me and my peanut allergy, I don’t worry about ball games or flying at all. I have no concern about it whatsoever. If my patients want to avoid ballgames or be on peanut-free flights, I don’t say that’s wrong. Although I think that normalizing life as much as possible and finding a cooperative airline that won’t serve peanuts, at least for peace of mind, may be a reasonable approach to be less anxious and still enjoy a family trip or vacation.


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