Environmental Food Exposure: What Is the Risk of Clinical Reactivity From Cross-Contact and What Is the Risk of Sensitization

J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2018 Nov-Dec;6(6):1825-1832. doi: 10.1016/j.jaip.2018.08.001.


For food-allergic individuals, the typical exposure to food proteins happens during ingestion; however, individuals may be exposed to foods in other ways. In addition to ingestion reactions, allergic patients may have reactions from cutaneous or mucosal exposures to food proteins, with the classic example being a peanut-allergic child touching a counter with peanut butter and then rubbing their eyes. Similar to hands, saliva can also act as a carrier for food proteins. Finally, there is a wealth of new research regarding the presence of food proteins in the environment, for example, within household floor dust. This review will focus on (1) cross-contact of food proteins and (2) environmental food protein exposures. Cross-contact occurs when one type of food comes into contact with another type of food resulting in the mixture of proteins. For food allergies, cross-contact is important when an allergen is inadvertently transferred to a food/meal that is thought to not contain that specific allergen. We will discuss the current literature regarding the presence of detectable food proteins in different locations, how and if these proteins are transferred or eliminated, and the clinical implications of exposures to food proteins under these different scenarios.

Keywords: Cross-contact; Environment; Food allergy; Household dust; Peanut allergy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allergens*
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Food Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Risk


  • Allergens
  • Dietary Proteins