Unexpected Sources of Cross-Contact with Food Allergens


As individuals or caregivers of individuals managing food allergies, we understand the importance of avoiding cross-contact. Cross-contact causes allergens to lurk in entirely unexpected places. Even more prominent kitchen sources like shared cooking utensils and food prep surfaces, baked goods cooked in the same oven, and buffet-style spreads can be challenging to avoid. But what about the less obvious sources?

In this post, we’ll highlight a few cross-contact sources that have caught members of our team off guard, and how we’ve navigated things like eating out and traveling while accounting for cross-contact. 

Unexpected Sources of Cross-Contact

1. Sponges and Other Cleaning Supplies

Our trusty kitchen sponges may seem innocent, but they can be an unexpected source of cross-contact. These moist and porous cleaning tools often harbor food particles and allergens, which can spread to other dishes and surfaces.

This one is especially tricky because even with the best of intentions—such as cleaning a pan or surface before use—they can create cross-contact with an allergen. When cooking in a kitchen that isn’t your own, like an Airbnb, always use a new sponge to clean cooking surfaces and any utensils before use. 

Tips to prevent sponge-related cross-contact: 

  • Replace sponges regularly—make a note in your calendar to stay on a consistent schedule

  • If you’re traveling, bring extra new sponges along with you 

  • Consider using disposable paper towels or wipes for cleaning allergen-contaminated areas 

2. Bulk Grocery Bins 

Bulk bins offer cost-effective and eco-friendly options when grocery shopping. However, they can also be a source of cross-contact due to shared scoops and bins. People may accidentally use the same scoop for different items, which can transfer allergens from one product to another. Or, for example, there may have been nuts stored in one bin that now houses oats. We consider bulk bins to be on par with buffet restaurants when it comes to cross-contact risk: avoid them whenever possible.

To avoid cross-contact from bulk bins: 

  • Buy allergen-free products in pre-packaged containers when possible  

  • Speak with the store manager about their allergen-handling protocols 

3. Deep Fryers 

Shared deep fryers at restaurants or at home can be a hidden source of cross-contact. For example, restaurant French fries may be gluten-free, but they may also share the same fryer with fried chicken (hello gluten!). When different foods are fried in the same oil, allergens can transfer between them. Unlike what you may have heard, deep fryers, which generally reach a temperature of 350 to 375° F, do not break down the protein that causes allergic reactions and are a potential source of cross-contact. 

Tips for safe deep-frying: 

  • When dining out, ask about the restaurant’s frying practices and whether they use separate fryers for allergen-free dishes

  • When dining at home, be cautious of deep fry oil (especially if it’s being reused!) 

4. Unwashed Fruits and Vegetables 

Fruits and vegetables are essential for a healthy diet. Still, unwashed produce can carry allergens from other foods or the environment (not to mention dirt and pesticides). This can be especially dangerous for individuals with peanut or tree nut allergies, as many grocery stores stock fruits and vegetables near the nuts.  

Properly wash fruits and vegetables by: 

  • Rinsing them thoroughly under running water and/or using a fruit & veggie wash  

  • Using a produce brush to scrub firm-skinned fruits and vegetables 

  • Discarding outer leaves of leafy greens

In summary, to minimize the risk of cross-contact from these unlikely sources:

  • Use new cleaning tools to sanitize utensils and cooking surfaces 

  • Be cautious when purchasing from bulk bins (or better yet, avoid them entirely)

  • Ensure safe deep-frying practices at home and when dining out 

  • Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables

Remember, vigilance and communication with others (family members, restaurants, etc.) are essential when managing food allergies and preventing cross-contact. By staying informed and proactive, we can better protect ourselves and our loved ones from allergen exposure. 

— Scott and the Amulet Team

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