Banning peanuts but not the other significant food allergens is inconsistent. More to the point, It ignores the consensus evidence about the low risk of peanut allergy reactions occurring in confined spaces such as aircraft cabins. The evidence is well summarised in Greenhawt M et al (2013). “International study of risk-mitigating factors and in-flight allergic reactions to peanut and tree nut”. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice;1:186-94. www.jaci-inpractice.org/article/S2213-2198(13)00078-0/pdf One of the co-authors is the Director of Anaphylaxis Australia. The study identifies common sense risk-mitigating behaviours which peanut allergic passengers should be allowed to carry out, including pre-boarding to wipe down seats and tray tables. The lead author Dr Greenhawt (a paediatric allergist at the University of Michigan) discussed the peanuts on planes issue in Allergic Living in 2014, and concluded that the widespread belief about dangerous particles becoming airborne from opened nut packets (known as aerosolisation) lacks foundation. He stated: “… it is highly unlikely for a passenger to inhale nut protein from someone consuming nuts a few rows in front of him/her. There is no evidence that has been able to show that such dust circulates.” www.allergicliving.com/2014/08/21/anaphylaxis-in-the-air-two-recent-airline-incidents/ The aroma of roasted peanuts, of course, is due to chemicals known as pyrazines. These are not proteins and therefore are not capable of causing allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. It needs to be acknowledged that the concerns of individuals and families affected by serious nut allergies are genuine. However, the evidence and expert clinical opinion based on it all point to very low to negligible risks from fellow passengers opening packets and consuming nuts on airplanes. Where large groups of people, such as airline passengers, are concerned the question of rights versus risks has to be carefully negotiated and balanced. Repetition of unsubstantiated beliefs about the supposed dangers of inhaling nut particles or the aroma of nuts on airplanes is part of the problem and does not help find the solution. The airline should reconsider its position in the light of the evidence and act accordingly.
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