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Does Touching or Smelling Foods Result in Allergic Reactions?


Updated August 21, 2009

Question: Does Touching or Smelling Foods Result in Allergic Reactions?
Answer: Touching foods that you are allergic to can cause allergic reactions, although these reactions are typically mild. Contact with certain foods, such as peanut butter, has been known to result in allergic reactions in children with food allergies. For the most part, these reactions are mild (such as hives, known as urticaria), but don’t typically result in the more extreme situation of anaphylaxis.

Smelling foods usually does not result in allergic reactions, even when the odor of the food is strong, such as with peanut butter. There is no peanut protein released into the air when peanut butter is at room temperature – and it is the peanut proteins, not the peanut aroma, that can trigger allergic reactions. There have been reports of people with shellfish allergy experiencing allergic reactions to steam coming from shellfish being cooked, which does contain shellfish protein.

Cleaning of tabletop surfaces and washing hands should prevent food allergens from coming into contact with people who might be allergic. Studies on cleaning of peanut butter showed that soap and typical household cleaners did a good job of removing peanut protein from hands and table surfaces. Alcohol-based cleaners and dishwashing liquid were not effective at removing peanut protein from hands or table surfaces.

Learn more about allergic reactions to food odors.


Young MC, Munoz-Furlong A, Sicherer SH. Management of Food Allergies in Schools: A Perspective for Allergists. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009; 124:175-82.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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