SUFFERN (PIX11) -- When Theresa Grimm contacted PIX 11 about the peanut oil listed as an ingredient in her nephew’s favorite ice creams, she had already been in Facebook and e-mail contact with the Food and Drug Administration.
“You’re talking about death, and it’s something that has to be addressed with labelling,” Grimm said to PIX 11. “You’re risking that person’s life, for two words on a label.”
Grimm was upset that peanut oil was not listed as an “allergen” on the ice cream container her sister bought at the supermarket. It was simply listed as an ingredient.
Grimm’s 13-year old nephew, Frankie Blake, was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy when he was 2 years old.
“When he was a little over 2, we gave him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” Frankie’s mom, Louise Blake, recalled recently. “His face blew up, his nose spread across his face, he was coughing and choking.”
The family had Benadryl in the house, and that helped to tame Frankie’s reaction. But his mother took him to the local emergency room, and the toddler was eventually diagnosed with the peanut allergy.
When Frankie Blake was in kindergarten, his mother even had to scare him into not eating someone else’s food, after he shared a snack with a classmate.
“What does he understand about not being around or dying?” Louise Blake remarked. “But I had to tell him he may never see us again.”
Since then, Louise Blake has been diligent about reading all labels on food packaging very carefully. Frankie carries around an epinephrine kit, just in case he has an allergic reaction and needs a shot, but he’s never had to use it.
When Louise Blake recently bought Friendly’s “Birthday Cake” ice cream at a local supermarket, she only noticed milk and soy listed as allergens.
When she took a closer look at the ingredients, she saw peanut oil was listed. Even though the ice cream was already in the bowl, she refused to serve it to Frankie.
“As far as I was concerned, I would not give it to my son,” Blake said.
When Blake’s sister called the FDA’s emergency hotline number and wrote to Friendly’s, she did get a prompt response to the family’s concerns.
Friendly’s commented in a Facebook post: “The product you’ve referenced (our Party Cake Ice Cream) contains highly refined peanut oil. This oil does not contain peanut protein, and it is not an allergen.”
The Food and Drug Administration backed up Friendly’s contention, pointing out that most people with peanut allergies can safely tolerate heat-refined peanut oil.
“I felt like ‘most’ is unacceptable,” Frankie Blake’s aunt responded, “because if you’re one of the few who react to peanut oil, you’re talking about death, and it’s something that has to be addressed with labeling.”
When we spoke to the family’s allergist, Dr. Joel Selter, he told PIX 11 Investigates that he was “ambivalent” about the FDA’s rules on peanut oil.
“Can I state with 1000 percent or 100 percent certainty that no one will ever have a reaction?” Dr. Selter said to us, “I can’t say that.”
The allergist did point out that crude oil—also called “gourmet oil”—would have the highest amount of proteins, after processing, and perhaps pose more of a risk.
He said of the highly-refined peanut oil, “The peanut protein content is so markedly diminished so as to make it non-allergenic.”
Yet Dr. Selter added, “Families of allergenic patients have been taught to aggressively look at labels.”
That’s because 150 to 200 Americans die every year from food allergies, and 30-thousand end up in emergency rooms, after a reaction.