I hear many parents or kids say they cannot eat Chick-fil-a because they are allergic to peanuts and Chick-fil-a uses peanut oil. There is a lot of confusion surrounding peanut allergy and peanut oil. There are actually 2 different kinds of peanut oils – refined and unrefined.
Refined peanut oil (also called highly refined) undergoes a process in which it is purified, refined, bleached, and deodorized which removes the peanut protein from the oil. These processes extract the oil but eliminate the pigments, aromas, and flavors. Refined peanut oil is stable, has a long shelf life, and has a high smoke-point which makes it ideal for frying foods. Chick-fil-a and Five Guys use peanut oil. Unrefined peanut oil, also referred to as extruded, cold-pressed, aromatic, gourmet, expelled, or expeller-pressed, goes through mechanical processes to extract the oil but does not go through any chemical or high heat steps as with refined peanut oil. This leaves the peanut flavors in the oil. Unrefined peanut oil does contain the peanut protein. Peanut allergy is caused by an allergic antibody (IgE antibody) to the peanut protein and not to the oil.
In 1981, doctors took 10 known peanut allergic patients and gave them peanut oil in increasing doses. They had them return 2 weeks later to eat the peanut oil again. None of the 10 people had any reactions(1). In 1997, researchers fed both refined and unrefined peanut oil on separate occasions to 60 known peanut allergic patients. The study was called a “double blind study” which means the participants did not know which of the 2 oils the were going to receive at which time and neither did the staff who were administering the oils. None of the patients had a reaction to the refined peanut oil. Six out of the 60 had reactions to the unrefined peanut oil(2). Recent studies on peanut allergy show that the amounts of protein found in refined peanut oil do not trigger reactions in people who have experienced very severe reactions(3). In fact, the FDA has specifically stated that highly refined oils (which includes peanut oil) is exempt from the Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.
The take home message is that highly refined peanut oil does not contain the peanut protein and studies have shown it to be safe in peanut-allergic patients. This is the oil that Chick-Fil-A currently uses. Unrefined or gourmet peanut oil does contain the peanut protein and needs to be strictly avoided. Always communicate with the restaurant. Menus/ingredients are always subject to change, and the online version may not change as quickly. So make sure to speak with someone directly at the restaurant to be safe. You can always speak with your allergist to make sure trying peanut oil is right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask and unnecessarily miss out on a lot of mouth watering food out there!
1.) SL Taylor, Busse WW, Sachs MI, Parker JL, Yunginger JW. Peanut oil is not allergenic to peanut-sensitive individuals. JACI 1981;68:372-375.
2.) Hourihane JO, Bedwani SJ, Dean TP, Warner JO. Randomised, double blind, crossover challenge study of allergenicity of peanut oils in subjects allergic to peanuts. BMJ 1997;314(7087):1084-8.
3.) W Marty Blom et al. Assessing food allergy risks from residual peanut protein in highly refined vegetable oil. Food Chem Toxicol. 2017;106:306-313.