Composting and food allergies: Take care of the environment and yourself

This article has been reviewed by Thanai Pongdee, MD, FAAAAI

As we become more environmentally conscious, earth-friendly practices like composting are gaining popularity in homes and community settings. That poses an interesting question: Is composting food waste safe for people with food allergies?

For a food to cause a significant allergic reaction, it must gain access inside the body. This can be through ingestion, contact with an open wound (such as a scratch), or inhaling fine particles in the air or fumes from heated food. In most instances, being near or adding food waste in a composter or a composting pile should have little risk to a food allergic person, providing you take these precautions:

• If you are food allergic and are doing the composting, wear a pollen mask to prevent inhaling any particles. Goggles, gloves, and wearing long sleeves and long pants can prevent contact exposure if you have scratches or open wounds.

• If you are composting and are around someone with food allergies, wear gloves when composting or thoroughly wash your hands so that you don’t run the risk of transferring allergen particles.

Is the heat generated from the composting process enough to prevent an allergic reaction?
Research is showing that extensively heating milk and egg can reduce the potential for an allergic reaction. Since heat is released in the composting process, many people wonder if the heat changes the makeup of the allergen enough that it is no longer an allergen.

While heat can affect the allergic properties of foods, the effect differs from food to food. It also depends upon the degree and duration of heating.

For instance, roasting can actually increase the allergic properties of peanuts, whereas boiling has the potential to cause a decrease. You also have to consider the extent and duration to which the peanut is roasted or boiled.  

The bottom line is that composting may have a minor effect in altering the allergic properties of the foods treated, but how much so is not predictable and would vary from food to food. If you have food allergies, be safe. Use the strategies mentioned above when you handle the materials after the composting process too.

Did You Know?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food waste is the single largest component of municipal solid waste reaching landfills and incinerators.

To the Point
Following basic precautions can keep composting safe for most people with food allergies.


Find out more about food allergies.

AAAAI - American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology