Hidden Allergens in Everyday Products

Common Foods and Non-Foods Can Contain Hidden Allergens

While vigilance is a necessity in the world of food allergies, it’s not uncommon to forget or simply not know, the hidden dangers lurking in common, everyday food and non-food products. Here are some items to be leery of (and avoid) if you have a food allergy.


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Sunscreens and Lotions

Watch out for tree nut oils and extracts like almond extract and shea nut butter included in these products. While these are unlikely to cause a major reaction, it may be wise to skirt around them and use alternative products. Although no conclusive studies are available connecting food ingredients in sunscreen and lotions to an allergic reaction, you may wish to avoid products containing allergens.

Shampoos, Conditioners, and Styling Products

The oils of nuts, like macadamia, are added to condition the hair and enhance the smell of hair products. Like sunscreens and lotions, no studies indicate strict avoidance, however, you may want to steer clear of products with tree nut ingredients. Be sure to be an avid label reader for concerning ingredients. 


Before you apply or invest a lot of money, check out the ingredients on your cosmetic products—you might see soy or tree nuts as part of the product.

Dry Salad Dressing, Dip and Soup Mixes

Certainly a shortcut to making delicious appetizers and meals, these dried mixes may contain milk, peanut, soy or wheat ingredients. Buyer beware!

Imitation Seafood (Surimi)

While a healthy option if you’re cutting back on meat, imitation seafood, such as crab, is often made with egg, a no-no for those with an egg allergy


All those beautiful cakes with colorful, perfectly formed decorations and delicate flowers are made with marzipan, a paste made from almonds. 


If you’re not brushed up on your alcohol ingredients, you may be surprised to know that ales, beer, bourbon, and wine may contain allergens such as wheat. Cream-based liquors may contain milk ingredients, and other liquors like Amaretto or Frangelico may be made with tree nuts. 

Worcestershire Sauce

Typically used as a marinade for meat, or a condiment, Worcestershire sauce may contain fish, specifically anchovies. 


When my daughter was in preschool, the teacher made her own playdough out of common household ingredients. Commercial play dough may contain wheat, so an alternative is needed if you have a wheat allergy.

Here's an allergy-free playdough recipe from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI):

1 cup cornstarch
1 lb baking soda
1 cup of water
1/8 tsp oil
Food coloring
In a large pot, combine ingredients. Cook over medium heat until "mealy." Allow to cool on a plate, covered with a damp cloth. Knead well and store in an airtight container. Use oil and food coloring that is safe for your allergy.

Bird Seed Mix

In the winter, many people set up their bird feeders to offer an ongoing source of nourishment for the birds. But, if you have a tree nut or wheat allergy you may want to rethink this. Nut oils and wheat are sometimes found in commercial birdseed.

Pet Food

Depending on the brand, you may find allergens on the ingredient list of your favorite dog or cat food. While not made for human consumption, pet food may contain tree nut, peanut, and soy. Even handling pet food for some individuals with a food allergy can be a trigger.


If you are getting an immunization, ask your healthcare provider if egg is present in the vaccine. Some vaccines, such as influenza (both inactivated and live), may contain small amounts of egg.

Vitamins and Medications

Taking medication and vitamins are supposed to make you healthy, right? Not if you have a food allergy! Lurking in some of those medications and vitamin supplements are soy, wheat, and egg allergens. Be sure to look at the ingredient list, not just the nutritional profile!  

Lip Balm and Glosses

Fish lips? If you have an allergy to fish, be on the lookout for this ingredient in lip balms, glosses, and lipsticks. Thank goodness these don't smell like fish!


8 Surprising Sources of Common Food Allergens

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  • http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/flushot.htm
  • http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/should-not-vacc.htm
  • Resources

By Jill Castle, MS, RD
Jill Castle, MS, RD, is a childhood nutrition expert, published book author, consultant, and public speaker who helps parents nourish healthy kids.