They’re NOT Allergens? What it Means to be Highly Refined


One question we often field reads something like this:


This product has a statement that says “Contains: Wheat” but doesn’t mention anything about the peanut oil listed as an ingredient! If I wasn’t such a careful label reader I would have missed it entirely! Should I report them?

Irate in Indiana

To answer questions like Irate’s, we need to take a close at a clause in Section 203 of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 – often referred to as FALCPA, the law that mandates how food products must be labeled with regard to allergens.

Here’s the clause in question (with the emphasis ours):

The term `major food allergen’ means any of the following:

(1) Milk, egg, fish (e.g., bass, flounder, or cod), Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, or shrimp), tree nuts (e.g., almonds, pecans, or walnuts), wheat, peanuts, and soybeans.

(2) A food ingredient that contains protein derived from a food specified in paragraph (1), except the following:

(A) Any highly refined oil derived from a food specified in paragraph (1) and any ingredient derived from such highly refined oil.

(B) A food ingredient that is exempt under paragraph (6) or (7) of section 403(w).”

So highly refined oils are exempt from the allergen labeling regulations mandated by FALCPA.

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Well, we know the Dowager Countess of Grantham (our favorite character from Downton Abbey) is highly refined, but what exactly are highly refined oils, and why are they treated differently from the foods from which they are derived?

In a nutshell, highly refined oils are edible oils “resulting from a process that involves de-gumming, neutralizing, bleaching, and deodorizing the oils extracted from plant-based starting materials such as soybeans and peanuts.”

One benefit of the refining process is that undesirable free fatty acids, gums, and phosphatides are removed, eliminating undesired odors and imparting uniform color and consistency to the oil. The other is that the resulting oil is left virtually free of allergenic proteins, according to the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils (ISEO).

Great. So now we know what highly refined oils are and why they are exempted from labeling requirements. But are they safe for allergic individuals to consume?

This is what FARE has to say about peanut oil:

The FDA exempts highly refined peanut oil from being labeled as an allergen. Studies show that most individuals with peanut allergy can safely eat peanut oil (but not cold-pressed, expelled or extruded peanut oil – sometimes represented as gourmet oils). If you are allergic to peanuts, ask your doctor whether or not you should avoid peanut oil.

This is prudent advice that should be applied to all highly refined oils derived from your allergens of concern… ask your doctor.

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We know from the feedback we receive from our readers that many families coping with food allergies choose to avoid highly refined oils derived from their allergens of concern. Many do so at the advice of their physician, while others do so simply to err on the side of safety.

Here’s what we can say with 100% certainty: peanut oil is manufactured on shared equipment with peanuts, so if you avoid products manufactured in shared lines/facilities with peanuts for fear of cross-contact, peanut oil is probably not for you. The same goes for other highly refined oils.

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Dave Bloom
Dave Bloom
Dave Bloom is CEO and "Blogger in Chief" of

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  1. My son’s consumption of fries fried in “refined” peanut oil resulted in wheezing, which clued us to get him checked out for a peanut allergy. No surprises – he is allergic to peanuts, all tree nuts, and sesame. We avoid peanut oil and all other oils derived from items he is allergic too (i.e. coconut oil, almond oil, sesame oil, etc.)

  2. my daughter tests mildly allergic to tree nuts and peanuts but goes into anaphylaxus from contact, consumption or inhalation. When she eats french fries fried in highly refined peanut oil, she itches. Her reaction is milder than to whole peanut proteins but her allergist says to stay away from it all because even a mild reaction can be severe the next time.

  3. I love the word MOST. The data is so behind the times when it comes to legislation. Maybe in 2004 Most was a bigger number but now many people are seeing that a label needs to be transparent for ALL. If my child was exposed to something and had an anaphylactic reaction to it from something not on the label that was a top 8 do I get to have her life back? Can I sue FALPA, the company or the FDA. I think the important thing is Labeling needs to be 100% transparent there is no wiggle room for exposure to a peanut oil, protein, dust. Most can fly on a plane without incident but many can not. Same deal why would anyone try to justify not being accurate when it comes to an ingredient derived from a plant that is a top allergen. People have gone into anaphylaxis from refined peanut oil. Thank you for sharing this!

    • I agree. Who are they to decide what risk a parent wants to take for their child’s life?
      Why do they think it’s ok for them to decide that because MOST people might consume something safely that it’s somehow ok to withhold the information from us?
      It’s no real burden for manufacturers to be transparent. It’s incredibly insensitive do decide some people don’t deserve information about allergens that could kill them or their child.
      The “harm” to manufacturers in entering more words onto their labels is nothing compared to the harm to a person killed by the undisclosed allergens.

    • I wholeheartedly agree also! I have been diagnosed with many food allergies and recently began investigating the “natural flavor” ingredient in many foods. Most companies will not disclose what it is even after a lengthy email exchange, and are hiding behind their supplier’s proprietary information. For one company, I was told that they use “Soybean oil as a processing aid” but soy (nor any derivative thereof) is not listed as an ingredient. Upon further investigation, because the soybean oil is “highly refined” it is exempt from the labeling process as they claim that the soy protein has been removed. This is ludicrous!! How are we to stay away from our allergens if the food companies are not transparent in their labeling, and the FDA is giving them a pass. So frustrating.

  4. I realize that the discussion here is about allergens. I would just like to make one other important point, highly refined oils are not nutritious. In fact, arguments could made they are in fact harmful to our health. Don’t eat highly refined oil, allergic or not. Problem solved. Foods with such complicated ingredients lists are NOT foods you want yourself or a child to consume. Whole, unprocessed foods is the way to go, you always know what you’re getting. FOOD!

  5. We never risk it. Our physician supports that and also highly encourages us to avoid it. It’s simply not worth it. I never want my daughter to have to use her epi-pen. Ever.

  6. They state that most shouldn’t be affected or it’s virtually free of the allergen protein… They can just not use it since chances with life are not taken in our family. Life is risky enough no additional risk is necessary!! Plus – most of the time when you ask a server about oils they really don’t know or understand.

  7. The FDA doesn’t appear all that concerned with the lives of the people they are trying to protect.
    Perhaps the people at the FDA should stop wearing their seatbelts in their cars on the way to work tmrw because “MOST” car trips don’t result in fatalities!
    Do the people at the FDA responsible for deciding what protections we get want to forego the protections they receive to protect themselves in their daily life because “MOST” of the time nothing happens? Ex, elevator inspections in their building, brake inspections by their mechanic, health inspections at their local restaurant, refrigeration for their food…
    The day one of their children is killed by an allergen in their food that was not labeled may be the day they get it. Perhaps they should be reminded that just because you have no food allergies today, doesn’t mean you won’t develop a life threatening allergy (at any time without warning). It is getting more and more common.

    • That’s an excellent comparison, and is exactly what they’re doing with this mandate. I get reactions from the oil. Hand me a package of potato chips from Jimmy John’s and I’ll show anyone!

  8. I react the same way to highly refined soy oil as I do to any other soy product. Please every one that has reaction to the refined oil needs to file a complaint with the FDA so that we can get the allergen charts to indicate the allergen. The present FDA policy is to exempt the highly refined oils from being listed. And as most of us with allergies know this can be life threatening. It will not get changed unless those of us with allergies step up and file complaints.

  9. I was advised by my daughter’s GI doctor to give her fiber gummies and I explained that they have coconut oil in them and she is allergic to coconut. She told me that the oil is so super refined that there shouldn’t be any reaction. We ended up at the hospital with a anaphylactic reaction. I will never again trust anything listed with refined oils.

  10. Yes, mostly as shea nut oil is in a lot of sun tan lotions and skin lotion and a rash has been present upon usage. And nuts seen hidden in a lot of products. My son is PN/TN ana. I find is odd personally that oils, refined or not are not listed. Oils are oils, period! Then the parent/person, etc can decide for themselves, as it seems by these comments we are anyway. But now we are un-informed, which is more confusing! My husband is allergic to shellfish, so we watch for fish oils as well, but he feels an itchy throat and does not need an epi-pen.
    I should not need a science degree to shop for basic need for by 10 year old son…crazy!

  11. My nut, soy etc allergic son has had an anaphylactic reaction to peanut oil. However for his anaphylactic soy allergy, he eats highly refined soy oil and soy lecithin without issue. Our allergist says this is because of the level of tolerance for each allergen in the same person. So it isn’t for us just an issue of do we avoid but rather what we avoid for each allergy in the same person.

    • Avoid all highly refined oils. The “highly” part is extracting the oil by boiling the peanuts or soy with n-hexane, a gasoline derivative that is a known neurotoxin found at EPA clean-up sites. When done extracting the oil, the producers raise the temperature to boil off the hexande and recover it after oil separation, but trace amounts remain. Some oils go through a mineral oil scrubber to remove more of the hexane, but how much is left after that? Not surprisingly, lobbying by both the petroleum industry, and by the vegetable oil advocates on K Street have kept there from being any studies or resulting standards on what is an unsafe level of hexane in these oils.

  12. In our house, the rule of thumb is “when in doubt, do without”. I don’t play Russian roulette with my son’s life. He’s had severe food allergies since birth and is still severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. We just avoid anything that even mentions either on the label. We are very meticulous about reading labels and we have very detailed discussions with waitstaff and sometimes even the chef when eating out. He’s never had to use his epipen and we hope he never will. There are plenty of foods to eat that are peanut/tree nut free.

  13. Unfortunately, the economics of mass food production makes it impossible to stick to one particular type of oil and need the flexibility to use different oil. Peanut oil is frequently used due to its low cost and makes a good oil for frying. I have peanut allergies myself but can safely consume products made with or fried in heat processed peanut oils. The FDA is basing its guidelines on solid science and the fact that the reality is it is safe for overwhelming number of those with allergies. If you you find that risk unacceptable then your alternative is to only make your own food or buy some extremely expensive boutique brand.

  14. I have horrible reactions to both Soy Lecithin & Soy Oil supposed to be highly refined with little to no protein. Just one cookie put me into breathing issues, blisters in mouth, racing heart beat, nausea , vomiting, diarrhea. A lunch meat cooked in refined soy oil hives every where, issues breathing, blistered mouth, nausea , vomiting, diarrhea. Medications with soy oil or soy lecithin have had several reactions for those.. Even a spay with soy lecithin in it I reacted to. YES not only I but many other SOY allergic people have reactions to these products.

  15. We knew about my daughter’s nut allergy, but her recent seemingly random reactions to restaurant foods with throat tightening and difficulty breathing led us to get her allergy tested. Testing showed soy was the problem, with a stronger response even than nuts. Yet the foods she reacted to (eggs, fries) were not soy-based foods. A few phone calls confirmed the restaurants where the reactions occurred use soy oil. “Virtually free” and “free” are not the same thing, especially if the terminology is being used by the industry manufacturing the product. Just as “most individuals” is not the same thing as “everyone”.
    Heads up to people who may not know this: If you ask a restaurant what kind of oil they use, and they respond “vegetable oil”, ask them what’s in it. The answer will usually be soy oil.

  16. I have a severe soy allergy and I just don’t know that I would intentionally risk it. I have reactions to supposedly soyless meals and now I wonder how soy free they were. This does make one wonder and ultimately you have to decide but we need correct labels in order to make informed decisions.

  17. Chick-Fil-A uses “Highly Refined Peanut Oil” which as stated above the FDA doesn’t see it as a risk, I like to breathe so I steer clear of that establishment.

  18. All I ever see are qualifier words. “Should” be safe. “Should” be free of allergens. “Virtually” all allergens are removed. To this day, I have never read a study where they’ll avoid using a qualifier word. My peanut allergy is far less severe than others. But I’ve gotten reactions from Jimmy Johns potato chips (peanut oil, not listed as an allergen) and Chick-fil-A, both due to “highly refined” peanut oil. Both of which detail their ultra refining process where “virtually all” (read: not all) allergens are removed.
    Very irritating as peanut oil is no longer listed in the allergen description, so it’s back to combing through the ingredient labels.
    I happen to enjoy cashews, and nowadays nearly every brand on the shelf use peanut oil in their preparation. None list it as an allergen, all cause a reaction. So frustrating.

  19. I am 78 years old and have had severe reactions to peanuts at a very young age and still do. A touch of an open peanut to my lip will cause a brief strong swelling allergic reaction. If I were to smell peanut butter in a jar, I instantly gag. However I can use peanut oil for cooking but I have not been exposed to “cold” pressed or gourmet peanut oil. I have had mild throat swelling reactions to M&M’s chocolates so I guess they must use the same chocolate bath for the peanuts. My peanut allergy is so very instantaneous that fortunately I cannot, by accident, consume much of something with trace peanuts as an ingredient.

    • Cold pressed or gourmet oils haven’t had [all] of the solids removed, therefore proteins are still present. You should definitely avoid those.

  20. My boyfriend has an anaphylaxis reaction to consuming peanuts and he is 28 years old.
    He eats chick fil a frequently and never has any issues. He accidentally ate molé last week and landed in the ER so he is still very allergic but for some reason that particular refined oil is ok for him. Everyone’s body is different

  21. I’m allergic to soy as a 38 year old. My reaction is mild – bloating and gas, and I always attributed the issues to overeating or eating too many carbs when eating out. I recently realized that it’s the soybean oil that restaurants use! Has there been any progress with getting the FDA to change their labeling requirements??

  22. Both our kids have epi pens for a severe peanut allergy. They have both been subjected to trace amounts of peanut and have been very sick minutes after. Lucky we didn’t have to use the pens. The allergist said next time is going to be scary so be ready with the pens. When I was away one day my husband gave the kids a granola bar that had refined peanuts in it.
    I got home as they were eating it, saw this and nearly passed out. I thought the worst and grabbed the epi pens. My husband,the scientist, explained the process of refined peanut oil saying they are fine and it’s probably not the first time they’ve had it. He said it’s so safe legally it doesn’t even have to be in the allergy category,it is just an ingredient.
    The kids ate it all and were fine.

  23. When I get a trace of soy of any kind, I get horrific mouth sores which last 2-4 weeks. I have to constantly use a numbing mouth rinse to be able to eat, drink, speak and sleep. I feel all ingredients should be listed and the consumer can decide whether it is a problem. How can we know what is causing the problem if the ingredients are not properly listed. I just had a problem with Perdue Gluten-free chicken tenders. They are processed with highly refined soybean oil – not listed on the package. I guess it is ok that I got a highly refined mouth sore! Very painful! I would not had known if they hadn’t listed on line the ingredients for the refrigerated chicken tenders, which listed soybean oil. I wish the government agencies really looked out for the consumers instead of the big companies.

  24. Just found out that propofol, used in anesthesia, is suspended with soybean oil. Every time I have had anesthesia my blood pressure dropped to dangerously low numbers. Due to this “highly refined” regulation, they feel perfectly justified in letting doctors use it in someone with a known soy allergy. Now I know why I nearly die each time. This rule needs to change.

  25. I’m highly allergic to peanuts, I will get hives from contact and go into anaphylaxis if any amount is consumed. However, I eat at chik fil a with no problems. I also have stopped avoiding food “processed in a facility that processes peanuts” because I want to eat lots of things that say that. Like Twix. One day this may nearly kill me but for now I only avoid actual peanuts and direct peanut products, save highly refined oils at Chik Fil A.

  26. Two of my children have severe peanut allergies but have eaten chickfila since they were little and Chinese food. I think it’s safe to say that everyone’s allergies are different. Some can tolerate, some cannot. The best thing though is knowledge. Even though most can tolerate highly refined peanut oils, it should be clearly stated and labeled at all times. Ignorance can be deadly.

  27. I recently had a (thankfully mild) allergic reaction to RBD peanut oil in Jimmy John’s chips. I think that this is a really risky thing to argue for not labeling. Some people could have a life threatening reaction. It definitely needs to be included in ingredient lists.


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