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


One question we often field generally 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?

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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.

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, 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, then peanut oil is probably not for you. The same goes for other highly refined oils.

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