How to Effectively Clean Allergenic Foods Off a School Desk

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Published: August 15, 2017

Q: I’m a teacher and our middle school recently had an incident in which a small amount of nut butter got smeared on a desk that was later occupied by a student in my class with an allergy to hazelnuts. (That student had a minor skin reaction.)

I would like to be sure that desktops get properly cleaned and to share some advice with our administration. What do allergy experts consider the most reliable method for cleaning smears of allergenic foods?

Dr. Sharma: Contact exposure to a food allergen can cause localized skin reactions, and much less commonly systemic (or widespread) reactions.

These cases are usually triggered by direct skin contact with a food allergen, underscoring the importance of properly cleaning desks, tables and other surfaces in school settings.

A few studies have looked at peanut allergen and found it can persist on tabletops. One compared cleaning methods to remove a teaspoon’s worth of peanut butter (which would be similar to a nut butter) from tabletops. The researchers found that using common cleansers, but not dishwashing liquid, effectively reduced peanut allergen to undetectable levels.

They also found that hand wipes and washing hands with soap and water successfully removed peanut residue from hands, while plain water and antibacterial hand sanitizer did not.

Another study found hand wipes effective in cleaning surfaces, plastic toys and book covers. I hope these ideas will help at your school.

Dr. Sharma is an allergist, clinical researcher and associate professor of pediatrics. He is Associate Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C. and Director of the Food Allergy Program. He co-authors “The Food Allergy Experts” column in the American Edition of Allergic Living magazine. Questions submitted will be considered for answer in the magazine.

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