Heather Sliwinski

Testing Food for Peanut – Part 3: Restaurant Foods

Nima sensor testing pho

To understand how frequently peanut exposure could be occurring for people who maintain peanut-free diets, we’ve been testing food for peanut. Unlike gluten, there is no standard regulated by the FDA for what constitutes “peanut-free.” Our team aims to develop a product that can detect below 5 parts per million (ppm). Doing this sort of validation work about the levels of peanut present in food not spiked in the lab is incredibly helpful to foster our understanding what may be seen in the world where people are actually using Nima.

We’re sharing three rounds of testing food for peanuts, and sharing some of our experiences along the way. In our last post, we examined baked goods for the presence of peanut and peanut-free packaged foods. This time we sampled restaurant foods ordered as peanut-free.

Testing restaurant foods, particularly specific cuisines known for the inclusion of peanuts, was our next challenge. Based on the interviews we have been doing with peanut-free folks, we settled on a few foods most likely to be tested by the Nima community:

  • Fried foods, due to concerns about unrefined peanut oil
  • “Asian salads,” because dressings often contain peanut
  • Chinese dishes, since these dishes can contain peanuts or other nuts
  • Burmese dishes, particularly salads that often feature peanuts as a main component
  • Mexican dishes, particularly with mole and other sauces
  • Vegan dishes, due to the prevalence of tree nut cheeses and nuts in general as a protein substitute
  • Vietnamese, spring rolls were often cited as a food for concern

All restaurants selected were in San Francisco due to office proximity. Like most cities, San Francisco also has a wide of variety of cuisines, allowing us to sample many different types. To expedite the process, some items were ordered over the telephone and restaurants were concentrated in a few neighborhoods. As with other testing, we attempted where possible to bag items in separate plastic bags as food was collected in order to minimize cross-contact.

Results of this testing follows – in some cases the peanut found was below 5 ppm. As always, every time you eat out or order something, the circumstances may change, so the results from these visits may not be the same on subsequent visits. You should always ask questions and be as curious as possible when going someplace new.

We tested 21 items – if sides came as part of a dish, those were tested as well in the event of cross-contact. Three of the 21 items contained peanuts, or 14 percent.

Squat and Gobble 

Cuisine: American

We ordered by phone, told them this food was for someone with peanut allergy. The person who answered the phone said they’d leave peanuts out of the salad and that nothing else had peanut in it.

  • Asian Salad: no peanut, <2.5ppm
  • Fried chicken kid’s meal (chicken and fries): no peanut, <2.5ppm
  • Vegetarian Chili: no peanut, <2.5ppm

Place on Clement 

Cuisine: Chinese

We ordered kung pao chicken and asked if there were peanuts. We were told there were not, but there was a significant language barrier between the person ordering and the staff, so it was unclear if the request was understood.

  • Kung Pao Chicken: no peanut, <2.5ppm

Gracias Madre 

Cuisine: Vegan/Mexican

We asked specifically if the “nacho cheese” or the “chorizo” were made with peanut. He assured us that neither had peanut, but did warn that the cheese was made with cashews.

  • Quesadilla and salsa: no peanut, <2.5ppm

Taqueria Los Maya 

Cuisine: Interior Mexican

We were told neither of these dishes had peanut. When they came out boxed together I asked again, and the kitchen guy said that there were no peanuts in these dishes, so they would “be ok.”

  • Chicken mole taco / Pork ranchero taco: these two dishes (not the sides) were tested together and came up peanut found, >21ppm
  • Tortilla chips and three types of salsa were provided with the order, so these were tested as well
  • All three salsas and the chips were peanut free, <2.5ppm

King of Thai Noodle 

Cuisine: Thai

Both items were ordered by phone. Restaurant was told they were for someone with a peanut allergy. We were assured that the curry NEVER has peanuts, and that they would leave the peanut out of the pad thai.

  • Pad thai no peanuts: peanut found, 4ppm
  • Green curry and rice tested separately: no peanut, <2.5ppm

Burma Superstar 

Cuisine: Burmese

We told the staff we needed this peanut free for someone with an allergy.

  • Tea leaf salad (no peanuts); peanut found, >21ppm
  • Salad dressing and salad oil were packaged separately to go and as such, were tested: salad dressing and salad oil were <2.5ppm

Cafe Bunn Mi

Cuisine: Vietnamese

We asked if there were peanuts in the rolls, they said there were not.

  • Summer rolls: no peanut, <2.5ppm
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