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I recently returned from a trip to Florida on British Airways. On both flights there was an announcement that some passengers have a severe nut allergy and so we were instructed not to eat food containing nuts. I know that small traces of nuts on surfaces can be a problem, and I've read reports of air-borne traces causing reactions. For the purpose of this question assume that this is indeed the case, the air-crew have instructed me, and I want to comply with the letter and spirit of the request.

My usual practice for a trans-Atlantic flight is to buy a small snack to be consumed if I don't like the supplied meals. I often also bring a "Snickers" or "Payday", both containing peanuts, and in the latter case those nuts are on the exterior of the snack.

Hence, playing safe, I keep the Snickers and Payday in my bag, I'm complying, no nuts.

But the sandwich? One sometimes sees notices such as

This product is prepared in a kitchen where nuts are used. It may contain traces of nuts.

Assume that I want to do the right thing, how do I determine whether to open the sandwich? My instinct is that a simple ham sandwich in white bread simply cannot be a problem, but am I right? So, ask the flight crew? Do they know? Do they have training?

I see from this article that issue is quite tricky. My proposed course of action is to ensure that I don't bring sandwiches explicitly containing nuts (eg. cashew chicken wrap) but feel free to eat anything whose ingredient label does not specify nuts.

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    So there could be traces of traces of nuts? Suppose you work in a factory producing food containing nuts? How far should you go? Should you get off the flight? Theoretically there are traces of nuts everywhere, just like molecules of Julius Caesar. – Weather Vane Jul 31 at 14:39
  • Which is pretty much how I feel - however, I'm not anexpert, am I putting someone's life at risk by making my own judgement? I'm skeptical that a chocolate-enrobed, nougat-filled Snickers bar dotted with peanuts actually presents any risks. – djna Jul 31 at 14:46
  • I would say take the request at face value and avoid foods that contain actual nuts, and if a nut allergy sufferer is more sensitive surely the onus is on them not to expose themselves to risk? "Warning! There are people on this flight who may have consumed nuts in the last 24 hours." – Weather Vane Jul 31 at 14:49
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    Were there actually "some passengers" with a nut allergy on board or has that become a standard announcement to protect the airline. – Weather Vane Jul 31 at 15:00
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    @WeatherVane it's certainly not a "default" announcement. In the 6 flights I've taken in the last year (3 BA, 2 Virgin, 1 AA), only one has made a nut announcement (1 of the BA flights) – qechua Aug 1 at 8:07
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I wasn't able to find any official airline guidance, so I went and asked a friend who has severe allergies (including peanut) what she would want people to do. The important one (don't eat things containing nuts) is obvious, but she said you'd be surprised how many people ignore it. If you see someone eating nuts on a flight where they've said not to, call the steward and ask them to deal with it. Given the air circulation system, anyone in the same plane section is putting severe allergy people at risk.

Beyond that, for items "packaged in an environment containing nuts" or similar, the risk is much reduced (because, as has been noted, it's more a disclaimer than anything). If you feel you want/need to do something, ask the people around you if they are OK with it (specifically the people in the same seat block as you, so the window/aisle/middle seat next to you). If they're fine, you should be OK, it's much lower risk for anyone except those with the most severe allergies (the kind that probably won't fly anyway because the risk is too great, or have special arrangements made by the cabin staff). Once you're done, try to get the steward to take the packaging as soon as possible, and also wash your hands, both as a precautionary measure. While she herself can't eat things that hold this disclaimer, she can be around others eating these things, she just doesn't want to take the risk of touching it, directly or indirectly.

More importantly, don't go questioning or hunting too far for the person(s) with allergies. If someone says they aren't OK with you eating your food, accept that at face value. She's had at at least one, ahem, interesting altercation with an individual who believed their "right" to eat whatever they wanted trumped her right to a flight where she didn't go into anaphylactic shock, and everyone else's right to a flight that doesn't have to make an emergency landing.

Also, she wanted to thank you for asking this question, and for being considerate. Despite how widespread the issue of allergies are known, you see very few people asking what they can do to help those people.

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This kind of writing commonly found on food packaging

This product is prepared in a kitchen where nuts are used. It may contain traces of nuts.

Is a disclaimer. It serves the sole purpose of protecting the company from lawsuits in case a consumer gets an allergic reaction after eating their product. It makes sense for companies to use such a disclaimer because it rids them of the burden to have to guarantee absolutely zero presence of nuts and other allergens which, given their volatility, is everything but a trivial task.

Now, what you can do in the situation you described is to use your common sense. Like you correctly state: do not eat products which specifically state they contain the allergen. Anything else is most likely safe.

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