Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Could latex gloves be connected to produce reactions?

Many people on the corn avoiders forum have mentioned that they have problems with store-bought strawberries, while having no trouble with strawberries they picked themselves.

My daughter (who has eaten home-picked strawberries without reaction, but is allergic to a number of other things including corn and soy) had an allergic reaction to strawberries this past weekend. So I called Cal-Cel Marketing, the grower of the strawberries she reacted to.

The lady who answered the phone seemed very unconcerned and told me that she couldn't give me any information or help me at all. But I insisted on leaving my name and telephone number, and asked her to at least let the management know that my child had a reaction to the berries.

Within an hour or so, I received a telephone call from someone at Cal-Cel. He was very helpful and concerned, and thanked me for letting them know of the issue.

He told me that the strawberries are not washed or treated with anything at all, because this damages the berries and makes them soggy. Any fertilizer or treatment in the field has a required lag time between treatment and picking. The pickers wear latex gloves, and the berries go right into the cartons.

He said that Wal-Mart (the distributor where I bought the berries) is encouraging them to use corn-based plastic for the clamshells, but Cal-Cel hasn't even started testing that or moving that direction yet.

He was going to do a bit of research about what fertilizers, etc. might be used on the berries in the fields and whether that would have any corn or soy derivatives. I forgot to ask him about the possibility of genetic engineering introducing corn or soy proteins to the strawberries.

Since Baby E is allergic to many fruits that cross-react with latex, and latex gloves are usually dusted with cornstarch, it seems at least possible that the latex gloves worn by pickers could have been the source of Baby E's reaction.

As the Cal-Cel representative pointed out, the use of such gloves is an industry standard for essentially all produce. Washing fruits and vegetables very thoroughly before eating them should help to minimize the risk.

Strawberries, with their porous, seeded surface, are particularly hard to wash, and have many nooks and crannies where a latex protein or a grain of cornstarch could hide. I wonder if that could be why so many people on the corn avoiders forum have reported reactions to strawberries?

DH said that he scrubbed each berry individually with baking soda quite thoroughly, and then rinsed them well. It certainly seems unlikely that something on the surface of the berry could outlast that kind of treatment, but the information about gloves may be helpful to someone. People with severe latex or corn allergies should wash produce especially carefully.

I was impressed with the gentleman I spoke with at Cal-Cel. I do hope he'll update me if he finds out anything else about what is put on the strawberries in the field.

I doubt I'll give Baby E store-bought strawberries again, but I wouldn't hesitate to buy Cal-Cel berries for the rest of the family in the future.


Sherri said...

I have some trouble with store bought strawberries, but I figured out that if rub the entire surface with my fingers under running water, then I have much less of a problem with them. I never thought of corn/latex as being an issue here (but good to know), but I always suspected it might be just fine fussy mold on the surface. I tend to react more to the strawberries that have fine hairs when held up to the light, and after rubbing them under water the surface then looks much better.

purple_kangaroo said...

That's interesting about the hairs--thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

I am just beginning my corn avoiding research but I have noticed that baking soda is on the lists - don't know if it is something added for anti-caking like dextrose (from corn) or the soda itself. Corn starch on the gloves seems plausible but scrubbing with baking soda may be counter productive.

Anonymous said...

Dangerous to comment at the beginning of research. :) I guess it's baking powder that is the problem not baking soda.