Hold the Peanuts and Cracker Jack

No matter whether you believe baseball is still America’s pastime, millions of Americans continue to flock to baseball stadiums from April to October. Between popular Major League teams and their numerous Minor League affiliates, there are 270 professional baseball teams scattered throughout the United States, and fans and casual observers at any one of those games will expect to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” as a rallying cry during the 7th inning stretch. But for some in the stadium, actually buying peanuts and Cracker Jack isn’t an option – and being around them can require a dose of epinephrine.

The Problem with Peanuts

According to a National Food Service Management Institute factsheet, peanut allergies are responsible for “the largest number of allergy-related deaths and the greatest incidence of anaphylaxis,” which is a reaction so severe that it can be fatal. Among children with a peanut allergy, 75 percent won’t ever grow out of it, and it isn’t unusual for their parents to request accommodations in the classroom or on flights, to safeguard against accidental exposure. Peanut-allergic adults will also take similar precautions on their own behalf as an additional safety measure.

Because baseball games are so intrinsically linked with peanuts, they have long been a no-go for parents of peanut-allergic children and for the many adults whose peanut allergies became lifelong conditions. Ballparks, although an open-air venue, can be an environment that is especially difficult to control because peanut shells are often cracked and tossed, which leaves both shells and particles scattered around the area. Severely allergic people may be forced to avoid the baseball stadium altogether, while others may try to manage the experience by thoroughly wiping down their seats and hoping for the best.

Peanut-allergic people might try to create a peanut-free barrier out of family or friends that attend the game with them, while some attempt to create a barrier by requesting that those around them refrain from consuming peanuts for the duration of the game, a request that can be met with mixed responses. However, many ballparks are adopting similar tactics to make attending games less stressful for fans suffering from a peanut allergy.

Broadening the Barrier at Ballgames

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when stadiums began providing peanut-free atmospheres, but they’ve become increasingly commonplace at both Major League and Minor League ballparks in recent years. Peanut-free accommodations appear in a variety of forms, ranging from suites or sections that don’t allow peanuts to stadium-wide peanut-free nights that entail peanut removal and thorough cleanings to eliminate as much peanut residue as possible. These games might be advertised as peanut-controlled games, peanut-reduced games, peanut-allergy-friendly games, and so on.

Although each of these peanut-free games aims to provide a safer environment for those suffering from a peanut allergy, it is still recommended that peanut allergy sufferers continue to take their usual precautions as an additional safety measure. To find a peanut-free game near you, check the popular website Peanut Free Baseball or find your local Major or Minor League team to inquire directly.

Keeping Cross-Contamination Out of Concessions

Because even small amounts of peanut residue can trigger a reaction, peanuts, Cracker Jack, and other items that may contain peanuts as an ingredient may be removed from some or all concession stands on peanut-free game nights. When the Birmingham Barons hosted a peanut-free night in July 2015, concessions preparation included the elimination of peanuts, nuts, and products containing those ingredients from the menu, as well as the removal of any possible peanut residue from cooking equipment and the use of peanut-free cooking oil for the event.

For anyone working in a concession stand, preventing cross-contamination is an important task, even during events that aren’t geared toward accommodating a specific allergy. Using food safety products, like color-coded cutting boards and knives or purple containers for allergen-free ingredients, can help prevent accidental cross-contamination. Following recommended handwashing methods will make sure your hands aren’t the contamination culprit.

Ariana Keller
Ariana Keller

Ariana Keller was raised on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in south Alabama, where she learned to fish and love football. She moved to Knoxville with her family when she was 12 and later graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor's degree in English. She spends her free time playing tabletop and video games and passionately rooting for mediocre sports teams. She is an advocate for animal rescue and lives in Knoxville with her husband and their two adopted pets: a hound dog named Beau and a Maine Coon mix named Vesper.