Safe Composting Tips for People With Food Allergies

composting pile photo
CC BY 2.0. Joi Ito

Joi Ito/CC BY 2.0

Many of us TreeHuggers got excited when we heard that compost can get you high. But like many recreational drugs, it can have its risks too. In some instances, compost can kill dogs. (Or, more accurately, mold growing on uncomposted materials can kill dogs.)

For the most part, these risks are minimal. And they can be almost entirely eliminated by following sensible composting procedures. But what about if you have food allergies?

I confess, it's not a topic I've thought about much. (And I spend a fair amount of time thinking about compost.) But the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (AAAAI) has just released guidelines on safe composting for people with food allergies:

For a food to cause a significant allergic reaction, it must gain access inside the body. This can be through ingestion, contact with an open wound (such as a scratch), or inhaling fine particles in the air or fumes from heated food. In most instances, being near or adding food waste in a composter or a composting pile should have little risk to a food allergic person, providing you take these precautions:
• If you are food allergic and are doing the composting, wear a pollen mask to prevent inhaling any particles. Goggles, gloves, and wearing long sleeves and long pants can prevent contact exposure if you have scratches or open wounds.
• If you are composting and are around someone with food allergies, wear gloves when composting or thoroughly wash your hands so that you don’t run the risk of transferring allergen particles.

Interestingly, the jury is out as to whether the heat generated in the composting process is enough to prevent an allergic reaction. Because food allergens react to different temperatures and different durations of heating differently (for example boiled peanuts are less of a risk, roasted are more), it seems unwise, says the AAAAI, to rely on the heat of composting to prevent allergic reactions.

Of course, one way allergic composters can avoid risk is to not compost the things they are allergic to. But I'd imagine, in most household situations, that would be the case anyway.