HomeMythbuster – Can the smell of food cause an allergic reaction?

Mythbuster – Can the smell of food cause an allergic reaction?

March 26, 2020

Myth Stamped in Red Ink with Rubber Hand Stamp

FACT: The smell/odour of food does not contain protein, which is what causes an allergic reaction. Someone who is allergic to a particular food may feel anxious or uncomfortable if they smell it, but they will not have an allergic reaction. 

Smelling a food is different from inhaling airborne proteins, like those that are present in the air by cooking (example, cooking fish where the proteins can be found in the steam), the powder of food being blown into the air (like a milk powder), or the food entering the air from crushing/grinding (example, tree nuts).

Bottom line: The smell of a food alone does not cause an allergic reaction. The smell is caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are not proteins. To have a reaction, you must be exposed to the protein.

Learn more about smell vs. inhalation here. Direct ingestion of an allergy-causing food poses the greatest risk for most people with food allergy. Understanding how to avoid contact with a food allergen will help prevent allergic reactions


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Medical content reviewed by Dr. Julia Upton, MD, FRCPC, MPH.

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