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Peanut-free football kicks off Saturday at Northwestern

Workers power wash Ryan Field at Northwestern University of peanut debris. NBC Chicago

Northwestern University is punting peanuts this weekend.

The staple of concession stands at sports stadiums across the country will not be sold, or even allowed in the stadium, when Northwestern hosts the University of Minnesota in a college football game Saturday.

The university in Evanston, Ill., will hold its first “Peanut Free Day,” prohibiting the nut from Ryan Field, with its 47,330 seating capacity, to promote a “safe and comfortable environment for all fans to enjoy,” the school said on its athletic website.

Various major and minor league baseball teams have designated peanut-free sections at games this year, but Northwestern said it believes this will be the first time a college football venue will be entirely free of peanuts for a game.

“It’s something that we hear about a lot with other sports properties; baseball tends to do it a lot,” said Dan Yopchick, Northwestern's assistant director of communications. “We all read the news and keep up with trends and somebody saw it and thought it would be good idea to attack.”

One in every 13 children under the age of 18 is affected by a food allergy – or 8 percent of all American children -- according to a 2011 study published in the medical journal “Pediatrics” by doctors at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine.

The peanut, which can cause a potentially fatal allergic reaction, is among the most prevalent major food allergens. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has estimated that 0.6 percent of Americans – six of every 1,000 people – have a peanut allergy, but new research suggests the actual numbers are far higher.

Dr. Kari Nadeau, who leads the Stanford Alliance for Food Allergy Research, at Stanford University School of Medicine, said researchers believe one in every 25 adult Americans has a peanut allergy.

“There seems to be certain proteins in the peanut that are very stable," Nadeau said. "Certain proteins are more apt to be associated with allergies and some are not. The peanut is similar to soy, it’s a legume, but it’s not like there are many soy allergies…So there’s something about the peanut, but we don’t know what it is yet.”

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