Corn-tamination Series: Coffee

What? There’s corn in coffee???! Hell yeah there is.  Sorry. I tolerated any old coffee (except the flavors, which are mostly corn) for many years, but it was one of the first things I started reacting to when I got more sensitive.

Here’s how it gets corny:

  • Bean fermentation/processing: “Wet process” coffee introduces a ton of opportunities for corn-tamination, not the least of which being fermentation of the beans which could involve microbes that have been fed corn-derived sugar or possibly–and this is just a speculation as I don’t know the details– even some additional corn sugar to the beans to encourage the microbes to grow.  Additionally there are all kinds of machines and washes used along the way for wet processing that could introduce at least cross-contamination if not full on corn.
  • Roasting: Corn-derived disinfectants, flavorings, or preservatives may be added to the beans before roasting. 
  • Polishing: The beans may be polished with dextrins (from corn) to make them shiny.
  • Decaffeination: Chemicals used in the decaffeination process are corn-derived. There is a chemical-free process called the Swiss Water Process that isn’t really corn-safe even for the medium-sensitive, but it at least reduces the danger of cross contamination of the caffeinated coffee.
  • Cross-contamination: Shared facilities/equipment with coffee that is chemically decaffeinated or flavored can contaminate the caffeinated/unflavored coffee beans. Additionally burlap bags are often re-used and you will sometimes find whole kernels of corn in with the coffee beans.  Roasting equipment and facilities may be cleaned with corny chemicals, or may be shared with other food items besides coffee.
  • Brewing: Paper coffee filters will often be corntaminated, even the unbleached organic kind. Stick with reusable filters. Reusable filters could possibly be made from corny plastic or be impregnated with antimicrobials. The safest option is probably a stainless-and-glass french press.
  • Packaging:  Paper coffee bags are usually lined with PLA , which is a plastic made from corn starch. Ingeo is a brand name for PLA. Foil bags can be dusted with corn starch or oiled with corn oil to keep them from sticking.

This post is still in somewhat draft format as I learn more about the coffee industry. Last updated 2013-05-11 with my most current knowledge. 

Corn Free Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

So far I have not found a completely corn-free automatic dishwasher detergent. The corn-litest of them at least contain citric acid from corn. The citric acid does seem to rinse off pretty well, and many people can and do get away with using detergent that contains it. I just got tired of looking at my dishes funny and feeling like I needed to hand wash them again before I used them.

This recipe is based on a common recipe on various frugal living and natural beauty type blogs. The main difference is that those recipes also call for citric acid. I did do some searching to try to find a corn-free version of citric acid powder. It does exist, however it was an industrial supplier and I highly doubt that they’d fill orders for small quantities. I never called to really find that out though. I just gave up and found a safe-enough-for-me lemon juice, the ingredients of which are only lemons. Lemons naturally contain citric acid. The idea to just use lemon juice came from Meg from the Facebook Corn Allergy & Intolerance group.

Anyway, here’s what I arrived upon:

Homemade Corn-free Dishwasher Detergent

Dry Ingredients
2 cup borax
2 cup washing soda
1 cup kosher salt (for scrubbing action)

Keep separately
Santa Cruz Pure Lemon Juice

Mix together dry ingredients and put into a jar or pitcher for storage.

When it’s time to run the dishwasher, add 3 tbsp of the dry powder to the detergent bin, and then add about 1-2 tbsp lemon juice in with the dry powder. Fill the rinse aid compartment with safe-for-you vinegar (I use homemade kombucha vinegar.)  I also liberally splash vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher as a rinse aid/descaler. I run my dishes on the “heavy wash” cycle every single time because it just makes me feel more confident that it’s removing any corny residue from my boyfriend’s food or just the general ambient corn of my workplace.

If you find that your dishes have a white film on them after washing, splash vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher before running, as well. This stuff works as well for me as the corny dish detergents I was previously using, and even better than some of them. It works *way* better than the Trader Joe’s dishwasher detergent, and it does not leave a white film on my dishes except for on rare occasion when I place things in the dishwasher poorly and they don’t get rinsed well.

However others who have tried this recipe report that it doesn’t work- the dishes stay dirty, the white film is impossible to get rid of, etc. No idea. It works for me.

Product notes

Lemon juice: I personally wouldn’t drink the Santa Cruz lemon juice. I think it’s on the safe list and the ingredients look safe, I just don’t trust juices. But I’m fine with using it in the dish washer.

Washing soda: This is *not* the same as baking soda. Baking soda is sodium bi-carbonate, and washing soda is sodium carbonate. You can buy washing soda from the laundry section of your local grocery store, but you can also just make baking soda into washing soda by heating it up.

Borax: I use 20 Mule team, from the grocery store. There are some concerns about the safety of using borax to wash your dishes, since borax isn’t edible. I would highly encourage you to read a few articles and blog posts about the safety of it. I read a bit, and came to the same conclusion as Crunchy Betty: It’s safe enough for me.   Please do your own research and make your own decisions.

Kosher Salt: I use Diamond Crystal brand.

Treating Allergic Reactions: Corn-free Benadryl

The go-to drug for treating a severe allergic reaction is diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl.  Unfortunately, there is no corn-free version of this drug available off the shelf. Benadryl dye-free liquigels contain sorbitol from corn. Benadryl children’s liquid formula contains glycerin and sucrose from corn. Many generic store-brand versions of Benadryl, such as Wal-dryl, contain corn starch.  All of these are derivatives that would send me to the hospital, especially if I were already reacting when I took them.

The only way to get truly corn-free Benadryl at this time is to get it made specially for you by a compounding pharmacy. This isn’t a post on how to do that, but there is a very nice blog post on getting medications compounded on the News For Corn Avoiders blog. Here are my additional notes on compounding medications and here is some advice on finding a compounding pharmacy.

Another possibility, though it requires a prescription, would be to get a prescription for an injectable version of Benadryl, and then drink it.This is an off-label usage but I am told it works just fine and will be relatively corn free. (It is in water though so if you react to some waters it may not be 100% safe for you.) Always check ingredients. There are probably several versions of the injectable Benadryl and all of them may not be corn free.

When I got my first Benadryl prescription compounded, I spent 30 minutes on the phone with the pharmacist deciding on ingredients used in my prescription. The pharmacist assured me that the microcrystalline cellulose they used for a filler in capsules was corn free. It was not. I got $50 worth of pills I reacted to worse than the corny off the shelf meds, and they wouldn’t take them back or give me my money back. I had very very recently gotten much more sensitive to corn products at that time, and was reacting constantly so feeling very sick and muddled while trying to hold down a full time job, and just did not have the mental energy to get it done right. I just gave up on getting medications compounded.

But I had to have something for reactions. Fortunately, I was still able to take one version of over the counter Benadryl and have it do more good than harm. While I am not *the most* sensitive corn allergic person in the world, I am pretty sensitive, and my reactions are pretty dramatic. However there are some derivatives I react to less than others.

This stuff has *lots* of corn ingredients, but for me the derivatives are ones that don’t cause huge reactions:

Alka-Seltzer Plus Allergy. Active ingredient: diphenhydramine. Inactive ingredients:  croscarmellose sodium, D&C red #27 aluminum lake, dibasic calcium phosphate dihydrate, magnesium stearate, microcrystalline cellulose, polyethylene glycol, polyvinyl alcohol, talc, titanium dioxide.


This product still has a number of ingredients that could be (and often are) from corn. I’ve bolded them. It is definitely *not* corn free. It is the same drug as Benadryl, just a different brand. When I was VERY desperate, I was able to take them for reactions and they helped more than they harmed. I would definitely feel some reaction right when I took them, but once they kicked in the antihistamine effect would overtake the reaction. 

Getting compounded Benadryl made a world of difference though- it works faster and leaves me feeling much less hung over. A good portion of the effectiveness of the drug was previously being spent on counteracting the corn in the pills themselves.

But if you are ever in a very bad spot, you may find that there are some versions of the drug off the shelf that you can tolerate enough to help you out when you are reacting severely.

Note that which version will work best for you will depend heavily on what derivatives bug you. The liquigels contain sorbitol, so are a bad choice for me as sorbitol in toothpaste sent me to the ER once. Granted the quantity in the liquigels is probably small but I just skipped it because of the toothpaste reaction. Others may do better with that tiny amount of sorbitol versus the inactive ingredients in the product pictured above. Please choose carefully, use good sense, and consult your physician.

Corn-tamination Series: Salt

Salt sounds like such a pure product, but actually *most* brands available for sale in the grocery store cause issues for those with corn allergies, even those of medium sensitivity. The below statements apply to sea salt and table salt both:

  • Packaging: Cardboard, especially recycled cardboard can contain corn fibers and may be dusted with corn starch to prevent it sticking together. Plastic may contain polymers from corn starch or may be dusted or oiled with corn products to prevent sticking.
  • Ingredients: Iodized salt contains dextrose from corn to help the iodine stick to the salt crystals. Non-iodized salt often contains an anti-caking agent, which may not be directly from corn but often causes more sensitive corn allergics to react, probably due to cross contamination.
  • Cross contamination: Companies that mine/extract/synthesize and package salt often produce a number of different products. Cargill is one example. Many of those products contain corny ingredients, and cross contamination is possible in the facilities.

The most sensitive folks with corn allergies actually have a very, very hard time with salt. In fact there is NO salt product out there that SOME corn allergic person hasn’t reacted to. Not one. You just have to pick some best bets based on who has reacted and how much their particular sensitivity matches yours, as people react differently to different derivatives.