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Dear Dr. Vinny,
My significant other has a latex allergy. Many wines now come with synthetic corks, and she swears that she gets a reaction when she has had wine from them. Do they have latex in them, and if so, do they all have latex?
—Kelvin G., Providence, R.I.
I checked with the largest producers of synthetic cork out there (including Supreme Corq, NuCork, and Neocork), and none of them use latex, and none of them had ever heard of an allergic reaction to synthetic corks. Latex is a rubber-based product, but synthetic corks are made of plastic polymers, an entirely different material.
Rubber latex comes from a milky fluid derived from the rubber tree, Hevea brasilensis. Many things around your house made of latex, including rubber bands, erasers, racquet handles, mouse pads and balloons. Interestingly, some proteins in latex are similar to food proteins, and some foods may cause an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to latex. If you get an allergic reaction from bananas, avocados, chestnuts, kiwis (the fruit, not the bird), melons and tomatoes, you may have a latex allergy. Latex allergies reveal themselves like most allergies: itchy, watery eyes, rashes, and in severe cases, shock.
Synthetic corks, on the other hand, are made from types of plastics, most of them recyclable and food grade. According to Stuart Yaniger, chief technical officer of Neocork Technologies, "If someone doesn't have a reaction from handling the clear plastic grocery bags used for produce, they will not have a reaction to any sort of exposure to synthetic wine corks."
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