Food allergy facts that everyone should know

Learn the eight common allergens and how individuals and caregivers can avoid them.

A food allergy is the body’s immune system response to eating a specific food. The response occurs in a very short period of time. Even a tiny amount of the offending food can cause a reaction. Reactions can vary from a digestive upset to hives to swollen airways. For some people, the symptoms can be severe such as anaphylaxis and even death.

Food allergies affect six to eight percent of children under the age of three and roughly three percent of adults. There is no cure. Some children do outgrow their food allergies but many do not.

Sometimes a food allergy is confused with food intolerance. While food intolerance can be troublesome, it does not involve the body’s immune system and therefore the symptoms are less severe.

There are more than 160 foods that can cause an allergic reaction in people with food allergies. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 recognizes the eight most common offending foods. These foods cause ninety percent of allergic reactions and are the food sources for many ingredients. 

The law recognizes milk, eggs, fish (such as bass, cod, flounder), crustacean shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp), peanuts, soybeans, tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, pecans) and wheat.

The law requires that food labels identify the food names of all major food allergens used to make the food product. There are two ways, in which the food source of a major food allergen may appear on a label. One way is in parentheses following the name of the ingredient, for example: “lecithin (soy)”, “flour (wheat)” and “whey (milk)”. The other way that can be used to identify the food allergens is immediately after or next to the list of ingredients in a “contains” statement. For example; this product contains Wheat, Milk and Soy.

There are some key ways that people with food allergies can use to prevent a food allergic reaction.

  • Never assume. Always read the food labels to see if the offending allergen is present in the food product. Check the label for the eight common food allergens: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, crustacean shellfish, fish, soybeans and wheat.
  • When in doubt, respond with “No thanks”. At restaurants and social gatherings there is always the risk of coming into contact with a food allergen. Many people do not realize the seriousness of a food allergy. Most people do not realize that even a very tiny amount can cause serious or deadly results.
  • For children with food allergies, get the caregivers involved. Relatives, teachers, babysitters and other caregivers need to be aware of the child’s food allergies and how important it is to avoid the offending food products. Another important fact caregivers need to know is what to do in case of a food allergy emergency. Michigan State University Extension recommends two very simple things that caregivers can do to prevent an allergic reaction which are: wash their hands and wash, rinse and sanitize the food contact surfaces.

Food allergies are a fact for some people. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 recognizes eight food sources as allergens. These foods are eggs, milk, peanuts, fish, crustacean shellfish, soybeans, tree nuts and wheat. Wise people with food allergies know they need to read food labels in order to prevent a potential food allergic reaction.

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