Food is an integral part of our lives. We enjoy food at almost every social event. But for millions of Americans, knowing every ingredient in food before you eat it is a matter of life and death. Since May is Food Allergy Awareness Month it is particularly appropriate to learn about the prevalence and severity of food allergies. About 32 million Americans suffer from food allergies, and the numbers are increasing. Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergic diseases. Food allergies account for about 30,000 emergency room visits each year and about 150 deaths. Although new treatments are in development, there is currently no cure for food allergies. Avoidance of the food allergen is the only effective treatment.
A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system reacts to certain proteins in food. Food allergic reactions can range from very mild symptoms, such as itching, swelling, or digestive discomfort, to a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylactic shock. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can start off as mild, but if left untreated they can quickly be life threatening. Any allergic reaction can lead to anaphylaxis. Epinephrine is frequently used when a person with a life-threatening food allergy is exposed to an allergen. Always see a doctor promptly even if epinephrine has been used and symptoms have improved. Biphasic anaphylaxis is the recurrence of symptoms after a period of time during which the patient appears to have recovered. This recurrence of symptoms can occur even without additional exposure to the allergen.
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act 2004 (FALCPA) recognized eight foods as major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish (such as plaice and cod), crustaceans (such as crab and shrimp), tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts and pecans), peanuts, wheat and soybeans. These top eight food allergens, often referred to as “Big Eight,” account for approximately 90% of food allergic reactions in the United States. FALCPA requires that foods or ingredients containing any of the major food allergens be clearly labeled. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the enforcement of FALCPA. Most packaged food products, including dietary supplements, fall under the authority of the FDA and therefore must comply with FDA food labeling requirements. FDA food labeling requirements do not include meat, poultry, and egg products that are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), alcoholic products regulated by the Office of Tax and Commerce of alcohol and tobacco, raw agricultural products, drugs, cosmetics, and foods sold in retail food establishments that are not prepackaged with a label.
Most recently, Congress passed the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act of 2021 (FASTER Act). This new law makes sesame the ninth major food allergen. As of January 1, 2023, sesame must appear on food labels, along with the other eight major food allergens.
People with food allergies should carefully check all food labels. Never assume that because an allergen is not in one brand, it is not in all brands. Ingredients vary depending on the manufacturer. In addition, manufacturers periodically change ingredients. Therefore, food labels should be checked every time a food is consumed. Food labels should identify major allergens with the common or common name in parentheses after the ingredient name, OR in a âcontainsâ statement immediately after or next to the ingredient list.
Ingredients: lecithin (soy), flour (wheat) and whey (milk).
Contains wheat, milk and soy.
In addition to food, major food allergens can be found in products other than food such as drugs, personal care products, and chewing gum. For example, children Modeling clay contains wheat, one of the eight main food allergens. If in doubt about the ingredients of the products, call the manufacturer or simply avoid the product.
- A food intolerance is NOT the same as a food allergy. A food allergy involves the immune system, unlike a food intolerance.
- Never diagnose a food allergy. Always seek the advice of a doctor to diagnose food allergies.
- Always see a doctor after exposure to a life-threatening allergy, even if symptoms have improved. Biphasic anaphylaxis (a second reaction) can occur.
Wheat-free cornstarch plasticine recipe (courtesy of Children with food allergies)
In a large saucepan, combine the ingredients. Cook over medium heat until “floury”. Let cool on a plate covered with a damp cloth. Knead well and store in an airtight container.
Note: Use an oil and food coloring that is safe for your allergy.
US Food and Drug Administration (nd). Food allergies: what you need to know. Retrieved from: https://www.fda.gov