Food Allergy Basics

Allergens

Allergens are proteins found in common food ingredients. The Big Eight allergens are: Eggs, fish, shellfish, milk, peanuts, soy, tree nuts and wheat. In this section, FARRP offers specific information on ingredients that are either derived from, or related to, the Big Eight allergens.

Because the potential reaction from an allergen is severe, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has imposed allergen control regulations, FARRP will be expanding this section to assist food manufacturers as they learn about allergen control.

Reactions

Allergic reactions to food occur when the bodys immune system mistakenly attacks harmless food proteins. The allergic individuals immune system makes IgE antibodies, special proteins that can detect particular food proteins, that sit on the surface of allergy cells found throughout the body. Like a radar, these IgE antibodies detect the food and alert the cell to pour out chemicals, such as histamines, that result in the allergic symptoms.

Symptoms

Symptoms of food allergy affect the skin (i.e. hives; swelling of the lips, tongue, and face), respiratory system (i.e. shortness of breath, wheezing), and the gastrointestinal tract (i.e. abdominal pain, vomiting), and even cause heart failure. If left untreated, these symptoms can be fatal.

General Facts

  • Between 6 and 7 million Americans (2 to 2.5 percent) are estimated to suffer from food allergy.
  • In the U.S., an estimated 2 million school-age children (3 percent) suffer from food allergy.
  • There are eight foods that account for 90 percent of allergic reactions: peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, pecans, etc.), fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, soy, and wheat.
  • Peanuts are the leading cause of severe allergic reactions, followed by tree nuts, shellfish, fish, and eggs.
  • An estimated 3 million Americans (1.1 percent) are allergic to peanuts or tree nuts.
  • In adults, the majority of allergic reactions involve peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.
  • In school-age children, the majority of allergic reactions involve peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, and wheat.
  • Currently, there is no cure for food allergy. Avoidance is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction to food.
  • Epinephrine is the medication of choice for controlling severe allergic reactions to food.
  • Food allergy is the leading cause of anaphylaxis outside the hospital setting, accounting for an estimated 30,000 emergency room visits each year.
  • It is estimated that between 150-200 people die each year from food-allergy induced anaphylaxis-a severe allergic reaction.