Understanding the Top 8 Food Allergies

Food allergies have become an important topic in recent years for a multitude of reasons. Their incidence has been on the rise, affecting 30% of adults and 40% of children. People can be allergic to just about anything but there are 8 allergens which are most common.

What is an allergy?

When your body is exposed to an irritant (known as an allergen), such as pollen, it launches an attack against it. Most of the time when this happens, we don’t even notice it. Sometimes, if there’s an overabundance of the allergen or your body is especially sensitive to it, this immune response shifts into overdrive. Your eyes water, your nosy gets stuffy, or you break out in an itchy rash. Some allergens cause life-threatening reactions, such as anaphylaxis, which leads to a sudden drop in blood pressure and a narrowing of breathing airways.

Foods can also act as allergens. When someone is allergic to a food, they can’t eat it at all. Some allergies are so severe that people can’t even be near the irritant, as breathing it in or touching it could cause anaphylaxis. An allergy is different than a food sensitivity or intolerance. Intolerances, such as the inability to digest milk (lactose intolerance) are not typically life-threatening, although they will cause discomfort, such as bloating and diarrhea, if ingested.

The Big 8

The Big 8 are the cause of 90% of recorded allergies and labeling is required by the FDA to warn consumers of their presence or possible presence in foods.

1. Peanuts: Peanuts are actually legumes, which as a group are responsible for a large number of allergic reactions. People allergic to peanuts are not likely to be allergic to other legumes, such as lentils. Children are more likely to develop a peanut allergy if they already have an egg allergy.

2. Shellfish: Shellfish can also cause severe allergic reactions. Crustaceans (shrimp, lobster, crabs) are the most common, although some allergic reaction may occur with mollusks (clams, mussels, oysters). Shrimp is considered the most allergenic.

3. Fish: Pollock, salmon, cod, tuna, mackerel, and snapper are among the fish which commonly trigger fish allergies. The allergen in this group is the fish muscle protein parvalbumin. These allergies are often developed during adulthood and are less likely to be outgrown.

4. Milk: Milk allergy is the most common allergy in infants and young children. A milk allergy causes an immune response to the proteins in milk. All milks, including those from cows, goats, and sheep can pose a problem. Most children outgrow their milk allergy.

5. Eggs: Also common in children, both the yolk and the whites of eggs can trigger a reaction, but in some cases the egg yolk is less allergenic. Eggs are not only used in foods, but also in skincare products and cosmetics which contain eggs. Most children will outgrow their egg allergy.

6. Soy: Also in the legume family, soy is an allergy that kids are likely to outgrow. Here in the United States, soy is most often found in processed foods, either as soybean oil or soy protein isolate. People with soy allergies may be able to have soy lecithin without issue.

7. Wheat: Wheat allergies are fairly common and typically resolve during childhood. A wheat allergy is different than Celiac disease, where gluten causes the inflammatory reaction. Celiac disease launches a different immune response than other allergens. Actual wheat allergies are uncommon in adults.

8. Tree nuts: One of the most potent and common allergens, tree nut allergies affect 1.1% of the world’s population. Those affected by the tree nut allergy should avoid macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and pine nuts. The reactions associated with tree nuts are often severe, with walnuts and cashews causing the most reactions. At least 90% of children that have a tree nut allergy will not outgrow it.

In Conclusion

Accuracy in food labeling is critical for people with allergies, but it’s not as easy to be sure when dining out. Don’t be afraid to ask your server or the chef what’s in the dishes, including any allergens the foods may have come in contact with. It’s in your best interest to enjoy your meal safely!

Massachusetts Food Allergy Training Certification

Those people who do not have any food allergies are free to eat what they please and do not have to live in fear that their next meal might be their last. This however is not the case for those people who do have allergies to certain foods. People with food allergies constantly struggle with knowing whether or not the food that they are about to eat is going to make them sick or even lead to their death. This fear is made worse when they eat out at restaurants. At restaurants they have little control over the preparation of the food they are about to eat. In some cases servers are not sure how to correctly convey the allergy related preparation instructions to the person cooking the food. Also, in many instances the person cooking the food does not have the proper allergen awareness training to prepare the food in a manner that is safe for the person with the food allergy to eat. It is a very dangerous game that restaurants knowingly or unknowingly are taking part in. Granted it is the responsibility of the person with food allergies to inform the restaurant that they do indeed have a food allergy but that is in no way guaranteeing that the food they are about to eat is safe.

One state however has decided to get smart about food allergies and has passed a law aimed at keeping those people with food allergies safe when they eat out. Massachusetts recently passed MGL c. 140, which requires all restaurants to have a person on staff that has been certified as a food protection manager. This regulation is aimed at educating food preparation staff of the dangers of food allergies and how to make sure that food being prepared for a person with food allergies is safe for them to eat. The law also states that the training needs to be completed by February 1, 2011. Those who do end up taking the training will be certified for five years. After the five year time period the food protection manager will have to take the course over again so that they can become re-certified.

But this raises the question of how people in the food service industry are supposed to go about getting certified as food protection managers? The state of Massachusetts has approved only three vendors to provide the food allergen awareness training. These vendors either provide the required training via a video and certification process or through a classroom training course and certification process. The courses are designed to provide food service workers with information about various food allergies and celiac disease related food intolerance. It also includes information on celiac disease, crucial food allergens, and the types of allergic reactions people can experience due to food. Lastly, the course informs food service workers on how to educate patrons about food allergies and what they should do if someone does end up having an allergic reaction while in their establishment. Overall the food allergen certification process is designed to make it much safer for those with food allergies to eat in restaurants in Massachusetts.

Out of the three vendors providing the food allergen certification training I have found that CompuWorks provides the easiest and best option for completing the training. Their training consists of a video that can be easily watched from any computer and at the successful completion of the course they provide you with the ability of instantly printing your certificate. Some of the other vendors do not provide this convenience and make you wait up to 10 days to receive your completion certificate. When it comes to proving compliance it is much better to choose the option that offers instant proof as opposed to having to wait and rely on the mail for delivery.

Food Allergy Tips: Traveling With a Corn Allergy

Traveling with a corn allergy, or any food allergy, can be daunting. You cannot bring any kind of creamy foods or liquids. So, what’s a person with a food allergy to do, especially if it’s severe enough that you just can’t take a chance? If you have a severe allergy, you will want to wear a medic alert bracelet and consult your doctor before travel to take the proper precautions.

Although my allergy is not life threatening, as some food allergies can be, I personally try not to eat anything in the airports due to the extreme discomfort of the combination of flying and swelling up at the same time. Also, who wants to feel tired and rotten while traveling? So, I do my best to pack foods that can pass through security and I make them aware that I have all those foods and let them check everything as carefully as they like. They usually just have me send it through the machine like everything else.

What can’t go into your food bag is the following: anything creamy like dips or peanut butter, salsa, jelly, spreadable cheese, gravy, syrup, oil, vinegar, sauces, salad dressing, or soups. This leaves out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for sure! You can’t even buy a salad at the airport and bring your own dressing. Also, you won’t have any way to keep things cold for an extended period besides just a little cooler bag or insulated lunch bag perhaps.

To plan well for your trip, consider how much you will need to eat before you arrive at your destination. If you are taking an international flight, plan well. Food bars with vitamins and protein are a great option. Crackers with whole chunks of hard cheese, that you plan to consume early on, are another option. Cookies and muffins usually come through as cakes are allowed, but may be inspected more carefully. I have taken peel open cans of tuna, but no mayonnaise as it is creamy. Nuts and other snacks are fine, but my advice is to go low salt. Just remember to try to steer clear of any creamy or saucy foods and pack extra food just in case you are not allowed to bring something on the plane.