We’ve heard about “allergies”
in our routine daily lives, but have you heard about the “food
As one philosopher
said, “The food of one may be poison for another” is very true.
Food allergies are an immunological based affliction. When one
consumes “innocent” dietary proteins, selective and specific
antibodies (lgE) are produced in the body. The body reacts to
the proteins like an invader and makes lgE against them. These
lgE antibodies cause a release of cellular chemicals, which
in turn cause the symptoms of allergic reactions. This is a
similar mechanism as for dust, pets, bee stings and medicine
for food allergies can be:
- Gastrointestinal (such as
nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, etc.)
- Systemic (such as anaphylactic
shock – severe loss of blood pressure and cardiac arythmia)
- Cutaneous (such as urticaria
– hives, angioedema – swelling, atopic dermatitis – eczema
or itching and scratching)
- Respiratory (such as rhinitis
– runny nose, laryngeal edema – closing of throat, asthma)
As in many
illnesses, not all symptoms occur in every case. For some people,
a repeat exposure to an allergen can be fatal because the antibodies
are already present in their body.
Four to six
percent of infants have true food allergies. One to two percent
of young children are allergic to specific foods while less
than one percent of the adult population has true allergies
of foods. According to the Journal of Allergy Clinical Immunology,
approximately six to seven million Americans have food allergy.
Researchers estimate that 29,000 emergency room visits and 150
to 200 deaths occur yearly due to food-induced anaphylaxis in
The “Big Eight”
food products are: peanut, tree nuts (cashew, pecans, almonds,
brazil nut, pistachio, macadamia, walnut, pine nut, hazelnut,
etc.), soybean, crustacea (lobster, shrimp, crawfish, crab,
etc), milk, fish, eggs and wheat. There are 160 or more other
foods that can cause allergic reactions but are rare in occurrence.
What causes food allergies?
are naturally occurring and are heat resistant. Some proteins
are resistant to the digestive enzymes in the body and the acidity
of food consumed. One food item can have more than one allergen
in them. Errors and oversights in the processing of specific
foods (such as inadequate cleaning of shared equipment, equipment
design, contaminated raw ingredients, switching of ingredients,
formulation mistakes, using re-work, wrong labels, labeling
terms, wrong packaging, etc.) can cause processed foods to be
allergic in some cases.
Few documented cases
cereal product caused allergic reactions for a consumer. Investigation
revealed that the equipment was shared for production of cereal
that contained peanuts. Due to inadequate sanitation of the
equipment, traces of peanut were detected in the next processed
complained about allergic reactions from ingesting pesto. Investigation
indicated that there were moderate amount of peanut in the product.
The manufacturer used peanuts instead of pine nuts to save a
few dollars. Adulteration can be dangerous to the consumers.
How to avoid food allergies
Ask your physician
about your specific food allergies if you experience the symptoms
described above. Avoid offending foods. Learn and understand
the labels on the product/container.
Laws and regulation
would require food manufacturers to use familiar words in the
labels rather than obscure words, e.g. milk instead of casein.
Manufacturers will be prevented from collective listing of spices
and flavors containing allergens on the ingredient listing.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made the food allergen
a priority issue for the year 2003. A FDA compliance guide will
be published in the near future.
this, or any food-safety-related information, please contact
Bureau of Consumer Health Services at 713/794-9200. More food
safety tips can be found at: www.ci.houston.tx.us/hlt/foodpage.html
Contact the HDHHS Bureau of Consumer