Approximately 2 percent of adults and up to 8 percent of children experience true food allergies. True food allergens are proteins. The difference between an allergy and intolerance is how the body handles the offending food.
In a true food allergy, the body's immune system recognizes a reaction-provoking substance, or allergen, as foreign and produces antibodies to halt the "invasion." As the battle rages, symptoms appear throughout the body. The most common sites are the mouth (swelling of the lips), digestive tract (stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea), skin (hives, rashes or eczema), and the airways (wheezing or breathing problems). There is no cure for food allergies; the only course is strict avoidance of an offending food. For an individual with food allergies, the biggest problem is knowing whether an allergen is contained in a particular food. Food intolerance is due to a chemical deficiency (commonly lack of a specific enzyme) and causes problems with digestion. Lactose intolerance is an example of food intolerance.
The United States Food and Drug Administration has identified eight foods (or food ingredients) that are responsible for 90 percent of the food allergic reactions. Those foods are milk and milk products, eggs, legumes (peanuts and soy), tree nuts, wheat, crustaceans, fish, and mollusks.
Food manufacturers need to evaluate their operations to recognize and develop plans to control unidentified allergens. All aspects of a manufacturing operation must be evaluated to ensure that control points have been identified. Evaluation for allergen hazards (a chemical hazard) should be a part of your HACCP plan. In addition, training of personnel from management and researchers to line production employees will help ensure that risks associated with allergens are fully understood. Understanding the potential consequences to a consumer with a food allergy will reinforce the importance of following the proper control procedures. It will also be important to have an ongoing monitoring system to verify that all control points are being consistently met.
Following are areas where allergen risks occur and can likewise be controlled and managed:
Dairy & Food Inspection Division