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 shellfish.
Allergen risk assessment and control is not an easy task at the manufacturing level, let alone at the retail level. But, retail food establishments also need to evaluate their operations to determine where allergen hazards might occur and establish methods for managing those hazards. All aspects of the operation must be part of the risk evaluation.
Following are areas where allergen risks occur and can likewise be controlled:
Food manufacturers and retailers must properly label food products that contain ingredients, including flavoring, coloring, or incidental additives that are, or contain, protein from a major food allergen using plan English to identify the allergens. This can be accomplished in one of two ways.
1. Include the name of the food source in parenthesis following the common or usual name of the major food allergen in the list of ingredients in instances when the name of the food source of the major allergen does not appear elsewhere in the ingredient statement. For example:
Ingredients: Enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and/or cottonseed oil, high fructose corn syrup, whey (milk), eggs, vanilla, natural and artificial flavoring) salt, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), lecithin (soy), mono-and diglycerides (emulsifier)
2. Place the word "contains" followed by the name of the food source from which the major food allergen is derived, immediately after or adjacent to the list of ingredients, in type size used for the list of ingredients. For example:
Contains Wheat, Milk, Eggs, and Soy
For additional information, visit Food Ingredients that May Cause Allergies
Dairy & Food Inspection Division