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Food Allergies: Which Allergens Are Recognized by Law?

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

Individuals should be pro-active, the FDA says, when confronted with a possible food allergy.

Food allergies are important concerns of many parents these days, even being referred to as an “epidemic” by some media outlets. But, beyond peanuts, many of us are unaware of the various food allergens recognized by law.

What Are Major Food Allergens?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration indicates that more than 160 foods can cause allergic reactions in people with food allergies. However, only eight are identified by law. These eight are responsible for 90 percent of food allergic reactions, and are the food sources from which many other ingredients are derived, the FDA explains. These eight are:

  1. Milk
  2. Eggs
  3. Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
  4. Crustacean shellfish (e.g. crab, lobster, shrimp)
  5. Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
  6. Peanuts
  7. Wheat
  8. Soybeans

These eight foods, and any ingredient that contains protein derived from one or more of them, are designated as “major food allergens” by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. The FALCPA was passed by Congress to help Americans avoid the health risks posed by food allergens, the FDA explains. The law applies to all foods, domestic and imported, whose labeling is regulated by FDA. The FDA indicates they regulate the labeling of all foods, except for poultry, most meats, certain egg products, and most alcoholic beverages.

Before the FALCPA was passed, foods with two or more ingredients had to list all of their ingredients by their common names. However, this did not adequately identify their food source. With the passage of the FALCPA, labels must clearly identify food source names of all of the eight most common food allergens, as well as any protein derived from these “major food allergens.” This helps consumers more easily identify and avoid food allergens, the FDA indicates.

The FDA explains that symptoms of food allergies typically appear from within a few minutes to two hours after a person has eaten the food to which he or she is allergic. Reactions can include:

  • Hives
  • Flushed skin or rash
  • Tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth
  • Face, tongue, or lip swelling
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Dizziness and/or lightheadedness
  • Swelling of the throat and vocal cords
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

Severe food allergies can also lead to severe reactions, even a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. This reaction can cause:

  • Constricted airways in the lungs
  • Severe lowering of blood pressure and shock, i.e. "anaphylactic shock"
  • Suffocation by swelling of the throat

Prompt administration of epinephrine by autoinjector (e.g., Epi-pen) during early symptoms of anaphylaxis may help prevent these serious consequences, the FDA says. If any symptoms do appear, the FDA indicates the following actions should be taken:

  • Individuals should be proactive in dealing with a possible food allergy, the FDA indicates. Symptoms occurring after eating food may be a sign of a food allergy. The food(s) that caused these symptoms should be avoided, and the affected person, should contact a doctor or health care provider for appropriate testing and evaluation.
  • Persons found to have a food allergy should be taught to read labels and avoid the offending foods. They should also be taught, in case of accidental ingestion, to recognize the early symptoms of an allergic reaction, and be properly educated on — and armed with — appropriate treatment measures.
  • Persons with a known food allergy who begin experiencing symptoms while, or after, eating a food should initiate treatment immediately, and go to a nearby emergency room if symptoms progress.

For more information about food allergies, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website.

To read more about the food allergy “epidemic” click here.

Read about peanut bans in schools: Click here.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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