What are food allergens?
Food allergens are typically naturally-occurring proteins in foods or derivatives of them that cause abnormal immune responses. Prevalence of food allergies around the world is believed to be increasing, with more than 8% of children and 2% of adults in countries like Australia and New Zealand having allergy to one or more foods. Fortunately, many children outgrow their allergies by the time they have reached 5-7 years of age. This is more likely for some allergies such as milk and egg than for others such as peanut and tree nut.
What are people most allergic to? There is a group that causes about 90% of all allergic reactions, with hundreds of substances responsible for causing the other 10%. Practically all foods have the capacity to cause an allergic reaction in a person who has become sensitised to that substance.
The key food allergens are: peanuts; tree nuts; soy; milk, egg; cereals; seafood; fish; and sesame.
Allergic reactions to foods vary greatly from mild gastrointestinal discomfort, to skin rashes and potentially life threatening asthma and anaphylaxis. While these various types of reactions are often considered collectively as food allergies, true food allergies represent only a fraction of the individualistic adverse reactions to foods.
The only successful method to manage a food allergy or food intolerance is avoidance of foods containing the allergen. There is currently no cure for these food allergies but effective care and emergency treatments are available.
Living with an allergy, either yourself or someone in your family, requires great compromise to the quality of life. It takes longer to find products in the supermarket that are safe to eat because of the need to study food labels and scrutinise ingredient lists, and it costs more because generally cheaper products and house branded foods are labelled with may or does contain various allergens.
Despite food allergies affecting only a small proportion of the population, risk management and mandatory product labelling for the key food allergens are critical food safety matters for businesses in the food industry. This is where the food industry plays an absolutely critical role.
Food Allergen FAQ’s
Below we answer a number of the key questions we get asked in relation to food allergens. We also have further clinical information about food allergies.