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A food allergy is a reproducible adverse reaction to a particular food that involves the immune system. Nearly all allergens are proteins.

Food Allergen
a form of food intolerance associated with a hypersensitive immune response mediated reaction in which antibodies are formed .
Food Intolerance
a reproducible reaction to a food which occurs without a hypersensitive immune response .

The effect of food allergens differs by population, as can be seen in Europe. There, an allergic reaction to the onion in the Western Europe is virtually non-existent. However in Eastern Europe there are an increasing number of cases where allergic reactions to onions occur.

On a global basis, approximately 1-2% of adults and 5-8% of children suffer from a food allergy. These figures are increasing each year.

The effects of food allergies

In some cases, a reaction to a food allergen can result in death within a short period of time. A perfectly healthy individual can have a serious reaction that results in death within an hour of consumption.

Another important fact is that in some individuals as little as 1 mg. of an allergen can cause a serious reaction that can result in death.

Many people die each year from food allergies; for example, 100 deaths in the United States in 2006 resulted from peanut allergies.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction

There are different symptoms for allergic reactions to food. Some people suffer only very mild reactions while some can suffer very serious health effects, even death.

Typical symptoms of an allergic reaction to food are as follows:

  • respiratory reaction, such as asthma
  • gastrointestinal reaction , such as vomiting or diarrhea
  • skin reaction, such as dermatitis
  • anaphylactic shock – evidenced by a drop in blood pressure, severe constriction of airways, multiple organ failures, and/or death.

Because of the severity of food allergens, legal requirements have been put into place to ensure the correct labeling of foods. Food labeling should inform the consumer of the presence of known food allergens as an ingredient in the food or any possible cross-contamination of a known food allergen which may have taken place during its preparation.

Legislation put into place within the EU, US, and Australasia requires specific ingredients to be clearly listed on certain foods to highlight the presence of allergens.

The legislation listed below is the EU, US, and Australia/New Zealand’s requirements for food allergens:

  • EU – Directive 2003/89/EC as regards to indication of the ingredients present in foodstuffs.
  • US – Public Law Section 201-210
  • Australia/New Zealand – Food Code Standard 1.2.3

As a food safety manager, you should be aware of the markets where the products you produce will be sold and thus ensure that your product is labeled in accordance with the above legislation.

You must appreciate that there are differing allergens specified within these legislative requirements and that these requirements may be amended and updated in line with the increasing diversity of allergen reaction to specific foodstuffs.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Food safety knowledge network basic level requirements. OpenStax CNX. Dec 30, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11142/1.4
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