What at first tastes delicious can cause itchy danger for some people.

According to WebMD, about 90 percent of food allergies are caused by eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soy foods and tree nuts (such as walnuts) as well as wheat and other grains containing gluten, such as barley and rye.

What is healthful for one person may be an allergen for another. When people consume foods to which they are allergic, their immune systems produce antibodies that enable the release of warrior-like chemicals (histamines) to fight the perceived invader.

Allergic Symptoms

An overabundance of histamines creates allergic symptoms, such as congestion and itchiness.
Reaction to a food allergen can occur within minutes or up to a few hours after eating. Allergic response may begin with tingling or itching in the mouth and then move on to a person’s skin to produce itchy, bumpy hives or an eczema rash.

Other symptoms may include abdominal distress, lightheadedness, swollen lips and airway constriction called anaphylaxis.

Anti-histamine medications may quickly halt itchiness and mild swelling, but an injection of epinephrine is necessary to reverse life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Allergy vs Sensitivity

Not all food intolerances are allergies. For example, a sensitivity to the gluten proteins in grains may be a sign of two other kinds of immune system problems — celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) — both of which cause intestinal discomfort.

Like food allergies, celiac disease (but not NCGS) causes a buildup of antibodies. However, it doesn’t cause anaphylaxis. Instead, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to harm itself. Celiac antibodies not only attack gluten but also the interior walls of the upper intestine, which can lead to cancer.

Lactose intolerance — an adverse response to the sugar in milk products — is another food sensitivity that causes digestive issues like those of food allergies. Although uncomfortable, it is much less dangerous than milk allergy, which is caused by dairy protein.

No medication overcomes a food sensitivity attack. Sufferers must tough out the consequences of consumption and then continue avoiding foods containing the substances that upset their digestive systems.

Food allergies and sensitivities are serious concerns. It’s important to understand the difference between these two kinds of adverse and sometimes life-threatening responses to food and to know which foods most commonly cause problems.

Tips About Specific Allergies

Becoming aware of the most common food allergies and sensitivities helps food producers and handlers to protect consumers.

For example, gluten isn’t just in breads and crackers. It’s a hidden ingredient in foods ranging from flavored ice teas to most kinds of surimi (fake crab meat). A chef or food server who is aware of menu items that are completely gluten free is helpful to diners who have wheat allergy, celiac disease or NCGS.

Here are some tips to remember about the most common food allergies (listed alphabetically) and examples of hidden sources.

  • Eggs. Most food allergies are caused by proteins such as the ones in egg whites. Hidden source: egg substitutes.
  • Fish. If you react to one type of fish, chances are you may be allergic to other kinds. Hidden source: Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies.
  • Milk. People who are allergic to cow’s milk should also avoid sheep and goat’s milk due to similar proteins. Hidden source: salad dressings.
  • Peanuts. New 2017 federal guidelines about peanut allergy, detailed in The New York Times, indicate children may avoid peanut allergy if fed peanut powder or extract in pureed foods during infancy. Check with your pediatrician. Hidden source: thickener in chili and soups.
  • Shellfish. Even if you order beef in a seafood restaurant, it may be cooked in a pan or with oil used for shrimp. Hidden source: fish sauce.
  • Soy Foods. Aside from common soy foods — such as sauces and tofu — soy is abundant in processed foods. Hidden source: canned tuna and meat.
  • Tree Nuts. Some types include almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts and pistachios. Hidden source: gravy and sauces.
  • Wheat. Barley and rye contain proteins like those in wheat. Oat protein is rarely allergenic, but oats may be cross-contaminated by other grains at processing plants. Hidden source: some kinds of play dough.

More Information

The Food Safety of America Institute is dedicated to making sure that all workers who prepare and serve food and beverages are well prepared to protect consumers, themselves and their companies.

Please contact us for more information about our complete training program as well as our module on allergies and allergens.