Kitchen Guide: Food Allergy Information

Food allergies involve the body’s immune system reacting to certain proteins found in food. It treats these proteins much in the same way as it would a disease. Different people react to different types of food although some types have a greater chance of becoming a trigger. Between 2% to 10% of people are affected by food allergies, with a greater percentage occurring in children. Reactions can occur within a few minutes or over a period of several hours. Undiagnosed and untreated, severe attacks can be fatal.

  • Rutgers Cooperative Extension Bulletin: Food Allergies: This PDF from New Jersey’s state university explains the different aspects of food allergies by asking common questions. Questions include reaction times, symptoms, the chances of acquiring and outgrowing the condition, selecting doctors and treatment among others.
  • Food Allergies: The Medical Association has produced this fact sheet which briefly explains what happens during an allergic reaction, treatment and distinguishing food allergies from intolerance.
  • Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance: One of the common conditions confused with allergies is food intolerance. This short article from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation brings light into the differences between the two in terms of what occurs inside the body.

In times and regions where food is abundant, the act of eating is more than being a means of survival. Pleasures are derived through signals received from various senses. Emotions and behaviors are also attached, making the experience unique for each individual. Studies are still being conducted on how the taste of foods affects the brain and senses as well as the individual’s eating behaviors.

There are varying factors which can alter the experience. The person’s current state such as feeling of hunger, past encounters with the dish and genetic dispositions can affect the taste. Although sometimes considered less important, the smell of food can also affect how it tastes. Both senses rely on chemical signals while touch relies on the physical texture of the food to relay signals. The mouth and face are areas which receive the most signals while the back receives the least.

An individual’s age and health also affects the experience of eating. Aging people and individuals suffering from taste disorders will have a different encounter with foods compared to healthy people. One of the most common disorders is known as phantom taste perception which involves an unpleasant or diminished capacity to taste. Most people that develop this condition happen as a result of a different illness or injury. A weakened sense of taste or smell can make it more difficult to detect whether the food item contains allergens or if the food is spoiled. For some people, proper oral hygiene can work wonders. In individuals taking certain medication, changing or quitting certain medication can help.

  • The Experience of Eating: This article from Yale Scientific tries to explain how certain foods affect the brain and eating behaviors.
  • Nothing Tastes Good Anymore: The University of Missouri gives details on how aging affects the taste and appeal of foods. 
  • Taste, Smell, and Touch: Lecture Notes: This series of notes explains how signals from the different senses affect the experience of eating.
  • Taste Disorders: The article from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders details how taste disorders can affect the pleasure of eating foods. Also featured in the article is a glimpse of how taste works, how disorders are treated and ways to manage the disorder.

Eating foods that contain allergens can elicit an autoimmune response. For individuals that are allergic, consuming foods containing allergens can cause a variety of symptoms. Minor symptoms include itching or swelling around the mouth or areas in contact with the allergen. The person may develop hives, rashes or may experience gastrointestinal discomfort. Severe reactions can include a feeling of tightness in areas around the throat and chest, resulting in trouble breathing and possibly a reduction in blood pressure. People with food allergies do not have to eat the trigger to induce a reaction. When it comes to peanut allergies, using products containing peanuts, touching or even breathing peanut dust can cause the same reaction.

  • Food Allergy: An Overview: This PDF from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases includes information on food allergies. It features information on different allergens for babies, kids and adults, diagnosis, prevention and research conducted.
  • Other conditions related to food allergy: The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology includes information on conditions often confused with food allergies and how to distinguish one from the other.
  • Food Allergy Facts: Severe Food Allergies Can Be Life-threatening: This article from the Kids with Food Allergies website includes information on the most common allergens, how to identify allergens on food labels, symptoms and what to do when a reaction occurs.
  • Food Allergies: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention and Treatment: The National Institutes of Health Medline Plus website includes a bulleted list of symptoms and information about cross-reactive allergens. Also featured is information on diagnosis, prevention and treatment options.

A variety of treatments are available to remedy varying degrees of reactions. For minor reactions, antihistamines can help reduce the symptoms. These are available over-the-counter or by prescription. Severe reactions will require a dose of epinephrine and a trip to the hospital. Individuals known to have severe reactions to certain foods should carry one at all times and make sure that it has not passed its expiry date. Other forms of medication may also be prescribed by the doctor to relieve symptoms.

More experimental treatments include Anti-IgE therapy and oral immunotherapy. With the first option, omalizumab is administered which affects how the body uses IgE. Oral immunotherapy involves placing controlled amounts of allergens underneath the mouth or swallowed to induce a reaction. This amount is increased over the duration of the treatment. It is espected that over time, the body becomes more accustomed to the allergens, eliciting smaller reactions.

  • Treatments for Food Allergies: Food-allergy.org has included a list of medications and diets commonly used to treat symptoms of food allergies.
  • Food and Drug: The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has included a list of common and alternative therapies for food allergies. Also featured are different articles related to food and drug allergies.

There are at least eight commonly known allergens. These include peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. Individuals can also be allergic to meat, corn, gelatin, seeds, spices and even vegetables. It is important for individuals with food allergies to also know which specific foods cause the reactions. Just as important is knowing its byproducts and foods which may contain even minute portions of the allergen. In the case of peanuts and tree nuts, consult an allergist on whether to avoid only one or both types of allergens. Refer to the following websites for more information about different allergens and their byproducts or alternative names.

  • Allergens: The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network website contains a list of allergens and unexpected sources of each trigger.
  • Egg, Milk Or Wheat Allergies: What To Avoid; This article from Harvard Medical School includes common derivatives and alternative names to ingredients.

Individuals with food allergies need not consume the actual allergen to generate a reaction. Cross-contamination occurs when safe foods are prepared on the same surfaces as foods that contain allergens. People with food allergies should take extra precautions of what they eat. In schools, restaurants or at home, preventing cross contamination is important. Kids and adults should always ask about the ingredients used to prepare the dishes and inform the server or chef of these requests. In most cases, members of the restaurant staff are more than willing to fulfill special requests. When it comes to a child’s school, inform instructors, staff, parents and other key adults about this issue. It is also important for them to know what to do in case an allergic reaction occurs. Wearing a medical alert bracelet, necklace or a similar accessory can also help inform those around the individual on what to do or who to contact in case the individual is unable to talk during a reaction.

When preparing food, it is important to separate the foods which contain allergens and those that do not. Always wash and sanitize any cookware, utensils and other tools before each use. Use different gloves when switching to or from foods containing allergens. Never use the same types of utensils or surfaces when preparing foods. Also remember to use different cookware and equipment for customers that have food allergies as allergens can still be passed even with cooking.

  • Food Allergy: This article from the Mayo Clinic features information about food allergies in general, other types of food allergies, risk factors, tests, treatment options and prevention techniques.
  • Food Allergies: Reducing the Risks: This PDF file published by the US Food and Drug Administration features tips for consumers with food allergies. Also listed are some of the major food allergens and what cross contamination means.
  • Food Allergy: Reduce Food Exposure: The National Jewish Health website features information on what to do to reduce exposure to allergens.
  • Avoiding Cross-Contact: This illustrated PDF file from the Calvary Chapel Burbank creates a graphic way of presenting information on how to avoid cross-contamination when cooking at home or eating out.
  • Tips for Avoiding Food Allergies: The Federal Citizen Information Center website includes a number of tips for individuals to help avoid food allergies.