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Most Common Food Allergies

Posted in Food Allergens,Food Safety on July 31, 2021

An estimated 32 million Americans have food allergies, with 5.6 million of those being children under 18 years old. That breaks down to one in every 13 children and one in every ten adults having a diagnosable allergy to one or more foods. Over 170 are known to cause allergic reactions, but here are the most common food allergies. 

Peanuts – The Titan of the Most Common Food Allergies

Peanuts are a part of the legumes family and are not nuts. They are the most talked-about food allergy and have gained their reputation for producing severe anaphylactic reactions in many of those who are allergic. Most people who have a peanut allergy will carry an epinephrine auto-injector, which can provide life-saving treatment in case of exposure. 

Types of Foods to Avoid or Check the Label

  • Peanut butter
  • Trail mix
  • Granola
  • Baked goods (cookies, candy, pastries, etc.)
  • Ice creams
  • Chili and soups
  • Grain breads
  • Sauces
  • Lupin (common flour substitute in gluten-free food)
  • Nut meat
  • Egg rolls
  • Pancakes

Severe reactions can occur even with mild cross-contamination, such as eating food produced in a facility that handles peanuts or touching someone who has eaten food containing peanuts. Most peanut allergies are lifelong, and only 15 to 22% of children might outgrow them, or their reaction to exposures could downgrade. 

Cow’s Milk

Infants and young children are commonly allergic to cow’s milk, but also adults. Studies done in 2018 and 2019 found that approximately 6.1 million Americans of all ages had convincing symptoms of an allergy to milk. A reaction may involve the skin (rash, hives, swelling), digestive system (nausea, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting), or in severe reactions, it may impair the ability to breathe (coughing, shortness of breath, or wheezing), thus becoming life-threatening. Everyone reacts to it differently, as some people can tolerate milk in baked goods, and others experience adverse reactions to milk in any form. 

Milk Allergy vs. Lactose Intolerance

A cow’s milk allergy is different from lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance involves difficulty digesting lactose and usually results in digestive upset and less severe symptoms. In contrast, a true dairy allergy can result in hives, skin problems, severe constipation, and in rare cases, anaphylaxis.

Types of Foods to Avoid or Check the Label

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Butter/Margarine
  • Ice Cream
  • Yogurt
  • Cream

There are many alternatives available for someone who has a milk allergy, such as soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, and rice milk.

Eggs

An egg allergy is prominent in children and also one that they can outgrow. An adverse reaction is typically in response to the white of the egg, but most people must avoid the yolk as well. A typical allergic reaction to eggs can cause hives, inflamed nasal passages, vomiting, and even anaphylaxis. Over-the-counter antihistamine medications can help relieve mild allergy symptoms, but avoiding eggs and food containing egg and egg products is the only way to stay safe.

Types of Foods to Avoid or Check the Label

  • Egg (white, yolk, solids, powdered, dried)
  • Mayonnaise
  • Eggnog
  • Albumin
  • Meringue
  • Lysozyme
  • Pasta
  • Ice cream
  • Marshmallows
  • Pretzels
  • Nougat

In rare cases, children with egg allergies can be susceptible to cross-contact and reactions from non-food sources, like certain vaccines that contain egg protein. 

Tree Nuts

Reactions to tree nuts can be as severe as peanut allergies. A tree nut allergy means you must avoid any nut that grows on trees. Symptoms usually start straight after eating the nut. They include a rash (hives or “nettle” rash), swelling of the lips or around the eyes, and itch. Some children have an itchy throat; others feel sick or vomit. Severe reactions can affect breathing. 

Types of Nuts or Foods to Avoid

  • Almonds
  • Beechnuts
  • Brazil nuts
  • Butternuts
  • Cashews
  • Chestnuts
  • Coconut
  • Filbert/hazelnut
  • Litchi/lichee/lychee nut
  • Macadamia nut
  • Marzipan/almond paste
  • Natural nut extract 
  • Nut butters 
  • Nut milk 
  • Pecan
  • Pesto
  • Pistachio
  • Walnut

Wheat

Wheat is a common childhood allergy, and in some cases, can be outgrown before reaching adulthood. A wheat allergy rarely results in an anaphylactic reaction, but it can in some cases. Many people who are allergic to wheat have celiac disease, which means they must find gluten-free alternatives.

Types of Foods to Avoid or Check the Label

  • Bread
  • Flour
  • Pasta
  • Flour
  • Farro
  • Cereals
  • Crackers
  • Pizza
  • Pastries
  • Pancakes
  • Cakes

Wheat can also appear in surprising places, so it is always advisable to read all food labels. 

Soy

Although soybeans are legumes and in the same family as peanuts, the two allergies aren’t always linked. Soy allergy is more common in young children and babies. Most children will outgrow a soy allergy by age ten. Allergic reactions are typically mild but also can be unpredictable. Anaphylaxis reactions to soy are rare.

Types of Foods to Avoid or Check the Label

  • Soybean
  • Soy sauce
  • Tofu
  • Miso
  • Edamame
  • Cookies
  • Cereals
  • Soaps
  • Sauces
  • Crackers
  • Canned tuna and meat

When an allergic person is exposed to soy, proteins in the soy bind to specific Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies made by the person’s immune system. As a result, the person’s immune defenses get triggered, leading to reaction symptoms that can be mild or very severe.

Shellfish

Adults are most commonly allergic to shellfish. Approximately 60% of people allergic to shellfish have their first allergic reaction as adults. There are two groups of shellfish: crustaceans and mollusks. Allergy to crustaceans (e.g., shrimp, crab, lobster) is more common than allergy to mollusks (e.g., clams, mussels, oysters). 

Types of Foods to Avoid or Check the Label

  • Clams
  • Crabs
  • Crawfish
  • Barnacle
  • Krill
  • Lobsters
  • Mussels
  • Octopus
  • Oysters
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp
  • Prawns
  • Squid

Reactions can range from mild or very severe, as a person’s immune system is triggered by the proteins in the shellfish binding to specific IgE antibodies. 

Sesame

Seed allergies are not as common as the others listed above, but sesame allergies are on the rise and an increasing concern. Sensitivity to sesame seeds varies, but reactions have the potential to be severe, including anaphylaxis. 

Types of Foods to Avoid or Check the Label

  • Benne, benne seed, benniseed
  • Gingelly, gingelly oil
  • Gomasio (sesame salt)
  • Halvah
  • Sesame flour
  • Sesame oil*
  • Sesame paste
  • Sesame salt
  • Sesame seed
  • Tahini, Tahina, Tehina
  • Til
  • Asian cuisine
  • Sushi
  • Soups
  • Vegetarian burgers
  • Hummus

Sesame is very prevalent in everyday foods and can be difficult to avoid as it’s not currently required on food labels. Beginning January 1, 2023, sesame must be labeled in plain language on packaged foods in the U.S. 

If unsafe food practices have caused harm to you or a loved one with food allergies (even one of the most common food allergies), you may be entitled to compensation. Discuss your options with a highly skilled food allergy lawyer in a free consultation today. 

What to do if You Suffer a Severe Allergic Reaction

If you are at risk or know someone who can have a severe allergic reaction, prepare yourself by knowing what to do in case it occurs:

  • Promptly inject an EpiPen (epinephrine auto-injector) if you have one and ask for help if needed. If you are witnessing someone have an allergic reaction, quickly ask or search for one.
  • Call or ask someone to call 911 immediately
  • Try to remain calm / try to keep the person calm who is having an allergic reaction.
  • Lie on your back and raise your feet / help the person lie on their back and raise their feet 12 inches off the ground, then cover them with a blanket.
  • If you are bleeding or feel like you will vomit, turn on your side / turn them on their side if they are vomiting or bleeding.
  • Loosen your clothing if you can to make sure you can breath / be sure all clothing is loose so that they can breathe.

You must seek medical care immediately, even if you start to feel better. Symptoms can recur, and you may need other treatments, in addition to epinephrine.

How to Prevent Allergic Reactions?

If you have a food allergy, be careful about everything you eat and check ingredients on all food labels. However, beware of confusing food labels and double-check whether they saw “manufactured on shared equipment” or “may contain.” Stay away from any products with these labels if you have food allergies, and be extra cautious when buying food without any labels.

When preparing food, cross-contact can occur easily between the countertop, utensils, cookware, stovetop, and the oven. Cross-contact means an allergen directly or indirectly comes into contact with another food. For example, a spatula that touches a burger with cheese then a burger without cheese can indirectly cause contact with an allergen. Direct contact, for example, could be taking cheese off of a burger patty to make it a hamburger. If you must have allergenic foods in your kitchen, organize separate food preparation areas, cook allergy-safe foods first, cover them, wash your hands, scrub down counters and tables, and never share food.

Some people with food allergies may have to avoid an entire food group because of the risk of cross-reactivity. Cross-reactivity can occur when proteins in one food are similar to another food, which the immune system may identify as the same proteins and trigger an allergic reaction.

Tips for Eating Out if You Have a Food Allergy

  1. Choose a restaurant wisely. If you have an allergy to fish, avoid predominantly seafood restaurants. If you have allergies to nuts and peanuts, consider avoiding Asian restaurants. People with a severe allergy to milk or soy who can react to contaminated equipment should probably avoid eating out.
  2. Pick good meal times. Choose a less busy time so you can speak to a manager and ask any questions or discuss food allergies when they are not in a rush.
  3. Call ahead. If you can, call ahead and ask if they are familiar with your type of food allergies and about any menu options. This is also an excellent time to ask about cross-contamination: whether utensils or surfaces that touch the offending foods could also contact other foods.
  4. Be clear. State the allergens that you must avoid, then ask about a specific menu item you’d like to try rather than having a server or manager identify potential problems with the entire menu.
  5. Make sure the manager communicates with the server and kitchen. Even if you have already spoken with the manager, be sure to tell your server about your food allergies and ask the manager to talk with the cook or ask the chef to come out to speak with you.
  6. “We don’t know” is a red flag! If you hear the answer “we don’t know,” don’t take the chance of eating something with unknown ingredients.
  7. Have a backup plan. If, for some reason, you are uncertain about the meal or the restaurant, have another restaurant or meal in mind.
  8. Always carry your EpiPen. Never take the risk of eating in a restaurant without your epinephrine injector.