Most food allergies develop in children around six years of age, according to Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, a New York City doctor who specializes in the evaluation and management of allergic disorders affecting children and adults. As many as 7 percent of American children have some allergy to food or ingredients in food.
However, most outgrow these food allergies. Only about 2 percent of American adults suffer from food allergies, even though many more believe they have allergic reactions to food. The most common food allergies in adults are caused by eating peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.
Skin and blood tests can help determine if someone has a food allergy. If a child is tested and it reveals a food allergy is present, the child should be tested again after a few years. There is a 60 percent chance that the allergy has been lost.
What Causes a Food Allergy?
According to Dr. Bassett, food allergies, in children and adults, are caused by allergen-antibody interactions. Simply put, this means that a food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system views a specific food or food ingredient as harmful and reacts by causing symptoms. These reactions may be mild to severe—even deadly—and can include any of the following:
- Skin rash, itching, and hives (the most common signs of a reaction)
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
- A variety of respiratory problems
- Stomach pain and vomiting
- A general “getting sick” feeling (for instance, when someone believes they are coming down with the flu)
Reaction severity can depend on the amount of food the person has eaten containing the allergen, what other types of food they ate at the same time, and whether they have consumed alcohol while eating. Some people are so sensitive to food allergens, even if they inhale air that encounters the allergen, such as peanuts served on an airplane, they can react.
Food allergies can also be inherited. In fact, some people have a strong predisposition to food allergies because it runs in their family. In addition, even environmental factors can produce food allergies; long-term exposure to tobacco smoke, pesticides, even stress can contribute to different types of allergic reactions.
It is believed that eight kinds of foods are responsible for more than 90 percent of all food allergies in children. These are milk, eggs, peanuts (allergies to which have increased significantly in the past decade), tree nuts (which include almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and others), fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.
There also appears to be the so-called “families of foods” that cause allergies. For instance, if a child is allergic to almonds or pecans, there is an excellent chance that the child is also allergic to peanut butter, peanut oil, and many if not most of the other tree nuts mentioned above. These families of foods can be very broad; a child with an egg allergy may also be at higher risk for having a peanut allergy.
The food industry has a significant role to play to protect all consumers from allergic reactions. To do this, some industry professionals are turning to menu management systems and kitchen automation systems all designed to not only accurately detect whether allergens are present in foods, but also evaluate more than 120 other nutritional metrics and claims, such as fat content, calories, vitamins, sodium, sugar, and gluten.
More advanced menu management systems can also help recipe managers reformulate recipes to eliminate foods and food ingredients that might contain allergens. These systems and steps are all headed in the same direction: to keep our food healthier and safer for everyone.
For more information on ways to prevent food allergens or menu management systems, contact a DayMark Safety Systems representative by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-866-517-0490.