What is a food allergen and why is it important to take note of it? A food allergen can sometimes cause an allergic reaction in people. Allergic reactions can range from mild to fatal. There are 8 common food allergens (worldwide, including South Africa) which cause allergic reactions in some people.
Eight Common Food Allergens
You can find the foods containing allergens everywhere in the world and most people eat one or more of these foods daily, but not all people are affected by these allergens. Only a small segment of the population develop allergies to certain types of food.
The eight major food allergens that are responsible for most of the serious food allergic reactions worldwide and in South Africa are:
- Peanuts – allergic reactions to peanuts cause the most fatalities worldwide.
- Tree nuts – fatalities to tree nut allergies are close on the heels of peanuts.
- Crustacean shellfish
Food allergens are not limited to the food products mentioned above, but other food allergens are not as common as the ones listed.
Understanding Food Allergies
A food allergy is a medical condition affecting millions of people worldwide. Food allergies are serious and potentially life-threatening and should be taken seriously.
Our body’s immune system normally detects and destroys germs, such as bacteria or viruses, that make us sick. Food allergens are not bacteria or a virus but a food protein which can trigger a harmful immune response in a person.
This means your immune system mistakenly starts attacking a completely harmless food protein. This is called an allergic reaction and such an attack from your body’s immune system can have serious consequences.
Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction
The symptoms of an allergic reaction to food can range from mild to severe. The most common food allergy signs and symptoms are:
- Hives, itching or eczema on the skin
- Trouble breathing
- Tingling or itching in the mouth
- Swelling (face, lips, tongue, throat or other parts of the body)
- Abdominal pain
Some people can react severely to food allergens which can trigger an allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This is life-threatening and emergency treatment is critical. Untreated, anaphylaxis can cause a coma or even death.
If you’re highly sensitive to a food allergen, even breathing it in or having it touch your skin can trigger a reaction.
Who are at Risk?
While there is no cure for food allergies, children can outgrow them. Adults are much less likely to do so.
- Age: Young children are more likely to develop food allergies than older children or adults (though allergies can start at any age).
- Family history: Having a parent or sibling with a food allergy increases your risk.
- Having another food allergy: People with food allergies tend to have more than one.
Food allergens are classified as a food safety hazard and should be taken seriously by all food handling enterprises. It is important to inform consumers of all food products containing food allergens.
It is also the responsibility of the consumer with a food allergy to take extra precautions when purchasing and consuming foods.
Keep your child with a food allergy save by informing all relevant parties like caregivers, friends, family and schools. It is also important to educate your child about his/her conditions.
At ASC Consultants we provide training and consulting on all food safety-related matters in South Africa, including food allergen identification, cross-contamination prevention and labelling requirements.
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