5 Things You Need to Know

November 09, 2009

5 Things You Need to Know

Millions of Americans are affected by food allergies, but until now, ingredient listings on packages have not been complete enough for consumers to avoid accidental ingestion of foods that may make them very ill or be even life threatening. Starting in January of 2006 labels will be redesigned to be easier to read and clearer!

According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, more than 11 million consumers suffer from food allergies and those allergies are the leading cause of anaphylaxis outside the hospital setting, accounting for an estimated 30,000 emergency room visits and 2,000 hospitalizations annually. In addition, it's estimated that as many as 200 people die each year from food allergy-related reactions.

Food allergies are nothing to be ashamed of, and especially for teens who may think it "un-cool" to discuss something this mundane to their friends, it is critical that we raise the level of awareness of this terrible affliction without attaching a social stigma. The key is communication. And communication WITHOUT embarrassment or shame.

It is estimated that 1.5 million people in the United States have a severe allergic reaction to peanuts and that 50 to 100 people die every year as a result of the allergy. You should know the signs of a food allergy, and be prepared; warning signs may include wheezing, hives, a skin rash, vomiting, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness or going into shock. Immediately contact a doctor or call 911.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, currently there are no cures for food allergies, and the only successful method to manage these allergies is to avoid foods that contain the causative proteins.

One of the most misunderstood of the food allergies is Celiac Disease, more commonly known as gluten intolerance, which affects 1 in 133 Americans. This lifelong disease causes intestinal problems when eating gluten, which is the common name for offending proteins in wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn, and faro), rye, barley and oats. Gluten is like poison to people with celiac disease. With a strict adherence to a 100% gluten-free diet, almost all complications caused by the disease can be prevented. A gluten-free diet means avoiding all products that contain wheat, rye and barley, or any of their derivatives. This can be a difficult task as there are many hidden sources of gluten found in the ingredients of many processed foods. It is important to read labels carefully and become educated on what types of ingredients to look out for.

The 5 things you need to know about Food Allergies:

1) More than 11 million Americans suffer from food allergies and predictions are that the incidence of food allergies is on the increase. A recent study in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology showed that seafood allergies are more likely to begin in adulthood, and they estimate 6.5 million Americans have that allergy.

2) Eight food groups account for 90 percent of allergic reactions. They include peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, pecans, etc.), fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, soy, and wheat. There are a myriad of other things that can cause allergies for some people, including food additives such as aspartame or sulfites, or even genetically modified produce.

3) There are ways in which a label can state that it has possible allergens. This can be stated as "Contains _________" with the allergen listed in immediate proximity to the ingredient declaration. For example, "Contains soy and milk." Or an ingredient that contains one of the Major Food Allergens can contain an asterisk referring the consumer to a statement of explanation. For example, "whey" would be listed as "whey*" and would be followed by "*milk" after the complete ingredient declaration. Ingredients: Sugar, chocolate, whey*, coconut, *milk.

4) Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 included some of the following which help dealing with food allergies requires that food ingredient statements identify in common language that an ingredient is itself, or is derived from, one of the eight main food allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, fish, Crustacea, eggs, milk, soy, and wheat), or is gluten (from rye, barley, oats, and triticale). Foods that contain a protein of one of these Major Food Allergens will also appear on the label if they are contained in a flavor.

5) Look for "hidden" sources. Be careful of cross-contamination, this can happen in a toaster, griddle, oven, on plates and even, as we saw last week, from a kiss. Many vitamins and medications can contain allergens in their additives – always check with your doctor and pharmacist to make sure they prescribe those that are safe. Some flavored coffees, teas and other beverages may contain a cereal protein which contains gluten. Always read those ingredient labels.

Biggest fallacy regarding Food Allergy Labels: All labels adhere to these guidelines already. Keep in mind that FALCPA won't be enforced until January 2006, Be sure to read all labels carefully and be on the lookout for scientific or unclear terms (i.e., "casein" for milk, or "albumin" for egg) until the food industry becomes compliant with this new law. One glitch in the new law is that it does not require food companies to list on their labels "gluten"; FDA says that by 2008 they will determine the exact definition.

Eating out can be a nightmare: One of the most awkward and embarrassing aspects of having food allergies is going to a restaurant and communicating which ingredients are problematic. We've all see it...a waiter rolling their eyes and disgruntled that they have to do a bit more work and fight with the kitchen. Then your food comes out - and it's wrong! Then you have to wait ...and watch everyone else eat while your "special" food is being prepared.

We've developed a simple tool for you to communicate effectively every time – and everywhere - you eat out. It's FREE, it's SIMPLE to use, and you print it out yourself. It’s the Food Allergy Buddy Card.

In a matter of seconds you can check off any foods you would like to avoid in the preparation of your meal. Then print out as many cards as you like and hand them to your waiter, supermarket counter person or even holiday part host, to make sure that your foods are allergy free.

Tips for the holidays: The holiday season can sometimes be a challenge as many holiday treats can contain surprise ingredients, especially home made baked goods that may contain peanuts or milk. Here’s our list of simple tips to minimize risks without putting a damper on the holiday fun.

Alert - holiday party hosts about your food allergy and clarify all ingredients used to prepare foods.

Avoid - dishes with sauces or myriad ingredients; these may contain hidden ingredients.

Eat - before attending special events in case the foods that are served contain allergens.

If - you are entertaining those who do have food allergies, use designated cookware and utensils to avoid cross contamination.

Stress - to family and friends that food allergies are serious -- reactions can be fatal