Food allergy is estimated to affect 5 to 7% of infants and 1 to 2% of adults. Currently there is no cure for food allergy and patients must adhere to a strict regimen of dietary avoidance of foods to which they are allergic. Despite the best of intentions, accidental exposure to food allergens remains a significant cause of allergic reactions. To avoid such exposure, food allergic patients and their families rely on food package labels to identify possible triggers.
The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires packaged foods sold in the United States to clearly list the eight primary food allergens in plain English on the ingredient label. These 8 foods are milk, egg, wheat, soybean, peanut, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. However, for foods that may accidentally contain small amounts of allergens- such as being produced in a factory that handles the allergen- precautionary labels may be applied to food products as well. Such precautionary labeling is neither consistent nor regulated. Food allergic patients have varying levels of tolerance to allergens and such precautionary labels could lead to confusion and unnecessary risk taking behavior.
In January, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (January 2015) by the research team led by Clare Mills, PhD of the Institute of Inflammation and Repair at the University of Manchester in the UK. Researchers sought to better define the threshold doses of 5 major food allergens (peanut, hazelnut, celery, fish and shrimp) in a European population. What researchers were able to demonstrate was that for these foods there is threshold dose below which only 10% of allergic subjects will react. Though more research is needed, such new data could help better identify allergen doses that are safe versus those doses which may trigger a reaction. This information would help improve patient safety through refined product labeling.
These new findings highlight how essential it is for patients with suspected food allergy to be evaluated by an allergist who will not only assess but help minimize the risk for future food reactions.
1. “Study identifies levels at which five foods may trigger allergic reactions” Medical News Today. January 2015.
2. Mills C et al. How much is too much?: Threshold dose distributions for 5 food allergens. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2014, published online January 2015, abstract.