Food Allergens

food allergens

Table of Contents

Food allergies can occur at any age, although they are most prevalent in children. Many youngsters outgrow their food allergies as they grow older. According to the ASCIA, food allergies affect 10% of infants, 4-8% of children, and 2-4% of adults in Australia. It is essential to be aware of your food allergies and to read food labels thoroughly to avoid consuming any allergens. Also, if you have a severe food allergy, keep self-injectable epinephrine on hand in an emergency. But what exactly are food allergens?

What Are Food Allergens?

Food allergens are specific proteins or protein fragments found in certain foods that can cause an allergic reaction in some people. When people with food allergies eat or are exposed to an allergen, their immune system mistakenly thinks it is harmful and launches an immune response, causing symptoms such as hives, itching, and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis. The most prevalent food allergens include:
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Crustaceans
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Soy and sesame
However, many other foods can cause allergies, including fruits, vegetables, and spices. It is crucial to remember that food allergy symptoms vary from person to person and might alter over time. But do you know what to do if someone in your care has a severe food allergy? Taking first aid training from a nationally recognised provider is the best way to be ready to help someone in an emergency where they have severe food allergies. When delivering first aid to someone with a severe food allergy, it is crucial to recognise the symptoms and react appropriately. The ability to save a life in a crisis depends on having the appropriate training and information. But for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, you must see an allergist if you think you may have a food allergy.

What Is The Difference Between Food Allergens And Food Allergies?

The difference between food allergens and food allergies is described below:
Food Allergen Food Allergy
A food allergen is a protein or protein fragment found in food that triggers an immune response A condition occurs when the immune system reacts to a food allergen, which can result in symptoms such as hives, itching, and anaphylaxis in more severe cases
Examples include milk, peanuts, and shellfish Reactions of the immune system to food allergens, which can range from relatively moderate (such as hives or eczema) to life-threatening (such as anaphylaxis)
Can be found in many different types of foods Varies from person to person and changes over time
Can be found in many different types of foods Can differ from one individual to the next and evolve through time

Food Allergen Policy In Australia (Allergen Labelling) 

Australian food manufacturers take allergen labelling very seriously and adhere to food allergen labelling regulations. Australian Food & Grocery Council (AFGC) has collaborated closely with organisations such as Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia and Coeliac Australia to provide useful information to assist customers in managing their specific dietary needs. The AFGC helped establish the Allergy Bureau in 2005 to assist the industry with allergen identification and labelling difficulties.

Allergen Testing Food Industry

Allergen testing in the food industry refers to determining the presence or absence of certain allergens in food. This is to ensure compliance with food labelling regulations, which require certain allergens such as peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, gluten and other common allergens to be listed on the label if present in the product.  Allergen testing is available in Australia using various methods such as ELISA, PCR and others. These methods test for the presence of specific proteins associated with allergens.  Allergen testing is important to ensure the safety of people with allergies and to prevent potential legal liability for food manufacturers and retailers. Let us understand these methods:
Allergen Testing Methods/Food allergen detectors Description
Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) It is a common tool for allergy testing in Australia’s food processing sector. This technique may detect trace amounts of allergens in food samples with high sensitivity and specificity.
PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) This method can detect even minute amounts of food samples containing allergen DNA, allowing for the detection of typical allergy cross-contamination issues in the food business.
Lateral Flow Device (LFD) LFD is a rapid diagnostic test for the identification of food allergies. This test functions similarly to pregnancy tests and can give results in as few minutes. LFD is a crucial tool for the food business due to its portability and ease of usage.
RIDASCREEN It is an ELISA technology for detecting allergens in food samples. This technique, even trace amounts of allergens, can be detected with pinpoint accuracy because of the method’s extreme sensitivity.
Mass spectrometry (MS) It is an analytical method that can detect and quantify allergens in food samples due to its high sensitivity and specificity. MS techniques include MALDI-TOF, LC-MS, and GC-MS.
These techniques have been widely applied in Australia’s food business to detect allergens, guarantee allergic individuals’ safety, and shield producers, distributors, and retailers from potential lawsuits.

Allergen Training Food Industry

Training on allergens is essential for all workers in the food business, including those employed in food production, packaging, transportation, and retail sales. Training on allergens is required for all employees in Australia who handle food, including managers and supervisors, per the guidelines set forth by FSANZ. This training is considered a vital component of the allergen management plan. Allergen training for the food business often includes knowledge of the following topics:
  • Acquiring an understanding of the various allergens that can cause reactions and the prevalent origins of those reactions
  • Recognising the signs and symptoms of a reaction to allergens
  • The process of identifying the possible allergens present in various food products
  • The use of allergy management measures, such as segregating allergic substances from non-allergenic ingredients, utilising equipment specifically designed for the purpose, and following sanitation processes, are all examples.
  • Acquiring an understanding of the significance of accurate labelling and effective allergy management
  • Communicating with customers who are allergic to foods or other substances.
Allergen Management In The Food Industry  The term “allergen management” is used in the food business to describe the systems and practices put into place to reduce the occurrence of allergens in foods and to guarantee that ingredient lists accurately represent the existence of any potentially harmful substances. This process entails several stages, including:
  • Carrying out a risk assessment: It necessitates determining which allergens are most likely to be present in the food products in question and analysing the dangers that are connected to the presence of these allergies.
  • Establishing policies and procedures for allergy management: It involves protocols for ingredient selection, procurement, storage, production, and labelling. Additionally included are protocols for cleaning, maintenance, and the education of staff members.
  • Putting in place steps to control allergens: These include isolating allergic materials from non-allergenic ingredients, utilising equipment specifically designed for this purpose, and putting in place sanitation processes.
  • Testing and monitoring: This covers the routine testing of food products to confirm that they do not contain allergies and the monitoring of facilities to ensure that allergens have not been cross-contaminated.
  • Keeping accurate records: It involves keeping records of allergen testing findings, ingredient lists, and other vital information relevant to allergen management.
  • Communication with customers: This involves giving factual and understandable information regarding allergies that may be present in food products, as well as responding to questions and concerns raised by customers.
The Australian Government’s Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) agency regulates the food industry concerning allergen control. Australia’s primary laws governing allergy control in the food business are as follows:
  • Standard 1.2.3 of the Food Standards Code mandates the labelling of common allergies such as peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, and gluten.
  • The Code also mandates that firms dealing with food have an allergen management plan, including handling the selection, procurement, storage, production, and labelling of foods containing allergens.
Allergen management in Australia’s food sector is governed by a set of regulations and principles, which must be understood and followed by producers and sellers of food.

Food Industry Guide To Allergen Management & Labelling 

This guide offers information about the management of allergens. It applies to people involved in the food supply, handling, manufacturing, import, and selling. The AFGC created it in 2007, but a new edition was released in April 2021 by the AFGC and Allergen Bureau. In 2021, the following items were added to the guide:
  • Managing and disclosing allergen status changes in packaged foods
  • Differentiating comparable items with varying allergen concentrations A more thorough examination of the allergy labelling regulations for New Zealand-sold products
  • Handling consumer enquiries about allergies in products
  • Allergen Risk Review Website is recommended as a resource.
You can download the updated 2021 Food Industry Guide to Allergen Management and Labelling for Australia and New Zealand, which includes modifications resulting from the FSANZ P1044 Plain English Allergen Labelling.

Food Allergen Certificate In Australia

In Australia, several accredited certifying agencies hand out “food allergen management plan certification”. The relevant state and territory government food regulatory organisations have granted these organisations permission to carry out food safety audits and certify food businesses. Here are a few Australian bodies that issue certifications:
  • Queensland-based Safe Food Production (SFPQ)
  • FSANZ stands for Food Standards Australia New Zealand
  • The National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA)
It’s crucial to remember that the certification procedure and requirements may change based on the certifying organisation and the type of food business. Organisations can contact the certifying authority to understand the certification process, expenses, and requirements.

What Are the 14 Most Common Allergens Found in Food?

Most Common Allergens Food
Here are the 14 food allergens that affect the majority of people:
  1. Gluten-containing cereals: The family of proteins known as gluten includes oats, wheat, barley, and rye. Bread, baked goods, cereals, and pasta frequently contain it since they all contain flour. Additionally, it is present in products made from barley, including beer, malt, malt vinegar, and food dye.
  2. Celery: This includes celery salt, leaves, and stalks. Aside from some meat products, soups, and stock cubes, it is frequently found in salads. People allergic to celery should also avoid celeriac since they are both species of the same plant.
  3. Crustaceans: Crabs, lobsters, prawns, crabs, and scampi are some of these. They are invertebrates with segmented bodies and jointed legs. Shrimp paste used in curries frequently contains them. Even without eating, this allergy can be painful. When fish is cooked, the shellfish proteins can spread through the air. Sufferers need to exercise caution because this allergy can be extremely severe in some people. A molluscan allergy increases the risk.
  4. Peanuts: These are present in sauces, cakes, curries, desserts, and biscuits. In addition, they are in peanut flour and groundnut oil. About 3% of Australian children older than 1 are allergic to peanuts. Despite taking up to an hour, signs and symptoms of a peanut allergy can appear minutes after contact.
  5. Eggs: These are typically discovered in mayonnaise, cakes, some meat products, mousses, pasta, quiche, and food that has been egg-brushed. Egg allergy is among the most prevalent causes of allergic reactions in newborns and young children. Still, the majority of kids outgrow the allergy. Sometimes an egg allergy appears in adults. Egg reactions are typically brought on by the egg’s protein content, primarily the albumen or white. The risk is increased by having another allergy. It’s not necessary to consume eggs to experience an allergic reaction; touching raw eggs or eggshells may do the trick for those who are particularly sensitive.
  6. Lupin: This is present in some bread, pastries, and pasta varieties and includes lupin seeds and flour. This legume, also known as lupine, is in the same family as peanuts, particularly in the form of lupin flour, which is widely consumed in the Mediterranean region. After being boiled and dried, lupin beans are frequently consumed whole as a snack.
  7. Fish: One of the most prevalent allergies in adults is an allergy to fish and shellfish, which can appear at any age and without any prior warning signs. It is frequently found in stock cubes, relishes, fish sauce, pizza, and salad dressings. People who are allergic to fish need to know what is in their food even more because fish is used in many ways and in many dishes.
  8. Milk: More than 2%, or 1 in 50 infants, have an allergy to cow’s milk in Australia and New Zealand. The lactose enzyme brings on the allergic reaction. A milk allergy is common in children but rare in adults. If you are a parent or work in a childcare setting, enrolling in a Childcare First Aid Course from a qualified first aid provider is an excellent way to ensure you are prepared to deal with any medical emergency, including allergic reactions. Attending a first aid course focusing on children will help you recognise and treat allergic reactions quickly and efficiently.
  9. Mustard: It is frequently used in soups, bread, curries, marinades, meat products, salad dressing, and sauces. It is significant to note that because it is frequently concealed as an ingredient, it might not be noticeable through sight, smell, or taste. The mustard plant, a member of the Brassica family, produces mustard seeds. People of any age can develop a sensitivity to mustard. Individuals with the same food allergy may react differently to its symptoms. Mustard allergy has a wide spectrum of reported symptoms, from minor (pollen food syndrome, hives, vomiting) to life-threatening (anaphylaxis, requiring adrenaline).
  10. Molluscs: An allergy to molluscs occurs when the body reacts negatively to proteins in shellfish, including oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops. Allergic reactions to molluscs can range from mild itchiness and hives to more serious anaphylaxis.
  11. Nuts: These include macadamia or Queensland nuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecans, and cashew butter. Bread, crackers, biscuits, ice cream, marzipan, nut oils, desserts, and sauces all contain them. Asian cuisine frequently uses ground, crushed, or flaked almonds. Even if nuts have been consumed in the past without causing a reaction, adults and older children can develop a nut allergy. Tree nut allergies are most frequently developed before the age of five. Given that the proteins in tree nuts and peanuts are similar, those who are allergic to one are more likely to become so than the other. Due to the similarity of the proteins in sesame seeds and nuts, people with nut allergies are more likely to develop a reaction.
  12. Soya: Bean curd, edamame seeds, miso paste, soy protein, soy flour, tofu, and a wide variety of processed foods all contain soya. It is frequently used in ice cream, sauces, desserts, meat products, and vegetarian goods. Although the soya bean is a legume, reactions to other legumes do not always result in allergies. With up to 60% of manufactured foods containing soya, soya is common and difficult to avoid. It is very challenging to avoid all soy-containing foods. Still, as with other allergens, the level of avoidance depends on the severity of the allergy.
  13. Sesame seeds: These can be discovered in tahini (sesame paste), sesame oil, hummus, bread, bread sticks, and as a garnish. In Australia, the prevalence of sesame allergy among children aged 4 years is approximately 0.5 per cent. On imported goods, sesame is referred to as Benne, Gingelly, Till or Teel, Simsim, or Anjonjoli. Because the protein that causes the allergy is only released when the seed is crushed or broken, many people with mild allergies to sesame can eat buns covered in sesame seeds.
  14. Oxide of sulphur: In addition to being used as preservatives in wine and beer, sulphites are also used to preserve dried fruit, meat, and vegetables. Sulphur dioxide allergy is uncommon, but sulphites can cause allergy-like symptoms in people with underlying illnesses like asthma

What Do Food Allergies Do To The Body?

When a person with a food allergy consumes an allergenic food, their immune system responds by generating antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) against it. These antibodies subsequently cause the release of inflammatory substances into the bloodstream, such as histamine. Allergic reactions to these substances can range from quite moderate (including hives and itching) to extremely life-threatening (such as anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that can cause difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure, and shock). An allergic reaction to food can cause symptoms immediately, or they may not show up for a few hours. Some of the most frequently experienced symptoms are:
  • Rashes, welts, or itchy skin
  • Lip, face, tongue, and throat swelling
  • gastrointestinal distress such as abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting
  • Sneezing, a stuffy nose, or a runny nose
  • Vertigo and fainting
  • Anaphylaxis (a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction) 
Food allergies can be diagnosed with the help of a skin prick test, blood work, an elimination diet or food challenges administered by an allergist or immunologist. In a medical emergency, such as anaphylaxis, it is crucial to be prepared by knowing the signs and symptoms of a food allergy. In some cases, anaphylaxis can cause a person to become unconscious. In such a scenario, you should put the patient in the recovery posture and clear their airway. If the person is not breathing, you must immediately begin administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Learning CPR is a great way to be prepared for medical emergencies and can give you the confidence to act quickly and save a life. Taking a learning first aid course from a registered training provider is the best way to learn CPR and increase your chances of helping someone in a medical emergency. Not all adverse reactions to food can be attributed to an allergy. While unpleasant, food intolerance does not provide the same risk as a life-threatening food allergy.

Food Labels And Allergens

People who suffer from food allergies can benefit greatly from reading food labels since they contain information about the materials used in the product, including the presence of known allergens.  For those who suffer from food allergies, the presence of allergens in a product can be extremely dangerous because even trace levels of the allergen can cause a severe reaction. Therefore, people who suffer from food allergies should always check the contents list before consuming a product. To aid those who suffer from food allergies, it is now mandatory by law for food labels to provide a list of the allergens in the item.  Whether or not allergens were present in food because of cross-contamination during production or the use of shared equipment can be indicated on the label. This is an essential concern when shopping for those prone to allergic reactions. Those with food allergies should not only read labels but also know where common allergens are found so they may ask servers about ingredients when they dine out. In conclusion, food labels serve an important role in assisting people with food allergies to identify potential triggers and avoid those foods. People who suffer from food allergies need to be careful about what they eat and what products they use.

Types Of Food Allergies

There are many distinct forms of food allergies, each of which manifests in a distinct set of signs and symptoms. Some of the most common types of food allergies include:
Type of Food Allergy Symptoms Onset Diagnosis Treatment
IgE-mediated Hives, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, anaphylaxis Immediate Skin prick test, blood test, food challenge Avoidance of allergenic food, epinephrine auto-injector, antihistamines
Non-IgE-mediated Eczema, abdominal pain, diarrhoea Delayed (several hours) Elimination diet, food challenge Avoidance of allergenic food, anti-inflammatory medications
Food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES) Vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration Delayed (several hours) Elimination diet, food challenge Avoidance of allergenic food, hydration and nutritional support
Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) Itching, tingling, and swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat Immediate Skin prick test, blood test, food challenge Avoidance of allergenic food, antihistamines
Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) Difficulty swallowing, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting Delayed (hours to days) Endoscopy, biopsy, food challenge Avoidance of allergenic food, steroids, immunomodulators, dietary therapy
Celiac disease Abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, weight loss, fatigue Delayed (varies) Blood test, biopsy Strict adherence to a gluten-free diet
Food intolerance and sensitivity symptoms can be similar to those of food allergy. However, they do not involve the immune system. It is best to consult a doctor or an allergist to diagnose and treat a food allergy or intolerance.

What Is A Food Allergen Poster ?

Food allergen posters are required in Australia under the Food Standards Code, which is enforced by the state and territorial food safety authorities. The statutory body in charge of creating and enforcing the Food Standards Code is FSANZ. You can find more information regarding food allergen posters and allergen labelling on the FSANZ website. This website has a lot of information about food allergen labelling, including rules for food businesses, data sheets, and consumer resources.  Additionally, you can learn more about the specific allergenic foods that must be labelled in accordance with the Food Standards Code and the prerequisites for posting allergen warnings in food establishments.

What Details Are Provided In Food Allergen Sheets? 

Food allergen sheets in Australia provide precise information on the presence of allergens in a specific food product. They are commonly used by food service providers, such as restaurants and caterers, to alert clients about allergies in their menu items.  Food service businesses, such as restaurants and caterers, are not required by law to issue allergen papers. Still, it is encouraged as a good practice to assist clients with allergies or intolerances in making educated food choices.  This means that food service providers must have suitable procedures to identify and manage allergies in their food items and offer customers correct allergen information.  Food allergen sheets should include the following information: 
  • The name of the food item
  • A list of ingredients
  • Any potential sources of cross-contamination, and 
  • Which priority allergens are present in the food item

Allergen Checklist For Food Suppliers And Manufacturers

The Food Standards Code mandates that all food suppliers and manufacturers in Australia follow the code’s guidelines for allergen labelling. Peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, crustacea, sesame, soy, gluten, and sulphites, to name a few, must be mentioned on the label of a food product if they are present as ingredients or as a result of cross-contamination, as mandated by the code.  It is suggested that food suppliers and manufacturers in Australia establish an allergen checklist as part of their food safety management system to ensure compliance with the Food Standards Code.  The following items should be on this checklist: 
  • The information must be included on a food label regarding potential allergies
  • A list of items that contain allergies or are produced from allergens 
  • A list of raw materials, packaging, and other equipment that may be contaminated with allergies
  • Measures taken before, during, and after manufacturing, storing, and transporting allergen-containing products to eliminate the risk of contamination 
  • Education of employees on the regulations around the handling and labelling of allergens 
  • Testing and monitoring food goods regularly for allergies that may not have been declared 
  • Procedures for product withdrawal and recall in the event of the discovery of previously unreported allergens

What Is Allergen Information On Food Labels In Australia

According to Australia’s Food Standards Code, certain priority allergens must be listed on a product’s label if they are used as ingredients or introduced into the product through cross-contamination. This includes both pre-packaged and unprocessed foods. In Australia, allergen information on food labels must include the following:
  • Allergens of particular concern are called out in the ingredients list. For instance, “peanuts” would be included in the ingredient list if the item contained peanuts. 
  • A remark like “may contain [allergen]” should be put next to the ingredient list if the product is manufactured in a facility that also processes other priority allergens. You might see a warning like “may contain traces of peanuts.” 
  • A statement like “made on the equipment also used to process [allergen]” should be put next to the ingredient list if the product was manufactured using shared equipment. For example, “manufactured on equipment also used to prepare peanuts.” 
  • The allergen information should be in the same field of vision as the ingredient list and the same font size. 
  • Allergen warnings should be prominently displayed near the ingredients. 
  • A special “Contains: peanuts, tree nuts” label is available for those with nut allergies. 
It is recommended that businesses seek out official instructions and requirements from the appropriate agencies, as the details provided above are not all-inclusive.

Reporting Adverse Reactions And Labelling Concerns

In Australia, unpleasant food product reactions and labelling issues can be reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) or the state health department.  Reporting any adverse reactions or labelling concerns related to food products is important because it enables the relevant authorities to identify and address potential safety issues and take appropriate action to protect public health.  It is also important to note that reporting adverse reactions or labelling concerns can be done anonymously.

Providing Information Regarding A Reaction:

  1. Consumption of food from a food service provider:
  • Suppose you suffer an allergic reaction to food at a restaurant or from takeout despite warning the staff about your allergy when you placed your order. In that case, you should contact your state health department AFTER you have dealt with the emergency and recovered. 
  • Investigating a reaction is vital since it will help lessen the likelihood that the same mistake will be repeated in the future. 
  • Record the specifics of the occurrence, including who was involved, when and where it took place, and the food eaten (photos are helpful).
  • Preserving a sample of the food that may have caused an allergic response by freezing it in a sealed plastic bag and marking it “DO NOT EAT” is a good idea. The local health department may request samples of this cuisine. 
  1. Pre-packaged foods: 
  • The state health department where the product was manufactured or the state health department the item was imported into should be notified if you experience an allergic response to a packaged product (and your allergen is not stated on the label). Additionally, it would help if you got in touch with the company. 
  • As a result of this reaction being investigated, the product can be recalled since it contained an allergy that was not stated. Notifying authorities about a potentially allergenic product helps ensure that no one else will experience a similar response. 
  • Once the allergic response has been treated, any remaining food should be kept in its original packaging and stored in a container marked DO NOT EAT. The local health agency may have to collect some of the remaining food for analysis. 
  • The original package provides valuable information about the product, such as its name, ingredients, manufacturer/distributor, and batch number. Thus it should be kept for future reference. 
You can refer to the following flowchart for guidance on how to report an adverse reaction:
how to report an adverse food allergy reaction

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