Food allergens are substances in food that can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Though they may seem harmless, food allergens can cause a range of reactions, from mild skin rashes and hives to severe swelling of the throat and breathing difficulty. It's essential for people with food allergies, as well as those cooking for them, to understand and be aware of food allergens, their triggers, and how to steer clear of them.
Common Food with AllergensThe most common food with allergens according to FDA is:
- crustacean shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp)
These allergens can cause a range of reactions, from mild skin rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramp, dizziness, and hives to severe swelling of the throat and difficulty breathing. It is important to note that food allergies are different from food intolerances. While a food allergy can cause a life-threatening reaction, food intolerances cause more mild symptoms, such as stomach pain and bloating.
Causes of Food Allergies
Food allergies are caused by an immune system reaction to a food allergen. When the body detects a food allergen, it overreacts as it identifies the food as a danger and triggers and releases antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to fight it. This results in the release of histamine and other chemicals, which can cause a range of allergic reactions.
The cause of food allergies is not well understood, however, it is believed that genetics, environment, and lifestyle play a role. It is also possible for a person to develop a food allergy after eating a food multiple times.
Avoiding Food Allergens
The best way to avoid a food allergy reaction is to avoid the food allergen. This may mean avoiding certain foods or foods from certain restaurants. Another option is to use allergen-free foods, such as those made with an alternative flour or dairy substitutes.In addition, many people find that keeping a food diary helps them manage their food allergies. Keeping track of what foods cause an allergic reaction can help people identify and avoid potential allergens. It is also important to read labels carefully, as food manufacturers often label the allergen contained inside the food products.
Key players in the industry are addressing the increasing issue by developing new technologies for food and beverage manufacturers to detect and disclose allergens in their products. Companies such as Neogen are among those leading this effort. One of the most important tools in this effort is the use of laboratory screening. Food industry laboratories are equipped with advanced technologies and techniques to identify allergens in food products. These screening methods include enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) and protein array systems. These techniques enable laboratories to detect allergens with high accuracy, sensitivity, and specificity.
In addition to laboratory screening, the food industry also employs a number of other measures to control food allergens. For example, food processors may implement allergen-specific sanitation procedures to prevent cross-contamination. They may also use dedicated production lines and equipment for allergen-free foods.
Food allergies can be serious and even life-threatening. Understanding food allergens, what causes them, and how to avoid them is essential for those with food allergies, as well as those who plan to prepare meals for those with food allergies. Avoiding potential allergens, keeping a food diary, and being prepared for a reaction are important steps to managing food allergies.
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