Unpacking food allergens and intolerances

Many times, you must have concluded unpleasant reactions to certain foods as a Food Allergy. But, this may not be true. Those reactions could have also been a case of Food Intolerance.

IC:- Nutrition.org


The HACCP classifies allergens as the 4th hazard along with physical, chemical, and biological hazards. Same way, the HACCP plan aims at the prevention of food contamination with these hazards.

An allergen is any food that causes an adverse reaction that involves the immune system. These, when consumed, will bind with the IgE (Immunoglobulin) antibodies and cause the allergic reaction. An allergen, when ingested, involves an adverse reaction of the immune system.

Food Allergy is a response triggered by our immune system. One can identify by taking data on food consumption past four hours of the onset of the symptoms. But in severe cases, the symptoms may occur almost immediately. The common signs and symptoms of a food allergy

  • Itching, Skin rashes

  • Swelling of lips, face, tongue, throat or other body parts

  • Wheezing, nasal congestion, trouble breathing.

  • Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain.

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting

In the case of severity, anaphylaxis occurs, which is life-threatening. Mild symptoms become severe.

  • Swelling of the throat and air pas­sages that makes it difficult to breathe

  • Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure

  • Rapid, irregular pulse

  • Loss of consciousness

How does an allergic reaction start?

It’s a common thought that an allergic reaction occurs only after eating an allergen. But that’s wrong. There are plenty of ways an allergen can be in your food or come in contact with you. Cross-contamination is the main reason.

  • Use of same pans for storing an allergen and a non-allergen.

  • Use of the same equipment for processing.

  • Use of the same cutleries and tongs.

  • Use of the same chopping boards

  • Personnel coming in contact with the surface used by an allergen.

The Major Allergens are –

  1. Cereals containing gluten; i.e., wheat, rye, barley, oats

  2. Crustacean and products of these;

  3. Eggs and egg products;

  4. Fish and fish products;

  5. Soybeans and products of these;

  6. Milk and milk products (lactose included);

  7. Peanut, tree nuts and nut products; and

  8. Sulfite in concentrations of 10 mg/kg or more.

  9. Fish

  10. Shellfish such as crab, lobster, and shrimp

IC:- Pleijsalon.com


Food intolerance means either the body cannot properly digest the food consumed, or that a particular food might irritate the digestive system. The symptoms include nausea, gas, cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea, irritability, nervousness, or headaches.

Causes of food intolerance include:

  • Absence of an enzyme needed to digest food. Lactose intolerance is a typical example.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome. This chronic condition can cause cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.

  • Sensitivity to food additives. For example, sulfites used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods, and wine can trigger asthma attacks in sensitive people.

  • Recurring stress or psychological factors. Sometimes the mere thought of a food may make you sick. The reason is not understood.

  • Celiac disease. Celiac disease has some features of a true food allergy because it involves the immune system. The Symptoms include gastrointestinal issues as well as those unrelated to the digestive system, such as joint pain and headaches. The consumption of gluten and protein in wheat and other grains triggers the chronic digestive condition.

Food Safety Allergen protocols to be followed in a food establishment.

  • Awareness and training about the handling of all the allergens.

  • Receiving and storing a dedicated area for easy identification and to prevent mishaps. These must be labeled appropriately.

  • Use separate cooking vessels when handling and preparing “non-allergenic” food.

  • Use of separate bins to keep the washed vessels. So that these do not get mixed up with other vessels.

  • While serving, the servers must caution about the allergens added to the dish ordered. If not, mention in the menu under every meal.

  • If, self-service, the menu display must contain a disclaimer stating about the allergens.

  • For a packaged item, on the label, give a declaration stating the presence of allergens and traces of it.

  • Even if it is a case of the equipment/ processing plant coming in contact with an allergen, the manufacture must declare stating traces of the allergen.

If you have a reaction after eating a particular food, see your doctor determine whether you have a food intolerance or a food allergy. If you have a food intolerance, your doctor may recommend steps to aid the digestion of certain foods or to treat the underlying condition causing your reaction.

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