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Food Allergens: Eight Key Points

I have been teaching for over a year from the Preventive Controls for Human Food curriculum and feel quite comfortable with the topic of food allergens. I heard a talk by Dr. Steve Taylor, Co-Director and Founder of the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program. These are eight key points I learned.

  1. The science of food allergens is new. Food allergens were recognized in 1988. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association from a physician at the Mayo Clinic reported eight deaths associated with the consumption of food and development of an allergic response. I don’t know the details, but I do know that 1988 was not a long time ago.
  2. Besides the United States, Canada, the EU, FAO and Codex Alimentarius recognize the Big 8 allergens. The Big 8 are dairy, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soybeans, and wheat. I wrote that list off the top of my head! Teaching the workshop helps. In the United States, the Big 8 are regulated under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. Other countries may recognize other allergens or include sulfites, which are technically not allergens.
  3. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency pulls food from the shelf and tests for undeclared allergens. Let that sink in.
  4. Very few universities teach the science of food allergens. With food allergens being the number one cause of recalls and food packaging being most responsible, students need to understand quality assurance in a food manufacturing facility and effective methods for cleaning to remove allergens.
  5. Fourteen different companies make test kits for allergens. Buyer beware. There are sensitivity and matrix differences that will get you significantly different results. You are not mandated, but are highly encouraged, to validate your allergen clean process.
  6. Food allergens cause up to 40% of eczema.
  7. Physicians were wrong to tell parents to not introduce peanut butter to infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics guideline for introducing peanut butter is at 4-6 months for infants at highest risk with other food allergies or severe eczema and earlier for infants at lower risk. It is best to blend the peanut butter in another food, to avoid its choking hazard. A peanut butter campaign for pediatricians is needed to reverse the thinking of physicians and well-meaning grandparents. Soon peanut patches will be available, like the technology of nicotine patches.
  8. A safe dose of each allergen does exist. While the US currently has a zero-tolerance policy for allergens, more research is needed to understand low thresholds for each allergen where an allergic response would not occur. In the future, we may move to defect action levels being allowed for each allergen, as the lowest amount allowed in food at a safe level for all.

Still have questions? The ConnectFood website has free resources, and the folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

Kathy Knutson, Ph.D., Lead Instructor for Preventive Controls for Human Food (PCHF), Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI), and trained in prevention of Intentional Adulteration (IA). She has food safety expertise in microbiology, hazard analysis, and risk assessment. As a recovering academic, she resides in Green Bay home-of-the-Packers, Wisconsin with her brilliant husband and two handsome sons. Learn more about her consulting services at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathyknutsonphd.