November 2016
Homeplace & Community

Food Allergy Awareness

Know the signs and tips for avoidance.

We are hearing more and more these days of people, especially young children, being diagnosed with food allergies and some are so bad the child cannot even be in the room with someone else eating the allergen they have problems with. Many folks don’t understand that there are many ways to create a cross contact when cooking or preparing foods with and without allergens. For instance, you should never bake chocolate chip cookies on the same baking sheet you baked peanut butter cookies on without washing, rinsing and sanitizing the baking sheet or maybe even using another sheet altogether. Think before you bake or give someone you love with a food allergy any type of home-prepared product.

Food allergies are a serious medical condition affecting up to 15 million people in the United States, including one in 13 children. Whether you’re newly diagnosed or brushing up on the facts because you have a friend or loved one recently diagnosed, learning all you can about the disease is the key to staying safe and living well with food allergies. At the present time, there is no cure for a food allergy. Avoidance is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction.

 

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy is an abnormal reaction to food, even a very small amount. The body’s disease-fighting (immune) system mistakenly thinks the food is harmful and produces antibodies for protection. This triggers the release of a body chemical such as histamine. Within minutes (or up to two hours) the person may begin to feel sick due to unpleasant reactions on the skin, in the digestive tract, the respiratory system or the cardiovascular system. Food protein causing the allergic reaction is not broken down during digestion or by cooking.

 

What are the major food allergens?

Although nearly any food is capable of causing an allergic reaction, there are eight foods that cause the majority of reactions. These foods are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.

Anyone can develop new allergies at any time. Almost all food allergy reactions in adults are caused by these four foods peanuts; tree nuts; fish and shellfish, especially shrimp.

 

Body’s reaction to a food allergy

If a person is allergic to a certain food, typical symptoms may include nausea, hives, skin rash, nasal congestion and wheezing. The body also may respond in several of the following ways:

Call 9-1-1 if any of these reactions occur after you eat something, since an anaphylactic reaction moves quickly. In about 20 percent of anaphylactic reactions, symptoms go away and return more severely in two to three hours, primarily in the respiratory tract. Although very rare, anaphylaxis can be triggered by eating certain foods and exercising within hours after eating.

Anyone with a previous history of anaphylactic reactions can have another severe reaction, but teens with food allergy and asthma appear to be at the highest risk. Teens dine away from home more, don’t carry their medications as often and may ignore or not recognize the symptoms.

 

For more information

Reliable information about food allergies can be found on the internet at these sites:

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, www.aafa.org/, Click on "Food Allergies"

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, www.aaaai.org/patients/re sources/fact_sheets/food_al lergies.pdf

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, www.acaai.org/public/advice/foods.htm

The Food Allergy & Anaphy- laxis Network, www.foodallergy.org

Kids with Food Allergies, www.kidswithfoodallergies.org (This is a nation- wide nonprofit food al- lergy support group that provides in formation, recipes, cooking help and peer support.)

 

Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.