Food allergens are substances found in food that, in some people, cause an abnormal immune response, resulting in a variety of symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Food allergies are a serious public health issue that millions of people worldwide must be aware of, so their significance cannot be overstated.
Millions of people worldwide are now affected by the rising prevalence of food allergies. An allergy is an immune system overreaction to a normally safe substance, such as a food protein, which can result in mild to severe symptoms, such as hives and swelling, as well as anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal reaction.
Food allergens are the allergenic components of foods, and identifying and avoiding them is crucial for people with food allergies to avoid allergic reactions. The definition of food allergens and the significance of being aware of them are provided in this article.
What exactly is a food allergen?
A food allergen is a protein or protein fragment found in food that causes allergic individuals’ bodies to react negatively. About 90% of all food allergies are caused by the top ten food allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, soy, and wheat. Sesame, mustard, and celery are some other less typical allergens.
The majority of food allergens are heat-resistant, which means they can withstand heating processes like baking and cooking. Due to cross-contamination during production or handling, they can also be discovered in traces in processed foods even if they are not listed as an ingredient.
Any protein molecule in food that can in some people cause an immune reaction is referred to as a food allergen. When a person has a food allergy, their immune system perceives certain proteins as dangerous and makes antibodies to combat them.
Itching, hives, swelling, and even anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially fatal reaction, can all be brought on by the antibodies’ release of chemicals like histamine. Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy are the most typical food allergens.
Food allergen labeling is important
Given the potentially serious effects of food allergies, it is essential that food producers accurately label their products with any allergens they may contain. Food allergens are governed and required to be listed on food labels in many nations, including the United States and the European Union. According to these laws, food producers must expressly list any of the eight most typical allergens in the ingredients list or in a separate statement, such as “contains peanuts. “.
Accurate food labeling is essential for people with food allergies, as it helps them identify foods that may contain allergens and avoid potential allergen exposure. However, it is also essential for manufacturers to properly identify the presence of allergens in their products to prevent the risk of cross-contamination during processing and packaging.
Why is it crucial to be aware of food allergens?
1)Allergies to food are common
It is estimated that 32 million Americans and 17 million people in Europe suffer from food allergies, which are on the rise. Food allergies are now twice as common as they were ten years ago, which is a growing public health concern. Although the causes of the rise in food allergies are unclear, they could be related to changes in food processing, environmental factors, or the hygiene hypothesis.
2) Reaction severity
Food allergies can result in mild to severe reactions, from a little itching to anaphylaxis, which can be fatal. The symptoms of anaphylaxis, a severe reaction that affects several bodily systems, include breathing problems, a rapid heartbeat, and a drop in blood pressure. If anaphylaxis is not promptly treated, it can be fatal. The seriousness of the reactions emphasizes the significance of identifying and avoiding food allergens.
3) Laws governing food labeling
Many nations have implemented food labeling regulations that oblige food producers to list common allergens on their product labels in an effort to assist consumers who suffer from food allergies. For instance, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) in the US mandates that food producers label any of the eight main food allergens present in their products.
This law makes it easier for people who have food allergies to recognize and steer clear of potentially harmful foods.
During the process of preparing, cooking, or serving food, cross-contamination happens when a food allergen unintentionally spreads from one food to another. For instance, if a sandwich is cut with a knife that was previously used to cut peanuts, the sandwich may pick up the allergen from the peanuts.
Even when the allergen is present in trace amounts, cross-contamination can result in severe reactions in people with food allergies. Therefore, it’s critical to be aware of the dangers of cross-contamination and to take precautions against it.
5) Impact on life quality
The quality of life for those who suffer from food allergies and their families can be significantly impacted. It can be difficult for people with food allergies to avoid certain foods, especially in social settings. In addition to anxiety and stress, food allergies can make people afraid to eat out or try new foods.
As a result, it’s critical to be knowledgeable about food allergens and to offer sympathy and support to those who are afflicted.
Allergic reactions to food and cross-contamination
When a food comes into contact with an allergen while being processed or handled, the process is known as cross-contamination, and the end product may contain trace amounts of the allergen.
This can happen in a variety of ways, such as when equipment is not thoroughly cleaned after each use, when ingredients containing allergens are stored close to ingredients without allergens, or when workers do not adhere to proper hygiene and sanitation guidelines.
Food manufacturers must follow strict procedures to prevent cross-contamination because allergens, even in trace amounts, can be harmful to people with food allergies. To prevent cross-contact, this may entail using different tools, specific production lines, and appropriate cleaning techniques.
The Importance of Food Allergen Testing
Food allergen testing is an essential tool for ensuring the safety of food products for people with food allergies. This testing can identify the presence and level of allergens in food, which can help manufacturers identify potential sources of cross-contamination and take corrective action to prevent allergic reactions.
There are several methods of testing, including enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs), lateral flow devices, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. These tests can detect allergens at very low levels, typically in parts per million (ppm), and can be used to test raw materials, finished products, and environmental samples.
This testing is also important for regulatory compliance, as many countries have regulations requiring the testing of certain allergens in food products. These regulations may also specify the acceptable levels of allergens in food products, which can vary depending on the country and the allergen.
Food Allergens In Malaysia
The Ministry of Health in Malaysia has identified 10 significant food allergens that need to be noted on food products. These includes:
- Crustacean shellfish (e.g., shrimp, crab, lobster)
- Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios)
Under the Malaysian Food Regulations of 1985, which are overseen by the Ministry of Health, these allergens must be disclosed on food labels.
Due to cross-contamination during processing or handling, food producers must make sure that their products don’t have even a trace amount of any of these allergens in them. To prevent unintentional exposure to allergens, food businesses are urged to implement effective allergen management procedures in addition to labeling regulations.
Awareness Training Requirement for Food Operators In Malaysia
To ensure the safety of food products for people with food allergies, food operator training on this topics is advised or required in many nations, including Malaysia.
In Malaysia, the Ministry of Health has issued guidelines for food operators on allergen management practices, including training and education for staff on allergen identification, prevention, and control measures. These recommendations, which are based on global best practices, are meant to reduce allergic reactions and increase consumer confidence in the safety of food products.
The recommendations make it clear that food operators should train and educate all personnel who work with food, including management, servers, and kitchen staff. Topics like allergen identification, preventing cross-contamination, rules for food labeling, and emergency action plans for allergic reactions ought to be covered in the training.
The guidelines advise food operators to follow good allergen management practices, such as segregating allergen-containing ingredients, using specific equipment for allergen-free products, and following the right cleaning procedures to prevent cross-contamination, in addition to receiving training.
Although it may not be required by law in Malaysia, food allergy training is an important part of effective allergen management procedures that can help prevent allergic reactions and enhance the safety of food products for those who have food allergies.
Allergen hazards, or chemical hazards as they are also known, must be identified according to HACCP. Every step of your process should be covered by your HACCP plan in order to identify any potential allergen hazards. To reduce this potential risk, effective preventive controls or control measures for allergens must be documented.
Finally, food allergens are ingredients found in food that, in some people, can cause an abnormal immune response, resulting in a variety of symptoms that can be mild to severe. Food allergies are becoming more common, which is a growing public health concern.
To identify and avoid harmful foods, it’s crucial to comprehend food allergens and any potential risks they pose. Laws requiring food labels, awareness of the dangers of cross-contamination, and assistance for those who need it can all help people with food allergies live better lives.