Food allergens are ingredient protein or non-proteins that are capable of inducing an allergy or specific hypersensitivity. Food allergy is an important public health problem that affects children and adults and may be increasing in prevalence. At the very least, it is increasing in consumer awareness. Because patients frequently confuse non-allergic food reactions, such as food intolerance, with food allergies, there is an unfounded belief among the public that food allergy prevalence is higher than it is. Despite the risk of severe allergic reactions, there is no current treatment for food allergy: the disease can only be managed by allergen avoidance or treatment of symptoms.

According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network http://www.foodallergy.org, as many as 15 million people have food allergies in the U.S. An estimated 9 million, or 4%, of adults have food allergies. An estimated 6 million, or 8%, of children have food allergies with young children affected most. There are about 115 millions households in the United States. Eight foods account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans), wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.  Although childhood allergies to milk, egg, wheat and soy generally resolve in childhood, they appear to be resolving more slowly than in previous decades, with many children still showing signs of allergies beyond age 5 years. Allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish, or shellfish are generally lifelong allergies.

According to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA, Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. 21 USC 301), the major eight allergens must be declared in simple terms, either in the ingredient list or via a separate allergen statement. http://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/FoodAllergensLabeling
 However, FALCPA does not regulate the use of advisory/precautionary labeling (e.g., “may contain”, “in a facility that also processes”) is voluntary. The terms do not reflect specific risks and random products tested for allergens have shown a range of results from none to amounts that can cause reactions.


Food manufacturers are required to label food products to include the allergenic components by either listing the ingredients with the major food allergen in parenthesis after the common or usual name of the ingredient (such as in bold) or Immediately after or adjacent to the list of ingredients, putting the word “contains” followed by the name of the major food allergens present in the food’s ingredients.

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts)
  • Fish (such as bass, cod, flounder)
  • Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp)
  • Soy (lecithin)
  • Wheat
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Lactose
  • Gluten (flour ~ wheat)

Section 201(qq) of the Act defines the term “major food allergen” to include “tree nuts.” In addition to the three embodiments provided in section 201(qq) (almonds, pecans, and walnuts), what nuts are considered “tree nuts?”

Common or usual name Scientific name
Almond Prunus dulcis (Rosaceae)
Beech nut Fagus spp. (Fagaceae)
Brazil nut Bertholletia excelsa (Lecythidaceae)
Butternut Juglans cinerea (Juglandaceae)
Cashew Anacardium occidentale (Anacardiaceae)
Chestnut (Chinese, American, European, Seguin) Castanea spp. (Fagaceae)
Chinquapin Castanea pumila (Fagaceae)
Coconut Cocos nucifera L. (Arecaceae (alt. Palmae))
Filbert/hazelnut Corylus spp. (Betulaceae)
Ginko nut Ginkgo biloba L. (Ginkgoaceae)
Hickory nut Carya spp. (Juglandaceae)
Lichee nut Litchi chinensis Sonn. Sapindaceae
Macadamia nut/Bush nut Macadamia spp. (Proteaceae)
Pecan Carya illinoensis (Juglandaceae)
Pine nut/Pinon nut Pinus spp. (Pineaceae)
Pili nut Canarium ovatum Engl. in A. DC. (Burseraceae)
Pistachio Pistacia vera L. (Anacardiaceae)
Sheanut Vitellaria paradoxa C.F. Gaertn. (Sapotaceae)
Walnut (English, Persian, Black, Japanese, California), Heartnut, Butternut Juglans spp. (Juglandaceae)

Although there have been significant advances in scientific tools and data resources since the report’s 2006 publication, the FDA’s current intent is to determine if the currently available data and analysis tools are sufficient to support a quantitative risk assessment and, if so, to use these data and tools to evaluate the public health impact of establishing specific regulatory thresholds for one or more of the major food allergens  http://farrp.unl.edu/research/article-3

The FDA is making an attempt toward global challenges in which allergen labeling is further complicated by global variation of food regulated as allergens, as well as specified levels or even lack of specification that requires labeling.  The European Union has for embodiment 14 allergens on its lists to even include celery, lupines and sulfides.  Industry is being pressured to move away from the wording of “may contain” labeling. The group VITAL (Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labeling) system developed by the Allergen Bureau of Australia and New Zealand and is now referenced by numerous other countries as well includes a “traffic light” labeling system:

  • If the allergen level falls in the green zone, no precautionary statement is needed.
  • Yellow indicates that a “may be present” (may contain) statement is needed.
  • Red denotes that allergen labeling is required

Approaches to establish thresholds for major food allergens and for gluten in food are attempted in the USA: http://www.foodsafetyworkinggroup.gov/

The Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 14, 2012 established a docket to accept comments in connection with its intent to set regulatory thresholds for major food allergens as defined by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004.  This issue has received global attention in late 2012 early 2013 from every site associated with food allergens to include statements from legal food groups as well.

Key points of this initiative:

  • This is an enormous undertaking requiring a risk assessment that will help to establish regulatory thresholds for food allergens.
  • This will over time affect the food industry supply from processing to distribution, but most importantly labeling.
  • The focus is also taking a scientific approach that will impact safe thresholds that could effectively determine the appropriate corrective action to unintentional allergen contamination issues.
  • Evaluate petitions and notifications for exemptions from allergen labeling.
  • Respond to situations where undeclared allergens are found in foods.
  • Consider how thresholds might be used to improve consumer choices in the marketplace while protecting sensitive consumers.

“The Food Safety Modernization Act does recognize allergens as a hazard and requires preventive controls, but defining and setting a hard-and-fast threshold certainly needs to take a great deal more information into consideration. http://www.meatpoultry.com/News/News%20Home/Food%20Safety/2013/1/FDA%20to%20consider%20food%20allergen%20thresholds.aspx?cck=1

Also in December 2012, the US Justice Department reached an agreement with Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., to ensure that students with celiac disease and other food allergies can fully and equally enjoy the university’s meal plan and food services in compliance with the Americans

Navigating through allergies and allergens while going through all the food activities of a family can be daunting. We intend to help. Kitchology does not provide medical advice neither on the web or through its mobile applications. We must be aware however of how consumers look at allergies. There are differences for instance between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, allergies and food sensitivities. We understand and will do our part in improving the lives of families dealing with these issues.


About Alain Briancon

Alain Briancon is the CEO and Co-Founder of Kitchology. He caught the startup bug in his mid forties and has not been able to stop ever since.

About Alain Briancon 68 Articles

Alain Briancon is the CEO and Co-Founder of Kitchology. He caught the startup bug in his mid forties and has not been able to stop ever since.

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