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<strong>Truth About Allergens: More than Just a Precaution</strong>
November 29th 2022

Truth About Allergens: More than Just a Precaution

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Allergens, what are they, and why should we care?

An allergen is a substance that causes the immune system to recognize danger, making an antibody to defend against the allergen. Food allergies can involve many responses by the body: rashes, skin itching, hives, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulty, and/or life-threatening reactions like anaphylaxis. Common allergens include pollens, fungal spores, house-dust mites, and foods. Allergic reactions usually occur in the areas of the body that come in direct contact with the allergen.

Allergy symptoms typically start in childhood and often remain into adulthood, although some get better. However, sometimes allergies can lead to other medical conditions, like asthma or eczema.

Because allergies can be severe and/or life-threatening, it is important that food suppliers have a stringent allergen management plan in place within their facilities to protect consumers, comply with regulations, obtain certification, limit the use of precautionary labeling, and prevent recalls.

In the United States, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) enforces regulations that require companies to list ingredients on packaged foods and beverages. The FDA provides guidance, conducts inspections and sample checks. The governmental body also oversees implementation controls over Cross-Contamination and Labeling controls to prevent undeclared allergens during manufacturing and packaging.

Cross-Contamination versus Cross-Reactivity, what’s the difference?

In simplistic terms, Cross-Contamination relates to the supplier/manufacturer, while Cross-Reactivity is the personal reaction to the allergen. Both are important factors in allergen management.

Per the FDA, Cross-Contamination may result in unintentionally introducing allergens into foods that do not properly declare the allergens on the labels. This can happen accidentally through the manufacturing or food preparation process. The most common ways are Food to Food, Food to Object, and Food to Saliva. There are several ways this can occur, but the most important way to avoid this is to have detailed cleaning and sanitation protocols in place. 

Procedures to manage the prevention of Cross-Contamination include:

  • Segregation of allergen-containing materials during storage
  • Use identified, dedicated equipment or utensils
  • Scheduling of production to reduce changes between allergen-containing products
  • Waste handling
  • Restrictions of foods that can be brought into the facility
  • Documentation of all phases of manufacturing

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, Cross-Reactivity in allergic reactions occurs when the proteins in one substance (typically pollen) are similar to the proteins found in another substance (typically food). The immune system potentially sees these proteins as the same, thus causing reactions. An example of this would be if you are allergic to a specific tree pollen, you might have a reaction by eating fruit grown on trees.

This type of testing and diagnosis can be challenging. A positive skin test or blood test can result for a food, yet the patient might be allergic to something that is cross-reactive instead. But this is also an issue as people may avoid eating a particular food because of a positive test, even if they’ve not had reactions in the past.

Some common types of Cross-Reactivity, plus a few misconceptions:

Type of FoodsCommon or Uncommon Cross-ReactivityLikelihood of having Symptoms
Cow’s milk and milk of other mammalsCommon Cross-Reactivity90% chance of allergic reactions
Foods of the Same Animal GroupUncommon Cross-ReactivityRare, most people with a cow’s milk allergy can still eat beef or be allergic to eggs but can still eat chicken, etc.
Peanuts vs. Other LegumesCommon Cross-Reactivity95% of people can still tolerate other legumes even with a positive test
Peanut vs. Tree Nuts or SeedsCommon Cross-Reactivity35% of people with peanut allergies will also have tree nut allergies, same with seeds
FishCommon Cross-Reactivity50% of people with one fish allergy will be allergic to other types of fish
ShellfishCommon Cross-Reactivity75% of people with one shellfish allergy will be allergic to other types of shellfish
Pollen vs. FoodsCommon Cross-ReactivityKnown as oral allergy syndrome, reactions after eating certain food types
Latex vs. FoodsCommon Cross-Reactivity30-50% of people with latex allergies can experience symptoms with certain food types, specifically fruit

What Can Mérieux Nutrisciences Do for You?

Mérieux Nutrisciences offers a full 360° Solutions Allergen Program for manufacturers and suppliers. Our Chemistry Allergen testing helps prevent product recalls due to unintentional contamination and inefficient cleaning procedures, offering methodologies on the most common food allergens. Our digital tools include a Safety Hud for real-time recalls in 73 countries, a Mapping System for automated monitoring and sampling, and Regulatory Updates. Mérieux Nutrisciences also offers auditing, training, and labeling services for all your allergen needs.

Ready to learn more? Get our Allergen Kit today!

By Bill Adams, Manager of Industrial Performance

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