A food allergy is an adverse immune system reaction to a particular kind of food.
Food allergies can be life-threatening. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT), food allergies send close to 30,000 Americans to the hospital each year. In the US, 150 to 200 lives are lost each year because of severe allergic reactions.
An estimated 11% of US adults and 8% of US children suffer from food allergies. The percentage of affected children has been on the rise according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Unfortunately, yes. This includes asthma, eczema, and other allergies.
No. Food intolerance does not affect the immune system, and its symptoms are often related to digestive problems.
Food intolerance includes digestive disorders such as lactose intolerance.
“One of the main differences between food allergies and food intolerances is that food allergies can result in an immediate, life-threatening response,” says Stefano Luccioli, MD, senior medical advisor in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Office of Food Additive Safety (OFAS). “Thus, compared to food intolerances, food allergic reactions pose a much greater health risk.”
Symptoms can develop within a few minutes to several hours after exposure to the food allergen.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, common signs and symptoms include:
- Hives, itching, or skin rash
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, and throat, or other parts of the body
- Wheezing, nasal congestion, or trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction.
Anaphylaxis from food allergens includes severe variants of common food allergy signs and symptoms (see above) as well as its own set of life-threatening signs and symptoms.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, these additional life-threatening symptoms include:
- Swelling of the throat and air passages that makes it difficult to breathe
- Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure
- Rapid, irregular pulse
- Loss of consciousness
The nine foods or food groups (and their derivatives) that cause a majority of the adverse reactions in the US include:
- Tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans
- Shellfish such as crab, lobster, and shrimp
FALCPA, a consumer protection law in effect since 2006, requires food labels to clearly identify major food allergens contained in the product. In April 2021, the U.S. Congress passed and President Biden signed the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act of 2021, which, among other aspects of the law, amends FALCPA to add sesame to the list of major food allergens. The FASTER Act requires food manufacturers to declare “sesame” as a major food allergen on packaging and labeling.
While more than 160 food allergies have been reported in the US, FALCPA focuses on the nine major allergens. As Dr. Luccioli of the FDA explains: “These foods or food groups account for 90 percent of all food allergies in the United States. This law does not protect everyone with a food allergy, but should protect the majority of people who may have severe allergic responses to foods.”
Cross contact occurs when small amounts of allergens accidentally make their way into another food, often in the manufacturing process.
Declaring cross contact with allergens is not mandated under FALPCA or the FDA Food Code. The voluntary use of advisory labels on packaged goods is common practice but not guaranteed.
When ordering food made at Publix, particularly in the Deli or the Bakery, we encourage at-risk customers always to ask our associates whether cross contact may have occurred.
The best strategy is always prevention and awareness. For our customers with food allergies, we want you to be aware of the foods you purchase and to ask questions to understand the ingredients in foods and where cross contact might occur. To prepare for unintended exposure, the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) recommends:
- Wearing a medical alert bracelet or necklace that describes the specifics of your allergy
- Carrying and using an epinephrine auto-injection device (obtained by prescription) if a reaction occurs
- Seeking immediate medical attention after a reaction, either by calling 911 or finding a way to get to the emergency room. Seek help even after auto-injecting epinephrine.
- Check with your healthcare provider for additional steps you should take.
Unfortunately, no. According to Dr. Luccioli, “There is no cure for food allergies. The best way for consumers to protect themselves is by avoiding food items that will cause a reaction.”
Publix Charities provides annual funding to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT). More information about food allergy awareness and advocacy is available on their website. By clicking this link, you will leave publix.com and enter the FAACT site that they operate and control.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). "Food Allergies: Reducing the Risks." U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). January 23, 2009.
Food Allergies: What You Need to Know. U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Accessed April 30, 2021.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food Allergies. Food Safety and Inspection Service. December 1, 2016.