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A food allergy is an adverse immune system reaction to a particular kind of food.

Food allergies can be life-threatening. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food allergies send close to 30,000 Americans to the emergency room each year. In the US, 150 lives are lost each year because of severe allergic reactions to food.

An estimated 6.2% of US adults and 5.8% of US children, as of 2021, have food allergies.

Unfortunately, yes. These may include asthma, eczema, and other allergies.             

No. A food intolerance does not affect the immune system; its symptoms are often related to digestive problems.

Lactose intolerance is a common type of food intolerance.

Symptoms can develop within a few minutes to several hours after exposure to the food allergen.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, these are some of the common signs and symptoms of a food allergy:

  • 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 US Department of Health and Human Services, these additional life-threatening symptoms include the following:

  • 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 majority of adverse reactions in the US are caused by nine types of food (and their derivatives):

  • milk
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans
  • sesame
  • soybeans
  • wheat
  • fish
  • 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 US 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 allergens have been reported in the US, FALCPA focuses on the nine major allergens.

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 FALCPA or the FDA Food Code. The voluntary use of advisory labels on packaged goods is common practice but not guaranteed. When purchasing food made at Publix, particularly in the Deli or the Bakery, we encourage at-risk customers to look for our in-store signage regarding cross-contamination awareness.

The best strategy is always prevention and awareness. For our customers with food allergies, it’s important to be aware of and ask questions about ingredients in the foods you purchase and where cross contact might occur. To prepare for unintended exposure, the National Institute of Allergy 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; and
  • seeking immediate medical attention after a reaction, either by calling 911 or by 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.

While the FDA has approved the first medication to help reduce allergic reactions to multiple foods after accidental exposure, there is still no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of the food allergen is the only way to prevent a reaction.

Publix Charities provides annual funding to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT). More information about food allergy awareness and advocacy is available on their website. (By clicking this link, you will leave and enter the FAACT site that they operate and control.)

FDA Approves First Medication to Help Reduce Allergic Reactions to Multiple Foods after Accidental Exposure. US Food and Drug Administration. February 16, 2024.

Food Allergies: The "Big 9." United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. Last updated March 21, 2024.

Food Allergies: What You Need to Know. US Food and Drug Administration. Accessed March 7, 2024.

More Than a Quarter of U.S. Adults and Children Have at Least One Allergy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 26, 2023.