by Marion Nestle
Mar 10 2011

The industry’s view on food allergies

Food allergies pose labeling and other problems for food manufacturers. summarizes recent stories on what’s happening with food allergies, from the perspective of its European food industry clients.

Enzyme treatment may remove peanut allergens, suggests study: An enzymatic treatment process may effectively reduce allergens in roasted peanuts by up to 100 per cent, according to new research.

FoodNavigator conference to address food allergy challenges: Incidence of food allergies and intolerances is on the rise in Europe, and there are big gains to be made by companies who provide products that are safe and enjoyable for sufferers. Some challenges remain, however, such as appropriate labelling, and future threshold levels. 

The balancing act of allergen labelling: The food industry has a responsibility to label allergenic ingredients as big and bold as they can – but also not to over-egg the slimmest of slim possibilities that a trace amount of an allergen may have slipped into a product.
Germany develops rapid detection systems for food allergens

German researchers are aiming to develop rapid detection systems to identify allergenic substances in foodstuffs, according to a workshop on analytical methods for allergen detection staged in Berlin this week. 

UK leads free-from launches in major European markets: Mintel data: People with food allergies and intolerances in the UK have the more new products to meet their dietary needs than consumers in other major European markets, indicates data from Mintel, but there has been a general increase in launches across the EU in the last six years.

Allergy prediction tool could revolutionise allergen labelling: As allergy diagnoses among children continue to rise, a new online calculator is said to provide fast, cheap and highly accurate predictions, with potential implications for better-targeted on-pack allergen labelling.

Allergies, as I have discussed in previous posts, are difficult to diagnose and it’s hard to avoid something you are allergic to if you can’t figure out what it is.  Rates of food allergies seem to be increasing, for reasons not well understood.  The leading hypothesis is cleaner environments, but research can’t confirm that cause.  This is one area where the trite phrase, more research needed, really means something.

  • Anthro

    As an allergy “sufferer” with “oral allergy syndrome” (that is when you get an allergic reaction from eating the fruit of a plant related to a plant you are allergic to!) among others, I long for this research to come up with something. Shots help, but they never cover everything you are allergic to. It’s not like people who can die from peanut exposure, but causes a milder reaction including itchy throat.

    It’s so weird to have your immune system over-reacting all the time. I was a very grubby little kid and ingested a fair amount of dirt and germs and do not go out of my way as an adult to avoid these (you now see people wiping their grocery cart handles before touching them!) I’m never sick with colds or flu (get my shots every year), but wish I knew why I have all these allergies. It makes gardening (which I love) difficult.

  • Renee

    My daughter is allergic to both peanuts and tree-nuts. It’s a scary way to live.

    In the 8 years since she was diagnosed, allergy warnings have become much more widely used, and this does help. However, it seems to me that some companies have decided it’s better to be safe than sorry (as far as litigation goes) and put an allergy warning on everything, whether it really warrants it or not. This is frustrating.

    The biggest problems for peanut/tree-nut allergies are treats –cookies and candies. We’ve found that Canadian products are much safer because they don’t allow a product without nuts to be manufactured in a facility that makes products with nuts. We, we can buy Kit-Kat bars from Canada, and they are safe. Kit-Kat bars bought in the U.S. are manufactured in a facility that also processes nuts, so they are not safe. It’s a lot more expensive, but at least it allows her to enjoy some of the same treats her friends are eating.

  • fredt

    I have been totally off gluten for about 2 years now. What a difference, and it is not even a true allergy, just a intolerance. The grief I suffered for 60 years, the doctors that I saw, the medical arrogance. What can I say, We need to look out for our selves, the government is not going to help much.

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  • I beg to differ. It’s extremely easy to understand why food allergies are on the rise, if you understand anatomy and physiology, as Nestle should. It’s concerning, to say the least, that she seems so in the dark about this issue. I feel for all of the families out there that are struggling with allergy issues and getting uninformed answers from “experts” like Nestle. For that reason, I’m going to explain how it is that food allergies come about in the first place.

    Food allergies develop overtime when digestion is compromised in some way. For a lot of people, this process starts with low stomach acid. Other people might have normal levels of acid but not enough digestive enzymes. Either way, food simply does not break down the way it should. Partially-digested food is not small enough to be absorbed through the intestinal wall, so it just sits there in the warm environment of the intestines, fermenting and putrefying, and becomes food for pathogenic bacteria and yeasts. When this happens enough times, the pathogenic organisms begin to crowd out the beneficial flora that are supposed to be there. These pathogens produce toxic byproducts that are irritating to the lining of the small intestine. Over time, when this happens for long enough, the lining of the intestine begins to wear down. The villi flatten, drastically reducing the surface area available for absorption, and eventually actual holes will develop in the intestinal lining. This whole process is further exacerbated by the fact that the body is not getting the nutrition it needs to maintain the integrity of the intestinal lining, due to the compromised digestion.

    When you end up with holes in the small intestine, large undigested particles of food can leak through the lining into the bloodstream. This condition is called Leaky Gut Syndrome. If the particles that leak through contain proteins, the immune system may attack these particles, because it doesn’t recognize them – they are simply not supposed to be in the bloodstream, and the immune system knows that! Once the body has formed antibodies to these proteins, it will attack anytime you eat those foods. Wheat, dairy, and soy are some of the most common food allergens because these foods either contain very large proteins (gluten and casein) or are very difficult to digest (soy).

    So why are food allergies on the rise? Maybe because doctors refuse to deal with the common issue of low stomach acid which leads to the food allergies in the first place! When a person goes to the doctor with symptoms of low stomach acid, they are told instead that they have too much stomach acid and need drugs to prevent their stomach from making acid! Acid-suppressing drugs are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs. It’s a bad, bad idea to suppress stomach acid production in the majority of people. Your stomach makes acid for a reason: to digest your food. For those whose digestive difficulties stem more from a lack of enzymes than from low stomach acid, enzymes are used up rapidly when the diet consists entirely of cooked foods. Even most raw foods are relatively low in enzymes. Traditional diets around the world emphasize lacto-fermented foods and raw animal products which are high in enzymes. I’m sure the modern diet with its reliance on processed convenience foods and rancid vegetable oils, and its lack of nourishing saturated fats and fat-soluble vitamins, doesn’t help the situation much either.

    In light of this information, the way to deal with food allergies is 1) to strictly avoid all foods you are allergic to, as well as other foods that are difficult to digest, 2) to provide support for healing of the intestinal lining, 3) to normalize digestion by dealing with the original problem (low stomach acid or enzymes), and 4) to bring the gut flora back into balance.

    The best method by far for achieving all four of these objectives is the GAPS diet, developed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. If you or your family suffer from serious food allergies, definitely consider the GAPS diet. It’s a huge change for most people, but the results are worth it.