By: Stephany Singh
While there are more than 160 known food allergens only eight have been considered major allergens and are required to be listed on food labels. But did you know that there are now nine major allergens? As of January 1, 2023, sesame has been added to the list.
You may be wondering why I am giving you this information. At my recent dietetic internship rotation at the Manna Food Center, I was tasked with creating an infographic for the staff in both English and Spanish. After I developed the infographic, I had the opportunity to provide a 10-minute in-service for those who worked in the distribution center. I was up for the challenge.
In addition to sesame, the other allergens include peanuts, crustacean shellfish, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, fish, and milk. It is important for the Manna Food Center staff and volunteers to be aware of this information to keep their customers safe. This information is especially important for those who sort the donated foods and pack the specialty boxes.
Food allergy is a potentially life-threatening immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a particular food. Even a tiny amount of the food causing the allergy can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives, or swollen airways.
Food allergy is a pathological reaction of the immune system triggered by the ingestion of a food protein antigen. For instance, if you have an allergy to cow’s milk, your immune system identifies cow’s milk protein as an invader or allergen. It then overreacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction. Food allergy reactions can be mild to severe and, in some people, may cause a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.
According to the Mayo clinic,, food allergy affects an estimated 8% of children under age 5 and up to 4% of adults. While there is no cure, some children outgrow their food allergies as they get older.
Food allergy is often easily confused with a much more common reaction known as food intolerance. Food intolerance does not involve the immune system and causes less serious symptoms. A food intolerance means either the body cannot properly digest the food that is eaten, or that a particular food might irritate the digestive system. Symptoms of food intolerance can include nausea, gas, cramps, belly pain, diarrhea, irritability, or headaches.
The infographic I developed below gives an overview of the nine allergens and provides a couple of safety tips for the Manna staff and volunteers to follow that may reduce the risk of exposure to an offending food. Additionally, Manna Food Center has a specialty box packing guide which is also useful. For example, if a volunteer is not familiar with celiac disease, the specialty box packing guide instructs them on how to read nutrition labels to ensure they pack items that are gluten-free in the participant’s box.
The experience of developing this infographic on the Big 9 Food Allergens has empowered me as a future registered dietitian to provide knowledge and education to others in an impactful way. I was able to think freely and strengthen my skill set through the use of a new language. I will lean on this experience to help me make effective social media posts that educate people on common food issues and concerns. My goal for the future is to use impactful infographics like this one to educate others to make sound decisions related to their food choices and overall health.