Foods can contain many hidden allergy triggers

The Associated Press
Friday July 27, 2001

Learn to look for clues of food allergens where you might not expect them, counsels a New York University Medical Center specialist. 

The recent FDA report that many allergens cross over into supposedly allergen-free foods – often in the manufacturing or handling process – means that people with allergies have to know more than what the labels or menus say, according to Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, an allergist at the NYU center. 

Think about it the next time you step up to a salad bar or visit a deli or ice cream parlor. Cross-contamination occurs easily through traces of allergens retained on containers, servers and equipment. 

Any food can cause an allergic reaction in someone,  

Bassett says, but the most common culprits are eggs, milk, peanuts and other nuts, soy, seafood, corn and wheat. 

Those vulnerable to allergens can experience vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, diarrhea, hives, skin rashes, headaches, asthma, earaches and respiratory problems. An infant’s colic may be caused by an allergic reaction to milk or soy products. 

“Peanuts are the number one cause of severe or fatal allergic reactions in children and adults in the United States,” Bassett says.  

“One five-thousandth of a teaspoon of a food containing peanuts is enough to cause a severe or even fatal reaction.  

Some people are so allergic that they may react to minute quantities in cooking fumes.” 

He lists some clues to  

watch for: 

• If you’re allergic to milk, look out for milk-related “whey proteins” in a food product which may not list cow’s milk. They show up in baked goods, hot dogs, canned tuna, and as caseinates that are used in preparation and as preservatives.  

If a food label lists “casein,” that means it contains milk. Non-dairy creamers sometimes contain skim milk, and some margarine made from corn oil may contain skim milk powder. 

• Nut allergens often are in candies or cookies made on baking sheets or with utensils that were shared in making products with nuts.  

Chocolate candy is a particular problem, since it is often made with such shared equipment, so people with severe peanut allergies should avoid chocolates. 

Nuts also often turn up in Worcestershire sauce and bouillon. Shaving creams, moisturizers, shampoos and lipsticks may contain nuts, which can be transmitted through hand contact or kissing. 

• Eggs may be in or on foods with a shiny appearance – such as the egg washes used on baked products and noodles. Look for the word “albumin” or “albumen” on the label, which means that the product contains eggs. Processed foods with labels that list binders, proteins or emulsifiers often contain eggs. 

• Soybeans are used in the manufacture of many cereals, baked goods, baby food, processed meats, hamburgers and other meat products.  

Soy protein is often used to emulsify fat, and it can be found in ice cream, mayonnaise, products that contain oil, and salad dressings. 

• Those with seafood allergies should be leery of fried foods, since these may have been prepared in the same oils as fish. They also should skip Caesar salad dressing, which may include anchovies. 

People allergic to either of the two shellfish categories – mollusks (clams) or crustaceans (lobsters) – should avoid both. They also should be careful when buying other types of fish at the market or ordering in a restaurant because of the possibility of cross-contamination with shellfish. According to Bassett, people with shellfish allergies have them for life. 

• Wheat is an allergen that may be hidden in alcoholic beverages, hot dogs, ice cream cones, licorice, and soup mixes. People allergic to wheat should avoid products containing any kind of flour, including gluten-free and spelt. Hydrolyzed wheat protein is often used in processing, flavoring, and binding food products; it’s also often included in pharmaceutical products such as over-the-counter cold preparations. 

• Allergic reactions to corn are less common and less severe, says Bassett. But they may be found in pediatric foods.