Nov 03, 2014 8:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

People with allergies to foods such as peanuts and shellfish are vigilant about avoiding such dangerous and life-threatening foods. Yet every trip to the grocery store is still a potential minefield because of “undeclared allergens.”

These are allergens that are not listed on labels, and they’re the leading cause of food recalls requested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Some labels may not be as reliable as they should be,” the agency warns.

Last week, the FDA announced an initiative aimed at weeding out undeclared allergens by focusing on reducing labeling errors and developing new ways to test for allergens.

The items most often involved in food allergen recalls are bakery products, snack foods, candy, dairy products and dressings. People who are allergic to milk, wheat and soy should be extra cautious—those allergens trigger the most recalls. Candy products made with dark chocolate, for example, may contain undeclared milk.

Allergens also lurk undetected in complex and multi-ingredient dishes like pasta dishes, casseroles and salads, says Scott Youngquist, MD, an emergency physician at University of Utah Hospital and an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

Youngquist says this presents a challenge for doctors who treat patients experiencing a severe allergic reaction, since people may not know what triggered it. “Many times it’s not clear if they were actually exposed to what they’re allergic to, or if they’re allergic to something else,” he says. People who have food allergies tend to have multiple allergies.

The most common symptom to watch for in yourself and family members is a rash, Youngquist says. More serious reactions include an itchy feeling in the back of your throat or difficulty breathing.

In this case, if the allergy is known, you should have an epinephrine auto-injector (you might refer to it by the common brand name EpiPen) so you can treat yourself or the family member experiencing the reaction.

If not, you can’t be too careful: Call 911. Symptoms can become more severe rapidly, Youngquist says. “Some people can get worse within minutes rather than hours.”


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