What triggers food allergy reactions?
If a guest asks you whether a dish or food item contains a certain ingredient, do not guess the answer. Starting December 13th, 2016, hotel, restaurant and catering owners are responsible for providing allergen information to their guests. For people with food allergies, even small amounts can result in severe reactions – in the worst cases they can be life-threatening.
The current state of food allergies and intolerances in Europe
17 million Europeans suffer from a food allergy. Allergic reactions to food are most common amongst children under 5 years old. Allergic incidences gradually decrease as they grow older, due to the gut maturing or a change in the immune system’s response to that food. Certain allergies, however (particularly nuts, peanuts, crustaceans and fish) remain stable in 1% - 4% of adults in the EU. Countries showing the highest prevalence of food allergy are France, Germany and Italy with 3.5% of their respective populations suffering from the condition on a chronic basis.
Reactions to the EU FIC 1169/2011 14 allergens
Here is a guide through what causes or doesn't cause reactions to the EU FIC 1169/2011's 14 allergens.
People with milk allergy react to the proteins in the milk. Most milk proteins are stable even when heated (e.g. cooked or baked). This means they can still cause allergic reactions.
Note: Lactose-free products are not necessarily milk-free.
Note: declare the Milk allergen when using milk (casein) to filter and clarify cider and wine.
People with lactose intolerance lack a sufficient amount of the enzyme "lactace", which is necessary for digesting the milk sugar lactose. Well-aged, hard, yellow cheeses are usually tolerated (e.g. parmesan older than 24 months).
People who have egg allergy can react to both the egg white and the egg yolk. Raw eggs cause the most powerful allergic reactions. In addition, egg proteins are also active after cooking and frying. Some can tolerate eggs when they are heat treated.
Note: declare the Egg allergen when using egg (albumin) to filter and clarify cider and wine.
For peanut allergy, it is the proteins in peanuts that people react to. Peanut oil often contains some peanut proteins, so should not be used when preparing food for people who have peanut allergy. Most peanut proteins are stable despite having been heated (e.g. baking a cake).
Note: Peanuts are legumes and do not grow on trees. They come from a different family than most nuts, hence needing to be declared separately.
People with a nut allergy react to the proteins in nuts. Most people do not react to oils pressed from nuts (e.g. walnut oil, hazelnut oil). The spice called Nutmeg is not a nut but a seed, and the spice called mace comes from the capsule around the nutmeg seed. People with a nut allergy will usually tolerate nutmeg and mace. Most nut proteins are stable despite having been heated.
People with a soya allergy react to various proteins in soya beans. Soya oil and soya sauce are considered safe for most people with a soya allergy.
Some children and adults become sick from eating wheat and other glutinous grains (e.g. due to coeliac disease, other intolerances to gluten, or a wheat allergy). Affected people must only eat gluten-free flour. This entails eliminating all grain types that contain gluten protein: wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and oats that are contaminated by wheat.
Note: When handling buffet food, Gluten-free bread should be located in a different place than glutinous bread.
In the case of fish allergy, it is the proteins in fish that people react to. People who are most hypersensitive can also react to the steam from cooking. The allergens in fish are stable despite being heated and are therefore still active after cooking.
Shellfish (crustacean) allergy
People react to the proteins in shellfish. Some people can have allergic reactions to the shell itself, not the edible part. The most hypersensitive people can also react to the steam when shellfish are cooking. The allergens in shellfish are stable despite being heated, thus they are active after frying and cooking.
Normally people react to ingesting the proteins from molluscs, but there have also been reports of allergic reactions due to inhaling steam or handling molluscs during their preparation.
The allergens in molluscs are stable despite being heated. This means that the proteins do not change their structure through being heated, and they will cause allergic reactions regardless of whether they are cooked, fried or raw.
When people react to celery, it is normally due to an allergic reaction to proteins. Celery allergy is one of the most common pollen-related food allergies in certain European countries.
For people with mustard allergy, it is mostly the proteins in mustard they react to. Mustard allergy is rare.
Sesame seeds allergy
People who are hypersensitive to sesame seeds usually have an allergic reaction to the proteins in the seeds. The proteins in sesame seeds are just as active after being baked or cooked.
Sulphites/sulphur dioxide allergy
Sulphites release sulphur dioxide (SO2), which is the active component in the preservation of food and medicines. Reactions to sulphites are not allergic reactions but resemble a chemical hypersensitivity with a defect in a sulphite-deoxygenase enzyme. Sulphites can occur naturally in low doses in onions and cabbage, and as a consequence of fermentation in beer and wine.
Reactions to lupin are normally allergic reactions to the proteins in lupin. Lupin proteins are stable despite being heated.
Note: Lupin can provoke severe, life-threatening allergic cross-reactions in people with peanut allergy. For this reason, it is a good habit not to add lupin flour to baked goods.
If you would like to learn more about protecting guests with food allergies, make sure to read our tips on handling foods on your buffet.