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Food Allergies

Food Allergies – What Is The Issue?

Did you know that a small percentage of the population develops food allergies or becomes sensitive to specific food ingredients each year?

The consequences of allergic reactions may be very serious, in rare cases even fatal. Although many foods may provoke reactions, over 90% of food-allergic reactions are limited to a small number of so-called critical allergens. These include:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Sesame seeds
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Soy
  • Wheat

The prevention of food allergy is based on the avoidance of the specific food.

Food Allergy Basics

Many people suffer from adverse reactions to foods. However, only a small part of the population suffers from true food allergy.

  • Food allergies are well-defined adverse reactions to food involving the immune system, most often they are mediated by immunoglobulin E (IgE).
  • Food allergens are usually proteins or protein fragments to which allergic individuals have previously been sensitised and which are often resistant to heat and digestion.
  • The prevalence of true food allergy is about 1 in 100 adults and 1 in 20 children but many more people believe they have an allergy.These people may have a food intolerance which can have some of the symptoms of food allergy such as rash, asthma and gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Many children will grow out of their food allergy although some may remain sensitive for their whole life.
  • Continuing food allergies are more likely to occur with peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds and seafood.

In addition to true food allergies, individuals may suffer from a variety of other food hypersensitivity such as coeliac disease (adverse reaction to gluten which requires a gluten free diet) or metabolic food reactions, where ingested substances provoke adverse reactions due to deficiencies in the digestive or metabolic systems (e.g. lactose intolerance).

Key Allergy Information

Although more than 160 foods are reported to have caused an allergic reaction, the most severe ones are limited to eight foods which are the ones that must be labelled in New Zealand as outlined in FSANZ (Food Standards Australia and New Zealand).

Critical Food Allergens

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, pinenuts, macadamia nuts, chestnuts)
  • Milk and milk products (including lactose, whey, caseinates, etc.)
  • Egg
  • Sesame seeds
  • Fish and crustacean (shrimp, prawns, crab, lobster, crayfish)
  • Soy
  • Cereals containing gluten and their products, namely, wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt

All these foods have to be clearly mentioned on the label of a product, when they have been used in an ingredient in the product, or even if the ingredient has been derived from an allergenic source e.g. glucose derived from wheat.

The FSANZ allergen list also requires added sulphite at levels of above 10 mg/kg to be labelled so that consumers suffering from sulphite hypersensitivity will be informed. As well as this, the list contains all the gluten containing cereals (which coeliacs are intolerant to).

There is further information on allergy in New Zealand at www.allergy.org.nz

Other Food Allergens

  • Lupins – these belong to the legume family, which also contains peanuts. Small amounts of lupin flour are used in the New Zealand food industry, mainly in baked goods. Some individuals have experienced allergic reactions to lupins.
  • Celery and mustard – components and products of mustard seed (like mustard powder) and celery (like celery root and celery spice) have been shown to trigger allergic reactions, particularly in consumers in Europe. In fact, there is evidence that celery and mustard allergies are cross related to birch pollen allergies.

There are a very large number of foods which may provoke an allergic reaction or intolerance in particular consumers. The majority of these foods will be labelled as ingredients.

Nestlé labels the presence of well known allergens such as milk, eggs and wheat on food labels using a bold font and an allergen summary statement.

Precautionary Labelling Statements

Foods may be made in a facility which also handles allergenic ingredients, in these cases it is common for food manufacturers to include a precautionary labelling statement such as:

“Made on equipment that also processes products containing …..” or ”May contain…” following the ingredients list.

The FSANZ web site has useful information on labelling, allergies, intolerances and more. www.foodstandards.govt.nz

There is further information on allergy in New Zealand at www.allergy.org.nz

Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions can be triggered by very small quantities of  an allergen. Their onset is often extremely rapid and may be slight (e.g. oral allergy syndrome) or severe (anaphylaxis). In some cases a reaction may lead to anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal.

Food allergy is dependent on culture and eating habits. Allergies to fish, for example, are more common in Japan and Norway than in other countries where traditionally less fish is consumed. The above list of the 8 critical allergens may be increased in the future by allergens that are emerging or are specifically critical in certain regions of the world.

Any evaluation of the relevance of specific food allergens should always consider both the severity AND the prevalence of allergic reactions. You need to seek professional medical advice if you suspect that you or someone in your family has a food allergy. If you are diagnosed with a food allergy then you may find it helpful to get advice from an accredited practicing dietitian who can assist you in avoiding the trigger foods while still eating a nutritiously adequate diet.

This fact sheet contains general information and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific advice for your personal situation.

Nestle has an Allergen Centre http://www.nestle.com.au/nhw/allergen-centrewhich provides current information on certain food allergens in Nestle products. If you require further information on our product range please contact us.


Food Standards Australia and New Zealand – July 2014 http://www.foodstandards.govt.nz
Allergy in New Zealand – July 2014 http://www.allergy.org.nz

Food Allergies FSANZ web site accessed April 2011 http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumerinformation/foodallergies/

Better Health Channel: Food Allergy and Intolerance (last updated 2009 accessed April 2011) http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Food_allergy_and_intolerance

Dietitians Association of Australia: Allergy (last updated Jan 2011 – accessed April 2011) http://www.daa.asn.au/index.asp?PageID=2145834333
Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) Food Allergy (accessed Apr 2011) http://www.allergy.org.au/aer/infobulletins/food_allergy.htm
Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) Adverse Food Reactions (accessed Apr 2011) http://www.allergy.org.au/content/view/290/235/

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