Recently, there seems to be a spike in the occurrences of food allergies. Recent events I’ve catered have requested that the chef I’m assisting provide both a vegetarian option and a gluten-free option. The Health Day news service reported that a recent study shows that one in twelve children has at least one food allergy now, and the details for this report can be found in the July 2011 Pediatrics journal.

In class, we talk about how to deal with customers who express the need for special modifications to the menu due to allergies.

When I teach ServSafe classes, we discuss the risks of cross contamination of food allergens as well as bacterial contaminants. I teach my students that even casual contamination, like slicing gluten-free bread on the same cutting board as all the other breads can cause a severe reaction in customers. I know a lady who can’t even eat gluten-free pasta if the boiling water has been stirred with the same spoon or tongs as the gluten-containing pasta.

On the other side of the food allergy spectrum are people who suspect they may be allergic or intolerant to a food. A suspected food allergy should always be inspected or researched by an allergist. While I am a fan of holistic medicine, I disagree heartily with the skin tests that examine reactions to certain products. This can help give an idea of the types of allergies or sensitivities a person may have, if he or she suspects an allergy, then a follow up with an allergist or gastroenterologist is absolutely necessary to determine the nature of the intolerance.

There are multiple types of food allergy tests, including a skin prick test, an intradermal test, a total serum IgE, and an atopy patch test. There are also food elimination diets and oral food challenges. The golden standard is a double-blind placebo controlled food challenge. Of course, how many medical professionals and patients will do that?

The risk of following a food allergic diet, such as a gluten-free diet without actually needing to, is that you are cutting out certain food groups that your body is intended to consume. Wheat products contain magnesium, iron, B vitamins, and fiber that are essential to health. Individuals following a gluten-free diet need to find alternatives for those sources. Dairy free products are not always high enough in calcium, vitamin D, or vitamin B12, so you need to carefully read labels to make sure you’re getting the same nutrients from your substitutes. The other is that you may be unnecessarily complying with a diet that isn’t best for your health.

The American Dietetic Association published a guideline for diagnosing food allergies. Essentially, you could seek out an initial skin test to check for sensitivities, but you should follow up that analysis with an IgE test to see what antibodies your body produces against common allergens. Then you’ll know that you can expect an immune response to those foods, rather than another type of reaction. If you suspect a wheat allergy, then you will probably need to get a biopsy done to detect any intestinal damage caused by the reaction to wheat.

You can get more information about food allergies at the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network website. Celiac disease information is available at the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America. Basic information about food allergies can be found here.
To see the HealthDay report, click here