Food allergies are a growing public health issue. Allergic reactions to food can occur with little warning and can be very serious. According to Health Canada, approximately 2.5 million Canadians, or about 7 percent of the population self-report having a food allergy. A recent study also reported about 5-10 percent of the elderly population has food allergies. A food allergy can begin at any age, and they affect children and adults of all races and ethnicities. Some children do outgrow their food allergy to milk, soy and egg within a few years. However, allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish are more likely to last to adulthood. Allergies have also been known to make their initial appearance in older adults. And this is something to keep in mind within your facilities.
A food allergy is an abnormal response to a food that is triggered by the body’s immune system. The immune system, which normally protects against illness, wrongly identifies a harmless food protein as an invader and attacks it. That protein then becomes an allergen for that person. The next time a person eats that particular food protein, their body undergoes an immune response that causes a range of allergic symptoms. Allergic reactions can vary in type and severity ranging from mild to severe. Symptoms can include stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath. It is important to keep in mind that symptoms can be different from person to person and change from reaction to reaction in the same person. Most reactions do occur within minutes of exposure to an allergen. Even the smallest amount of a food can cause an allergic reaction in a person with food allergies.
Health Canada has identified 10 categories of foods that cause majority of allergic reactions in Canadians. These food groups are known as Priority Food Allergens. The most common food allergens in Canada include: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, sesame, mustard, sulphites, and seafood (fish, shellfish and crustaceans). Although these food categories cause 90 percent of all reactions, it is important to keep in mind that this is not a complete list. Any food can trigger an allergic reaction. There is no cure for food allergies. Avoiding an allergen is the best way to prevent allergic reactions. Early recognition and management are key to helping keep residents with food allergies safe.