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Food Allergies

At Stony Brook University Campus Dining the health and safety of our guests is our highest priority. For guests with food allergies and gluten-related disorders, we offer options made without the 8 major food allergens and gluten.

What are the major food allergies?
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
    • Common tree nuts include almonds, beechnuts, brazil nuts, bush nuts, butternuts, cashews, chestnuts, coconuts*, filberts, ginko nuts, hazelnuts, hickory nuts, lichee nuts, macadamia nuts, nangai nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, shea nuts, and walnuts.
    • *The FDA lists coconut as a tree nut. In fact, coconut is a seed of a drupaceous fruit. Most people allergic to tree nuts can safely eat coconut. Coconut allergy is reasonably rare. If you are allergic to tree nuts, talk to your allergist before adding coconut to or eliminating coconut from your diet.
  • Shellfish (Shrimp, lobster, crab, clams, mussels, oysters, scallops, etc.)
  • Fish (Salmon, tuna, halibut, etc.)
  • Eggs
  • Milk
Background

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 15 million Americans, including 1 in 13 children, have food allergies and these numbers are expected to grow. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allergen package labeling requirements apply only to the eight major food allergens that are responsible for almost 90% of all allergic reactions: peanuts, tree nuts, fish, crustacean shellfish, eggs, milk, wheat and soy. However, any food item can potentially be a food allergen. A food allergy refers to an adverse reaction to a food’s protein structure that causes an immune response when consumed. Food allergic reactions can vary from mild to severe and occasionally fatal, depending on the exposure. Therefore, there is no safe or acceptable amount of an allergen for those with life-threatening food allergies.

What is a food allergy?

An allergy is an immune response that releases a host of chemicals, including histamines, within minutes to hours after the allergen is ingested. These chemicals trigger a host of allergic symptoms that can affect the respiratory system, digestive tract, skin, and/or cardiovascular system. The most severe reaction is anaphylaxis which can be deadly. Currently, it is estimated that 300,000 Americans, or 0.4 percent of children and 0.1 percent of adults are affected.

Common symptoms of a food allergy include:

  • Swelling, itching or irritation of the mouth and throat, hives
  • Hives, itchy rash
  • Nasal congestion
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Digestive problems
  • Anaphylaxis

A person can experience these symptoms by ingesting foods containing their specific allergen. A food can also become contaminated through cross-contact. Cross-contact happens when one food comes into contact with another food and their proteins mix. As a result, each food then contains small amounts of the other food. These amounts are so small that they usually can’t be seen.

How can you determine if you have a food allergy?

First, seek professional advice from a healthcare provider who is certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. Diagnosing food allergies can be complicated as symptoms of food allergies can vary from person to person. Also, a single individual may not always experience the same symptoms during every reaction. Food allergic reactions can affect the skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and/or cardiovascular system, and people develop food allergies at various ages.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology to make a diagnosis, allergists ask detailed questions concerning your history of allergy symptoms. Some of the questions may include:

  • What specific foods and the quantities you consumed?
  • What are the symptoms that you experienced?
  • How long did the symptoms last?

Normally, the allergist will order a blood test (for example, an ImmunoCAP test) and/or perform a skin prick food allergy tests, which indicate whether food-specific IgE antibodies are present in your body. Your allergist will interpret these results and use them to aid in a diagnosis. While both of these diagnostic tools can signal a food allergy, neither is conclusive. A positive test result to a specific food does not always indicate that you will react to that food when it’s eaten. A negative test is more helpful to rule out a food allergy. Neither test, by its level of IgE antibodies or the size of the wheal, necessarily predicts the severity of a food allergic reaction.

Your history with your test results will help your allergist to make a food allergy diagnosis. In some cases, an allergist may wish to conduct a double-blinded, placebo-controlled oral food challenge, which is considered to be the gold standard for food allergy diagnosis. However, this procedure can be costly, time-consuming, and in some cases dangerous, so it is not routinely performed. The oral food challenge consists of you being fed tiny amounts of the suspected allergy-causing food in increasing doses over a period of time under strict supervision by an allergist. Emergency medication and emergency equipment must be on hand during this procedure. The oral food challenge may also may be performed to determine if a patient has outgrown a food allergy.

Once you medically identify your individual concerns, consider seeking the advice of a registered dietitian to understand your individual dietary needs. An allergy-free diet can be challenging and simply eliminating foods based on self-diagnosis or a hunch can leave you frustrated as well as nutrient deficient. Here at Stony Brook University we have a dietitian on campus, Amanda Reichardt, available to meet with students. To schedule an appointment, contact amanda.reichardt@stonybrook.edu.

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