Food Allergens in Unexpected Places Part II

Jamie Martin Health Guide
  • In my previous post, I wrote about the dangers of food allergens present in health and beauty related products.  Unexpected food allergens can also lurk in seemingly straightforward food products because of they way they are processed. They may also be hard to spot because of misleading labels.


    "Non-Dairy" Dairy Foods

    My first instance with this problem was when I gave my daughter, who has a milk allergy, pre-packaged "non-dairy" whipped topping.  I took the label at face value, not realizing that it contained casein, which is milk protein.  I was surprised that a company would make the claim that something was free of dairy, when it clearly had a dairy derivative in it.  Thanks to better awareness among the food processing community, one of the major national brands of whipped topping has stopped using the non-dairy statement on their packaging and in advertising.   However, I've noticed that a couple of store brands still make the claim of "non-dairy" on their packaging, so be careful.

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    Processed Meat

    Other products you should definitely be concerned about are processed meats, whether it be hot dogs, sausage or deli meats, because they often contain dairy or wheat flour as a binder.  Canned broths, stocks, beans in chili sauce, or soy sauce may also contain wheat as a thickening agent.


    Extracts or Flavorings

    Flavored extracts, such as vanilla extract, should be a concern if you have a wheat or corn allergy because the alcohol that is used to make the extract is usually wheat or corn based alcohol. 


    Omega-3 Enriched Foods

    A big trend in the food business right now is to add supplemental vitamins and nutrients to processed foods, particularly Omega-3 fatty acids because they are heart healthy.  However, if you have fish allergies, you should be aware that Omega-3 supplements, whether they be in pill or food form, are largely derived from salmon.  You can e-mail the manufacturer to determine what the Omega-3 is derived from, or just choose the brand that doesn't have it added.


    Baking products

    Even though corn isn't considered one of the top eight allergens, it's still very high in numbers.  As a result, I want to take the opportunity to warn the corn allergic about the use of confectioner's sugar and some baking powders.  Corn starch is used as an anti-caking agent in most brands of these two products so please check the ingredient list.  


    I know from my own experience that we tend to underestimate what may be hiding in our food.  Things that may seem like a single ingredient product turn out to have multiple ingredients derived from many sources and, thus, they may contain hidden allergens. New laws in this country are requiring food makers to tell you, in plain English, if one of the eight major food allergens is or may be present in their product, but don't solely rely on that. Our only defense is to vigilantly check the ingredient label on all food products, and try to avoid over-processed foods as much as possible.


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    Test yourself on finding hidden food allergens with our quiz


    Learn about reading food labels to find hidden food allergens

Published On: June 18, 2008