Living with a food allergy is already hard enough, but it gets even harder considering allergens can be hiding in other ingredients or foods.
As those working in the food industry, it is our responsibility to protect those suffering with a food allergy, and one concept vital to that is recognizing hidden allergens.
Here, we will be going over the importance of checking the label and knowing what goes into dishes, as well as go over specific foods to watch out for.
Checking the Label
The most important thing to do when trying to avoid an allergen is to check the label carefully. The USDA requires that the 8 major food allergens be listed in plain English on the label.
Labels will also mention if there could be traces of a certain allergen or if it was produced at the same facility as one.
Allergens can also go by different names, making it even harder for those suffering with food allergies. It is important to be familiar with some of the common names for major food allergens.
Get Familiar with Your Menu
Know what goes into the dishes on your menu, so that if a customer asks, you can give them an educated answer. At least be aware if one of the 9 main allergens is present.
If you are unsure, ask someone else, even if you don’t think that allergen is present. It is better to be safe than sorry. Remember, it is your responsibility to keep the people you are serving safe.
Common Sources of Hidden Allergens
Be sure to pay extra attention to the following foods, as they commonly contain hidden allergens.
Peanut allergies are a severe allergy for many people. Lots of Asian cuisines will include peanuts in sauces. Peanuts can also be hiding in pastries and chocolates.
Other Names for Peanuts
- Ground nuts
- Beer nuts
- Monkey nuts
- Arachis oil
There are a variety of different tree nuts to watch out for, such as walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, chestnuts, pistachios, and cashews, just to name a few.
Peanuts are a legume, so those with a tree nut allergy are typically not allergic to peanuts. However, foods with peanuts could contain traces of tree nuts, so be aware of that.
Nuts can be hidden in Indian curry pastes, Thai sauces, and pesto. Cooking oils may also contain tree nuts. Watch out for nut butters as well.
Eggs can be found in many different pastries, but also be aware that pastry glazes may also contain eggs.
Other Names for Eggs
Wheat is more obviously in bread, pastries, pizza bases, and pasta, but it can also be present in stock cubes and Worcestershire sauce.
When considering wheat allergies, it is important to distinguish the difference between a wheat allergy and gluten sensitivity. Wheat allergies is a reaction to wheat protein, and gluten is a specific protein in wheat, barley, and rye.
Fish frequently hide in sauces, such as Worcestershire sauce and Caesar salad dressing. Thai and other Asian cuisines will frequently include fish sauce in their dishes. Fish can also appear in fried rice.
Like fish, shellfish can be hidden in fried rice and sauces.
A shellfish allergy is different than a fish allergy, but fish from a seafood restaurant may contain traces of shellfish due to cross-contact, and vice versa. However, people with fish or shellfish allergies will likely avoid seafood altogether.
Soy can appear in many different cooking oils. There can also be dishes with soy sauce hidden in it, so make sure you are familiar with what is going into any given dish.
Many vegetarian and vegan protein substitutes contain soy. Textured vegetable protein (TVP) contains soy, so those with a soy allergy should avoid this.
Other Names for Soy
- Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
Butter or cream can be hidden in many different foods. Watch out for sauces, dips, baked goods, battered or fried foods, soups, and potato dishes
Other Names for Milk
- Casein (hydrolysate)
- Lactoalbumin (phosphate)
- Lacto Globulin
To go more in depth on hidden allergens and how to prevent allergic reactions, take a look at our Allergy Awareness training.