What are the big 8 allergens intro image

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What Are The Big 8 Allergens?

There are eight major food allergens known as the “Big 8”, and I am here to tell you what they are, and why you should care. 

Maybe you have a food allergy, perhaps you are studying for your ServSafe food handlers test, or possibly you just have a thirst for knowledge, well you have come to the right place.

Alright, let’s dive deeper into the 8 major food allergens, as well as some of the highlights from the FALCPA.

The Big 8 Allergens List 

The “Big 8 Allergens” are the major food allergens identified in the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA).

The FALCPA does not use the term “Big 8” but identifies these allergens as “major food allergens”.

FDA Major Allergens Infographic listing the FDA major food "big 8" allergens. Milk, tree nuts, eggs, peanuts, fish, wheat, shellfish, soybeans from allergypreventions.com

FDA’s Major Food Allergens (“Big 8”) List: 

  1. Milk
  2. Tree Nuts
  3. Eggs
  4. Peanuts
  5. Fish
  6. Wheat
  7. Crustacean Shellfish
  8. Soybeans

Codex Big 8 Allergens

The Codex Alimentarius Commission is an international food standard organization with a slightly different definition of major allergens, specifically wheat. Instead of listing just wheat, they break it out further into “cereals containing gluten”.

Codex Major Allergens Infographic from Codex Alimentarius Commission "Big 8" food allergens. Cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, soybeans, tree nuts. visual provided by allergypreventions.com

Codex “Big 8” Allergens List: 

  • Cereals containing gluten (i.e. wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, or their hybridized strains)
  • Crustaceans
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Tree Nuts

What Is Spelt?

Spelt is an ancient species of wheat and also goes by the name of “Dinkel wheat”.

Essentially, it’s wheat.

Why Should You Care About These 8 Food Allergens? 

There are many reasons why the government and private organizations focus on specifically these eight food allergens.

Here are the major reasons as well as why you should care.

Food Allergy Prevalence

The U.S. Congress estimated that 2 percent of all adults and 5 percent of children in the United States suffer from food allergies.

Life-Threatening Food Allergy Reactions

Each year roughly 30,000 people need emergency medical treatment for food allergies, and roughly 150 people die from allergic reactions to food.

90% of Food Allergies Are From The Big 8

fact infographic stating: big 8 allergens account for 90% of all food allergies. visual provided by allergypreventions.com

Researchers have found that the big 8 allergens (milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans) account for 90% of all food allergies.

There is No Cure for Food Allergies

There is no cure for food allergies, therefore consumers with food allergies need to avoid those foods. 

What Are The Big 8 Allergens For Babies?

The big 8 allergens are no different for babies. Milk, tree nuts, eggs, peanuts, fish, wheat, crustacean shellfish, and soybeans are considered the most common food allergies regardless of your age.

Are The Big 8 Allergens Just In The U.S.? 

The term “Big 8” is predominantly found in the U.S. and is referencing the eight major food allergens. Those eight allergy-causing foods are recognized globally as the top food allergy culprits.

What Does FALCPA Mean? 

FALCPA is the abbreviation which stands for, Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004.

The FALCPA is an amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which requires food labels to list if their products contain major food allergens.

Highlights of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA)

Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) Infographic with FALCPA most notable highlights. U.S. Congress has found that in a 10-year span (1990-2000) food recalls from unlabeled allergens rose about 245%, FALCPA is concerned about accurate food labels, food manufacturers must add major allergens to food labels, manufacturers cannot hide allergens in "natural flavors", up to 1% of the U.S. population suffers from celiac disease. visual presented by allergypreventions.com

Here are the most notable highlights from the 2004 FALCPA, there are a lot of good movements and discoveries with this Act.

Rise of Food Recalls

Congress has found that in a 10-year span (1990-2000) food recalls due to unlabeled allergens rose roughly 245%.

Concerns About Food Labels

Before the FALCPA, parents were unable to identify allergens by looking at the food labels, because the common or usual name was not used.

Celiac Disease Recognized by Congress

Congress recognized that about 0.5 to 1 percent of the general population suffers from celiac disease, and the recommended treatment for celiac disease is to avoid gluten.

Manufacturers Must Add Major Allergens to Food Labels

The FALCPA was amended to add that the word “contains” be added to the ingredients list label.

Even if there is a major allergen hiding in a scientific name somewhere on the label, the company needs to make it clear that it contains the major allergen (i.e. Contains: Wheat)

Manufacturers Cannot Hide Allergens in “Natural Flavors”

The FALCPA clarifies that if any sort of “natural flavors”, coloring, or additives contain one of the 8 allergens, the manufacturer must identify on the label that the food contains the specific major allergen.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Will Provide Us Data

The Secretary of Health and Human Services shall improve the collection of, and publish as it becomes available, national data on:

  • Prevalence of food allergies
  • Incidence of clinically significant or serious adverse events related to food allergies
  • The use of different modes of treatment for and prevention of allergic responses to foods

Recommends Updates to the USDA Food Code

The FALCPA recommends that the USDA food code be revised to provide guidelines for preparing allergen-free foods in food establishments, restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, schools, and cafeterias.

If you would like to read these highlights and additional information, you can download the full FALCPA pdf from the FDA website here

The FSIS and FDA Both Require Proper Allergen Labels

In addition to the major allergens covered by the FALCPA, The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) both require ALL ingredients to be listed on food labels.

Is There A 9th Big Allergen?

Yes. 23 April 2021, the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act was signed into law. This Act declares sesame is the 9th major food allergen.

Although the FASTER Act has been signed, it is not mandatory to update food labels until 01 January 2023.

Final Thoughts:

This article gives you an understanding of the major food allergens recognized worldwide as problematic to those individuals with food allergies. I am happy to see that there are new laws are being signed into action regarding food allergies.