The Big 8 Food Allergens You Should Know

According to Food Allergy Research & Education, while more than 170 foods have been identified to produce allergic responses, the majority of significant food allergy reactions in the U.S. are caused by eight main food allergens known as the Big 8.

Food Allergens
The Big 8 Food Allergens

Milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans are the eight items in the Big 8 list. According to the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP) at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, these foods are responsible for nearly 90% of all product allergies in the U.S., thus it’s critical to learn more about these allergens and correctly identify them on food labels.

The Big 8 Food Allergens include:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Crustacean Shellfish
  • Tree Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Soybean


The most common cause of food allergies in infants is milk. According to FARRP, reported incidence in early infancy varies from 2% to 6% but is outgrown in up to 90% of cases by age 6.

While a milk intolerance may be caused by a genetically set inability to digest the milk sugar lactose, milk allergies are often linked to an immunological response to a particular protein. Caseins and the whey proteins alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin are among the most prevalent and dangerous milk allergies.

Because these proteins are also found in milk from other mammalian species, efforts by allergic consumers to switch from cows’ milk to milk from other animals often fail.


Children are also more susceptible to egg allergy. But by age 6, it is often outgrown, much like cow’s milk.

An allergic response to hens’ eggs typically presents as digestive system symptoms. After consuming egg proteins, anaphylactic and respiratory responses have also been documented. The egg white contains the majority of the proteins implicated in egg allergy, but the proteins in the yolk seem to seldom cause responses.

People often respond to eggs from other species, such as geese and ducks, since the egg proteins in those eggs are comparable to those in eggs from other birds. Consuming bird meat, however, seldom results in an allergic response.


Fish allergy is more common in areas where fish intake is high. Immediately upon ingestion, common symptoms include cutaneous and gastrointestinal responses, although severe systemic reactions are also possible.

Despite the wide variety of fish species, most people who have an allergic response to one tend to also be sensitive to others. Even if the fish is completely cooked, the fish parasite Anisakis simplex may cause allergic responses after consumption.

For individuals who are sensitive, it is essential to avoid dishes containing fish since the main allergen in fish, parvalbumin, keeps its allergenicity even after cooking.

Food Allergens
Food Allergens

Crustacean Shellfish

Older children and adults seem to be more susceptible to allergies to crustacean shellfish (such shrimp, crab, and lobster), particularly in areas where consumption is high.

The symptoms of allergies may vary from minor localized responses in the mouth to serious reactions that can be fatal. It’s possible to have respiratory and digestive issues.

Due to the primary shellfish allergen tropomyosin, those who are allergic to crustaceans may also react to molluscan shellfish and edible land snails.

Avoiding all types of shellfish is crucial since they keep their allergenic potential even after cooking.

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Tree Nuts

In terms of the quantity needed to trigger an allergic reaction and the intensity of responses, nuts are among the foods with the highest allergenic potential. About 1.1% of the general population in the U.S. is thought to be allergic to nuts.

The proteins that store seeds, the proteins involved in plant defense, and profilins are only a few of the allergens that cause nut allergies. Strict avoidance is essential since even little quantities of the food might cause adverse effects.


According to “The Economic Impact of Peanut Allergies” by H. Eric Cannon, PharmD, FAMCP, the prevalence of peanut allergies, the most frequent food allergy in children, has increased by three times in the previous 20 years. Today, peanut allergies are estimated to affect up to 2.5% of children.

The majority of food allergy-related fatalities in children are caused by peanut allergies. Peanuts are among the foods with the highest allergenic potential due to their low triggering dosage and high incidence of deadly responses.

The signs of a peanut allergy may vary from very minor local reactions to potentially fatal reactions that need immediate medical attention.


Most often occurring in babies, allergic responses to wheat and other grains often subside during the first few years of life.

Meanwhile, gluten, a protein component present in wheat and closely related grains including barley, rye, and oats, causes a specific response known as celiac disease. Sensitive people’s guts begin to lose their capacity to absorb nutrition. Avoidance is a significant difficulty for customers who are allergic because to the widespread usage of gluten-containing flours in processed meals.


Even though soybeans are a legume, peanut allergy is significantly more common. However, symptoms of a soybean allergy are similar to those of a peanut allergy and may be lethal or quite minor.

According to study from the University of Manchester, there are considerable regional variances in the reported reactivity to the molecular allergens of soybean, with distinct allergens being present in Japan compared to North America or Europe. It is unclear what causes these disparities, but they may have something to do with how people consume food or with things like allergies to certain tree pollens, like birch.

Due to its widespread usage in processed meals, soy is another item that allergic consumers may find challenging to avoid.

Labeling of Allergens

According to the Product Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, any processed food must list the Big 8 allergens. Since some of these allergens are often utilized in processed goods and may be “hidden,” allergic customers may unintentionally ingest issue foods.

Food products that lack the necessary allergy information on their labels are misbranded and subject to FDA seizure. However, businesses often voluntarily remove these food items off the market.

Allergens accounted for 35.5% of FDA and USDA food recalls in the third quarter of 2019 and 37.5% of USDA recalls, respectively, according to Stericycle’s Recall Index Q3 2019.

According to FDA recall statistics, labeling mistakes are most often caused by the use of the incorrect label. This might occur if identical goods made with different allergen components are packaged similarly and marketed.

Recalls due to food allergens may be decreased by raising industry knowledge and making easy adjustments to how packages, labels, and ingredients are handled and recorded inside of manufacturing facilities.

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