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Some people suffer reactions each time they eat a particular food or ingredient and need to avoid all sources of that food in their diet. There are two main types of reactions to foods – food allergy, which tends to be more severe and can result in anaphylactic shock, and food intolerance, where symptoms range from mild reactions to those that are more severe.
Food allergy is one type of adverse reaction to food. It involves the immune system over reacting to a substance that is normally not harmful to the majority of people. Food allergy only affects about 2% of the population, and those who have food allergies need to take great care when choosing foods.
Food intolerance is where the body shows an adverse reaction to a particular food but it does not involve the immune system. One of the more common intolerances is Coeliac Disease where sufferers can’t tolerate gluten found in wheat, rye, oats and barley. Intolerance to lactose found in milk (milk sugar) is also another common type.
The incidence of food allergy and intolerance in children is higher than in adults – up to around 5 or 6 in every 100 children have allergic reactions to food. Thankfully many children grow out of allergies by the time they go to school, but some do persist.
Some adverse reactions to food are not intolerances at all but could be chemical type reactions (a food may contain an element your body decides not to like) or microbiological infections (food poisoning).
A surprisingly small number of foods cause the majority of cases in food reactions – milk, egg, wheat, soya, peanuts, nuts, fish and shellfish. There are cases where people show reactions to other foods but these are less common.
Medical advice is important, if you think you have a food allergy or intolerance, then it's important to get a medical diagnosis. Don't cut food groups out of your diet without medical advice, because you could miss out on important nutrients.
Common symptoms of allergies include itching, rashes, wheezing, runny nose and eyes, sneezing and vomiting or diarrhoea each time you eat the food or ingredient. The reactions to foods can vary and be more or less severe on different occasions. Symptoms can appear within minutes or up to several hours after a food or drink containing the offending food has been consumed. Generally not all these symptoms will appear at one time.
In some cases allergic reactions can be more severe, with significant swelling around the mouth and difficulty breathing. This is also known as anaphylactic shock and affects only a small number of people. This is a severe form of food allergy. Those who suffer anaphylactic shock need special assistance from their doctor to ensure they can prepare themselves for the event of this happening again.
Allergens must be labelled on foods, even if they are present in very small quantities as this is required by Law. The best place to look for this information is on the ingredients list on the back of pre–packed foods. Some packaging may also highlight foods that are free from ingredients such as milk, egg or soya.
The 14 foods which must now be named as ingredients if they are present in pre–packed foods are:
Some food labels say 'may contain nuts' or 'may contain seeds'. This means that even though nuts or seeds aren't deliberately included in the food, the manufacturer can't guarantee that the product doesn't contain small amounts of them if the foods are used elsewhere in their food production. If you have a nut or seed allergy you should avoid these food products.
We publish a range of AVOIDANCE lists which show our products that are suitable for inclusion in diets that may be restricted for medical or other reasons.
These can be downloaded from this website or can be obtained in print from the consumer services team on Tel 0800 000 030 (UK) or 00800 6378 5385 (ROI). Our lines are open Monday to Friday from 9am–5pm. Even though we are sure that it is safe to download files from our site, we always recommend that you have a virus checker on your computer.
The lists are correct at the date shown and will be updated regularly. However, our policy of continuous product improvement may result in a change so we recommend that you always check the label.
The following lists are available: