14 Common Food Allergens – Information for Restaurants & Chefs (Poster Included)

14 common food allergens
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It’s no secret that restaurant visitors have become more and more demanding when it comes down to knowing which allergens could be present in their meals.

This shouldn’t be a surprise.

In the last decade, reported food allergy cases have gone up by 50%, and hospitals are seeing a 700% increase in anaphylaxis-related admissions.

As the list of common food allergens expands, restaurant owners and managers find themselves in a sticky spot – handling vast amounts of inventory while keeping tabs on those ingredients that could quite easily turn out to be poison for some customers.

Unfortunately, for allergy-sufferers, eating out is still such a risky proposition that they have to carry their medication with them at all times.

And there’s a lot of them – the global average prevalence of food allergy is estimated to be around 2.5% (195 million people).

At Apicbase, the world’s #1 restaurant management software, we take food allergens seriously, and we want to help you keep your customers safe.

We created this list of 14 top food allergens (with a downloadable poster) so that you and your staff can identify, at a glance, those ingredients that need to be handled with extra care.

Let’s dig in!

What are the common 14 food allergens?

For a visual reminder of the 14 common food allergens, download the 14 Top Food Allergens Poster by clicking on the link below. 

Download Allergen Poster

Print it out and put it up somewhere visible so that your employees are always reminded to pay extra care to dishes containing any of these ingredients.

  • celeryCreated with Sketch. Celery

Celery sticks or leaves a regular ingredient in many broths and stocks. You can expect to find them in popular dishes such as pasta Bolognese, Waldorf salad, venison stew, and various stir-frys, as well as in canned soups and pre-prepared sandwiches.

  • Celeriac (a root variety of celery) can also trigger an allergic reaction, and both should be avoided by people who are allergic to grass pollen.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to celery? Somewhat unlikely. 

Some studies put the prevalence of celery allergy at around 0.4% for France. Global (as well as UK-specific data) is not available.

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Celery Allergy

  • glutenCreated with Sketch. Cereals (gluten)

The main three cereal varieties to keep an eye on are wheat, rye, and barley. They contain high levels of proteins that are the main triggers of an allergic reaction.

This means that all dishes that have regular flour in them are suspect – breads and pastas, desserts and biscuits, couscous, bulgur, seitan, ice cream, salad dressings, and more

  • People can be allergic to wheat, but they can also have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. A gluten-rich diet is not recommended in any of these cases.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to wheat/gluten? Very likely.

A Japanese study from 2012 puts the prevalence of wheat allergy at 0.21%. However, the percentages for gluten-related disorders are higher. With those disorders factored in, cereals affect the largest percentage of the population out of all the top 14 food allergens.

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Cereals Allergy

  • crustaceansCreated with Sketch. Crustaceans

Crab, prawn, lobster, and crayfish are the popular crustacean species that you will find on the menus of most restaurants. Among the 14 common food allergens, crustaceans seem to affect mostly adults, and the reaction can be severe.

  • If anybody in the dining party is allergic to crustaceans, avoid table-side preparation (as you would do in a typical Japanese teppanyaki steakhouse) - the steam itself has been known to trigger a mild allergic reaction.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to crustaceans? Likely. 

According to a Colgrave and Broadbent study from 2019, up to 2% of the adult population may be sensitive to crustaceans. Unfortunately, since this specific allergy is usually researched under the umbrella of seafood allergies, no species-specific studies have been conducted.

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Crustacean Allergy

  • eggsCreated with Sketch. Eggs

When it comes to eggs, most baked goods (breads, cakes, and biscuits) are suspect, especially if prepared with store-bought batter. Also, a lot of other store-bought products contain egg-specific proteins such as albumin, globulin, lecithin, lysozyme, simplesse, and vitellin, which is why you must know the composition of all the ingredients used in your dishes.

  • Some wine-makers use egg whites in a wine clarification process called ‘fining’. While the amount is minuscule and unlikely to cause an allergic reaction, it’s best to mention this to customers if you’re unsure whether egg whites were used in the fining process.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to eggs? Likely. 

The global prevalence of egg allergy is estimated to be between 0.5-2.5% in young children, according to a recent meta-analysis. In adults, it’s 0.2% globally and 0.5% in the UK.

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Egg Allergy

  • fishCreated with Sketch. Fish

Finned fish, such as tuna, halibut, cod, and tilapia, is a major concern for restaurateurs as it’s readily available and affordable (so frequently ordered) but accounts for a large percentage of allergic reactions in adults.

Some unusual ingredients that contain the offending fish protein that triggers the reaction are Worcestershire sauce, some barbecue sauces, Caesar salad, and jellies.

  • Isinglass (fish gelatin) is sometimes used in the fining process of certain wines and ales. Make sure your servers are aware of this when serving someone with an allergy to fish.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to fish? Somewhat unlikely. 

The prevalence of finned fish allergy is higher in countries where fish is consumed regularly. According to some studies, 0.2% of the general population is affected by it.

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Fish Allergy

Download Allergen Poster

Print it out and put it up somewhere visible so that your employees are always reminded to pay extra care to dishes containing any of these ingredients.

  • lupinCreated with Sketch. Lupin

Lupin belongs to the legume family – same as peanuts and soya beans – and it’s eaten as a pickled snack all over the Mediterranean and Latin America. Lupin can also be added to various spreads, such as chocolate and hummus, as well as to baked goods and pasta dishes.

  • Lupin is gluten-free, which makes it a good substitute for gluten-containing flours. It’s also a soya substitute and can be used to make lupin milk.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to lupin? Not likely.

Out of all the 14 common food allergens, lupin is the least researched one. No accurate prevalence data is available but some studies note that cross-sensitivity is high for people with an established peanut allergy (60%).

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Lupin Allergy

  • peanutsCreated with Sketch. Peanuts

Another legume, the humble peanut is probably the most famous of the 14 common food allergens. Often an ingredient in confectionery bars, peanuts can also be found in various Thai food dishes, dried salad dressings, vegetarian meat substitutes, and various Asian condiments and sauces.

  • People with a severe peanut allergy can have a reaction just by touching or smelling peanuts. Share that information with allergic customers if a peanut dish is being brought out to their table.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to peanuts? Likely. 

The worldwide prevalence of peanut allergy has been on the rise – studies put it at 0.5% in certain populations such as the US, Europe, and Australia.

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Peanut Allergy

  • soyCreated with Sketch. Soya Bean

Soya, a product of soya bean, is a common allergen worldwide but its prevalence in the UK is lower than the global average. It is, however, a major point of concern for restaurants serving Asian food – sushi, pad thai, miso soup, and similar.

  • Vegetarian meat alternatives will often contain tofu, which is just another name for soya bean curd. Make sure that your vegetarian menu clearly states which dishes contain tofu.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to soya bean? Somewhat unlikely.

The global average prevalence of soya bean allergy is around 0.27%, but it’s more common in populations that have soya bean-rich diet.

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Soya Bean Allergy

  • milkCreated with Sketch. Cow Milk

Cow’s milk is yet another of the 14 known food allergens that affects children more than adults, and most kids will grow out of their allergy by the time they start school.

Still, restaurateurs should be careful to clearly identify and label all dishes containing cow’s milk – anything served with a white sauce, baked goods and cake mixes, canned and processed meats, salad dressings, or anything containing cheese.

  • All mammalian milk contains similar proteins that can trigger an allergic reaction. Highlight even those dishes in your menu that are made with donkey, horse, or camel milk.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to cow’s milk? Somewhat unlikely. 

The global prevalence of cow’s milk allergy in infants is estimated to be around 2%. There is no conclusive data for the adult population but the general consensus is that less than 0.5% of adults suffer from primary cow’s milk allergy.

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Cow’s Milk Allergy

  • molluscsCreated with Sketch. Molluscs

An allergy to molluscs (clams, oysters, whelks, and other) is often lumped together with crustaceans under an umbrella term of shellfish allergy.

However, people allergic to crustaceans don’t have to be (and are often not) allergic to molluscs, a distinction your servers should be aware of when talking to customers about ingredients.

  • Be aware that there are land-based molluscs as well. Snails (or escargots) belong to the mollusc family and should be treated as a potential food allergen.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to molluscs? Somewhat unlikely.

We do not have the exact data for the global prevalence of molluscs allergies at this time. The prevalence of shellfish allergy is around 3%, according to some studies.

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Mollusc Allergy

  • mustardCreated with Sketch. Mustard

Although fresh mustard seeds, leaves, and flowers are not typically found in very many commercial kitchens, you almost certainly have a couple of mustard relishes and spreads on your shelves.

Keep in mind that mustard is added to many brands of mayonnaise and ketchup, and it’s also in fish paste, tomato sauce, and some processed meats.

  • Around 40% of people allergic to mustard are also sensitised to other members of the same botanical family, such as cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to mustard? Somewhat unlikely.

The prevalence of mustard allergy in adults is around 3% in France, but that data is from a single study. It’s believed that the worldwide prevalence of allergy to mustard is much lower, and it does not appear to be very common in the UK.

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Mustard Allergy

  • nutsCreated with Sketch. Tree Nuts

Tree tree nuts, such as walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans (and many more nuts and drupes) are a potentially bigger problem to restaurateurs than peanuts (which are in fact legumes and not true nuts).

That’s because tree nuts can be found in many different base ingredients and dishes – ice creams, different curries, pesto sauce, salads and salad dressings, vegetarian products, certain oils, and more.

  • Always try to communicate if a dish contains peanuts or lupin to those customers who ask about tree nut allergens. They have a significantly higher chance of being allergic to legumes than people who are not allergic to nuts.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to tree nuts? Somewhat likely.

The worldwide prevalence of tree nut allergy is estimated to between 0.05% and 4.9%, depending on the study you look at. In the UK, almonds, walnuts, and Brazil nuts are the most commonly reported tree nut allergens.

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Tree Nuts Allergy

  • sesameCreated with Sketch. Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds may look innocent but are a source of major concern for people allergic to them. Restaurateurs need to be aware that cross-contamination is a real concern with sesame seeds, especially if bread and pastries are not made in-house.

Exotic ingredients and dishes that may contain copious amounts of sesame seeds include gomashio, tahini, hummus, halvah, and various stir-frys.

  • Sesame seeds have a high electrostatic potential, meaning that they will easily cling to charged surfaces, such as other ingredients and clothing. This increases the possibility of cross-contamination.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to sesame seeds? Likely.

Previously mostly ignored, sesame seeds now rank as the ninth most common food allergen in the United States. Some studies put its prevalence at 0.2%, and it’s on the rise in the UK, as well.

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Sesame Seeds Allergy

  • sulphurCreated with Sketch. Sulphur dioxide (sulphites)

Sulphites are compounds that contain the sulphite ion (for example, sulphur dioxide, potassium bisulphate, sodium sulphite, and sulphuric acid). Some foods contain sulphites naturally but, in most cases, they are added because of their preservative properties.

Sulphites are usually found in processed meats (burgers and sausages), dried fruits and vegetables (such as dried apricots), soft drinks, picked foods, wine, beer, and more.

  • In most cases, sensitivity to sulphites is non-allergic (symptoms include wheezing, coughing, and tight chest) and affects people with asthma. Note that antihistamines will not help in these cases, and those affected should use their inhalers and seek medical assistance.

How likely are you to serve someone allergic to sulphites? Somewhat unlikely.

A true allergy to sulphites is so uncommon that there’s no data on its prevalence. However, around 2% of people are sensitive to sulphites, and that number goes up to 15% for people with asthma or allergic rhinitis.

Additional information: Anaphylaxis Campaign – Sulphur Dioxide (Sulphites) Allergy

Keep Top 14 Food Allergens in Check With This Handy Infographic

Now that you know a bit more about the most common food allergens that your restaurant is (likely) serving, it’s going to be easier for you to identify those dishes that pose a threat to allergy-sufferers.

But, why not make it even easier for your staff?

Download Allergen Poster

Print it out and put it up somewhere visible so that your employees are always reminded to pay extra care to dishes containing any of these ingredients.

You can use this infographic to supplement your allergy-related training materials. Just print it out and put it up somewhere visible so that your employees are always reminded to pay extra care to dishes containing any of these ingredients.

Once you’re ready to centralise your recipes, menus, allergen information, and ordering in one easy-to-use app, make sure to schedule your Apicbase demo

Our team will be happy to explain exactly how Apicbase helps you cut costs and maximize profits!

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Geert Merckaert

Geert Merckaert