A new study found about 4% of Americans suffer from food allergies and intolerances, the most common of which are allergies to shellfish such as fish and lobster, according to Health Day.
Other common food allergies include fruits, vegetables, dairy and peanuts, according to researchers. "Recent reports suggest that food allergies are on the rise, with more food allergy-related hospitalizations in the U.S. over the last decade," said lead researcher Dr. Li Zhou.
As many as one in six food allergy sufferers reported at least one incidence of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening swelling of the airways. Food allergies cost the U.S. an estimated $25 billion annually.
Food manufacturers increasingly are responding with better labeling of free-from foods, and are paying greater attention to separation of ingredients and allergen-containing product lines, as well as proper cleaning of equipment. According to Mintel, the number of new products carrying a low/no/reduced allergen claim has increased from 11% in 2010 to 28% in 2014.
Not only are manufacturers providing clearer allergen labeling on existing products, some also are changing their recipes and production practices to ensure they do not contain common allergenic ingredients. General Mills, for example, has revamped its cereal supply chains during the past few years to guarantee that its Cheerios, Lucky Charms and Chex cereals are gluten-free.
While food manufacturers understand consumers with food allergies form a large and growing segment of the population, retailers also can help prevent allergic reactions. It's pretty easy for consumers to avoid shellfish, but more common CPG ingredients such as nuts, wheat and certain fruits are often tricky to identify in products.
Helpful measures could include separating allergy-friendly foods into dedicated aisles, providing clear on-shelf labeling and ensuring that allergenic foods like tree nuts and peanuts are not stored loose among other foods, such as in the produce section. Such practices could help consumers facing allergic reactions while increasing their loyalty to retailers who they perceive are looking out for their well being.