Are there just 14 top allergens in the UK? Or are there actually 19? For people with allergies, there are six separate cereal containing grains that they could be allergic to.
In America they are now 9 allergens that must be labelled, a move that updated the list to add sesame in January 2023.
For coeliacs they will react to all of the gluten containing grains, whilst some coeliacs are able to tolerate gluten free oats. Oats contain avenin which is a similar protein to gluten; coeliacs can also react to gluten free oats.
The Top 14 allergens in the UK
In the UK we have designated fourteen allergens that food production and food service companies must label on shop bought goods and on meals prepared at restaurants etc.
But it’s not just fourteen different foods that companies must avoid.
- Cereals containing gluten
- Oats (even gluten free oats)
- Sesame seeds
- Sulphur dioxide
Visit the Food.gov website for a detailed explanation of what’s included in the Top 14 allergens in the UK
Check out The cereals containing gluten in the Top 14 allergens here.
I’ve always been confused about why gluten free oats are included in this list of the Top 14.
Gluten free oats are still considered a cereal containing gluten
I’m pretty sure most consumers are confused about this and I wouldn’t be surprised if food manufacturers were too.
Read Why Gluten Free Oats are a cereal containing gluten written by Alex Gazzola, who explains it better than I can. You’ll have to read his blog but this is the introduction:
“The ‘cereals containing gluten’ are defined to be wheat, rye, barley, oats and their hybrids. Some people interpret ‘cereals containing gluten’ in law to mean “cereals when they have gluten in them” — but ‘Cereals containing gluten’ does not mean that. ‘Cereals containing gluten’ means “cereals which are defined to be of a gluten-containing nature”, and the main four are named above.”
The top 9 allergens in the USA
In America their list of allergens is smaller but simpler. They list Wheat as one of their top 9 allergens but not all the other cereals containing gluten. Interestingly and helpfully sesame has just been added to this list, bringing the list up from eight allergens to nine.
- Milk: Milk accounts for the highest occurrence of food allergy in infancy but is outgrown in up to 90 percent of cases by age 6, according to FARRP.
- Eggs: Respiratory, digestive system, and anaphylactic reactions after eating egg proteins have been reported, but mostly in children under age 6. Most of the problematic proteins are in the egg white.
- Fish: Common symptoms of fish allergy include skin and gastrointestinal reactions. The major fish allergen, parvalbumin, cannot be neutralized by heating.
- Crustacean Shellfish: Allergy to crustacean shellfish (like shrimp, and lobster) and to molluscan shellfish seems mostly to affect older children and adults. Gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms are typical.
- Tree Nuts: People allergic to tree nuts must strictly avoid nuts because even a very small amount can trigger severe allergic reactions. Many different types of tree nut allergens trigger allergies.
- Peanuts: Peanut allergies are the most common food allergies in children (up to 2.5% of children have them). Peanuts are particularly dangerous for allergic individuals due to the low amount needed to provoke a reaction and the high frequency of fatal reactions.
- Wheat: Wheat and other cereals can cause allergic reactions, mostly in infants, but usually resolve within their first few years. Individuals who have celiac disease are gut-sensitive to gluten.
- Soybean: Allergic consumers find soybean difficult to avoid because, like glutenous flours, it is used extensively in processed foods.
- Sesame: Approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. are allergic to sesame—even one or two sesame seeds can cause a reaction.
Interestingly they also put Crustaceans and Mulluscs together under one category, something Alex suggests as a way of simplifying the Top 14 listing we have in the UK. We don’t want to make even longer!
So how is coeliac disease included in the UK Food Allergen regulations? The FDA handles gluten free claims separately and included the cereals containing gluten listed above for the UK. Read How does the FDA handle gluten free?
Check out The Top 9 allergens in America for the full details
Top 10 allergens in Australia
In Australia they have a different number of allergens again, just ten for them but they also have one category for shellfish and molluscs. This does make sense to me, having these together because they are very similar. I don’t if people can be allergic to shellfish but happily eat molluscs? I guess they can, but it seems to help by putting them together.
- Tree nuts, or simply ‘nuts’, are one of the most common food allergies worldwide. Tree nuts include almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, chestnuts and walnuts.
- Shellfish – Shellfish refers to aquatic shelled animals — especially those that are edible — like molluscs (e.g. oysters, abalone, cockles, octopus, squid) and crustaceans (e.g. lobster, crab, crayfish, prawns, shrimp)
- Sesame seeds
The Food Safety organisation in Australia lists it’s Top 10 Food Allergens here.
Food Allergen Regulations compared
|Cereals containing gluten
Interestingly we have mustard, celery and sulphur dioxide in the European Food Allergen list, which don’t feature in the US or Australia. This is because the levels of people with these allergies are much higher in Europe.
How can we simplify confusion over these gluten free oats?
In this instance I think that America and Australia have a simpler food allergen list, with gluten free (less than or equal to 20 ppm of gluten) under separate gluten free labelling regulations. Both things need to be labelled but they are quite different and the regulations are protecting different communities. Those with allergies and those with coeliac disease. The two groups have a lot in common but listing the Top 14, being the top most allergenic, makes sense to me that it’s wheat as that is a far more common allergen than rye, barley and oats.
Whether that solves the oat issue I’m not sure. Oats are oats and gluten free oats are still oats… gluten containing grains. Does this all make sense now?
I’d love to hear your views on this! How can we make it all simpler? Do you know any food manufacturers who are gluten free but label their oats in bold as an allergen? so confusing
You may also be interested in reading:
- Is gluten an allergen and do oats contain gluten?
- Wheat, dairy and nut free flapjack
- Two thirds of Brits don’t know what gluten is!