It is difficult to pin down an accurate number of people who get really sick because of food allergies or food poisoning.
The Centers for Disease Control says, for example, in an outbreak of E. coli or salmonella, like the episode with peanuts earlier this year or the tainted cookie dough six weeks ago, for every case that was reported to health authorities, an estimated five or six never made the tally.
The government’s estimate of those with severe food allergies — 11 million — is believed to be a bit more accurate, but still on the low side.
Severe anaphylaxis — a rapid constriction of the airway -—triggered by reactions to foods is responsible for 150 deaths and more than 30,000 emergency room visits in the United States per year.
I try to keep a list of the allergies of the people I invite to dinner because I learned the hard way that it can take just the tiniest amounts of allergens to cause a life-threatening reaction.
My concern for my guests came from watching a friend laying on my kitchen floor in D.C., gasping for breath, waiting for the ambulance. This after sampling a small taste of shrimp chowder. He didn’t know he was allergic to shellfish.
Food allergy has no current treatments or therapies, and patients are left with the only options of strictly avoiding certain foods or carrying injectable epinephrine if they do have a reaction.
The Environmental Protection Agency says it’s concerned because the number of allergy-related incidences in the U.S. has doubled in recent years.
The agency had given small grants to the University of Chicago and Northwestern to investigate how allergic reactions to food are initiated.
The feds want the researchers to assess whether pesticides produced in genetically engineered seeds and plants can trigger food allergies. Also, to determine why specific antibodies start reacting to foods and allergens when they are eaten.
“There is a shortage of information on how food allergies develop, what causes the allergic reaction, and how to prevent them,” said Lek Kadeli, of EPA’s Office of Research and Development.
He adds: “This study will bring us closer to identifying key immune factors that lead to food allergies, which affect approximately 3 million children in the United States.”
The agency says it hopes the research will help predict the potential for people to develop allergies to new genetically engineered foods.
The finding could lead to more protective testing and regulations, EPA says.
Here is a link to more information on the study.