Anyone can develop an allergy to any food at any time, and the reasons for that are more fully explained in the next section, Causes of Allergies. Briefly, though, it is not uncommon for a food that you have enjoyed for years to begin sensitizing you gradually until an immune response develops. As often as not, these gradual onsets of allergies are in response to a food that you eat frequently, causing over-exposure to the allergenic components within it.
Food allergy symptoms range from a tolerable histamine response after ingesting the food to life-threatening anaphylactic shock after merely touching it or raising it to one’s lips. If you have a food allergy, you must become proficient at asking questions and reading food labels, although only the most common eight allergens (the same as previously listed for childhood allergies) are required to be listed on warning labels in the US. If your allergy is severe, you may also be well advised to carry an Epi-pen or wear a medical alert bracelet in case of inadvertent exposure to the allergen.
Let us take milk or dairy allergy as an example of why you must ask questions when dining out or as a guest in someone else’s home. Without reading the labels of every ingredient, you can never know when milk products are present in other foods. Hidden sources of milk include whey and casein (milk proteins), any ingredient spelled with the prefix “lact-” — such as lactose and lactate, candies such as chocolate, nougat and caramel, fat-replacement products, such as Simplesse, protein powders, artificial butter flavor, artificial cheese flavor and hydrosolate. Naturally, baked goods may include milk, as may processed breakfast cereals. Even such unlikely foods as canned tuna may contain milk proteins.
Develop the habit of asking when you dine out whether your food contains butter or was dipped in milk before cooking or has cheese as an ingredient of the topping—anything you can think of with regard to the dish you are ordering—and apply these concepts to any other food allergy you have; it could save your life. It is better to endure the momentary embarrassment of closely questioning the wait staff than to suffer a potentially life-threatening reaction to your food.
Be sure also that the server you ask for information actually asks the chef. Research for this book turned up a story about a man who questioned the server about peanut products in the recipe of the dish he was ordering at a Chinese restaurant. Assured that there were none, the man ordered the dish and immediately began experiencing symptoms of anaphylactic shock. As his airway was shutting down, family called 911 and an ambulance was dispatched, but unfortunately, the man died before treatment was able to help him. As it turned out, unbeknownst to the server, peanut butter had been added to the recipe for egg rolls to enhance the flavor. Since no restaurant or individual can possibly be aware of everything that might cause a reaction, it is up to the individual with a severe allergy to protect his own life by asking the right questions of the right people…i.e., the people who are actually preparing the food.