Prairie Fare: Think you know your food allergens? Give this quiz a try

Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist
North Dakota State University Extension
Julie Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension food and nutrition specialist.

In the past couple weeks, I interacted with individuals who have a nut allergy, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, soy allergy or milk allergy.

In most cases, I knew about the allergies and intolerance ahead of time. However, in one case I did not. Fortunately, she was an adult well aware of what ingredients to avoid in our taste tests.

For children, detecting food allergies can be challenging and often requires medical testing.

Sometimes allergy symptoms can be fairly mild. People with certain types of allergies may have a rash, itchy mouth or itchy ears, nasal congestion, sneezing or an odd taste in their mouths.

For example, you may think children have an ear infection or cold when they pull on their ears, have a runny nose or sneeze. In some cases, these could be symptoms of mild food allergies.

For others, allergic symptoms can be severe and even life-threatening. An allergic response activates our immune system. Severe symptoms include shortness of breath, swelling of the tongue, chest pain and/or lack of consciousness.

Anaphylaxis is the worst-case scenario. Signs of anaphylaxis may include a tightening of airways, swollen throat, difficulty breathing, rapid pulse and loss of consciousness. Without prompt emergency treatment, anaphylaxis could be fatal. An epinephrine (adrenaline) auto-injector can be a life-saving medical intervention.

Do you know anyone who is allergic to certain foods? Most of us do.

In fact, 32 million Americans have food allergies according to some researchers. That is about one in 10 adults and one in 13 children.

Food packages are labeled so you know which allergens are present and you can avoid consuming the food. Many restaurants also indicate which recipes contain allergens.

If you are preparing food for someone with food allergies, you need to avoid “cross contamination” with the allergenic substance from one food or piece of equipment to another.

Whether or not you have any allergies to foods, knowing how to recognize food allergies and how to plan for family or friends is critical.

Food allergens quiz

Try these questions about food allergens and intolerances. The answers follow.

1. Lactose intolerance is not due to an allergic reaction. What food component within milk is difficult for people with lactose intolerance to digest?

  • a. Protein.
  • b. Carbohydrate.
  • c. Fat.
  • d. Mineral.

2. Where would you find information about food allergies within a food product?

  • a. Within or after the ingredient list.
  • b. Front of food package.
  • c. On the Nutrition Facts label.
  • d. Within the recipe suggestions on package.

3. Which is/are true of package statements that say “may contain (allergen)”? The package also may state “processed in a facility that also uses nuts.”

  • a. These are required by law.
  • b. These are not required by law.
  • c. These may be due to cross-contamination within a food processing plant.
  • d. These statements may be used as a substitute for good manufacturing processes.

4. How many foods have been identified to cause food allergies in sensitive individuals, according to the Food and Drug Administration?

  • a. 16
  • b. 96
  • c. 160
  • d. 250

5. Name the eight allergens currently required on food labels.

6. Bonus question: In January 2023, a new allergen will be added to food labels that contain this ingredient. What is the allergen?

The soy-based tofu in this spinach artichoke dip is rich in protein.

Have you ever tried tofu? Tofu is a protein-rich, soy-based food available in several consistencies from soft (silken) to extra firm.

This dip was the hit of a hands-on food preparation class. The recipe from the North Dakota Soybean Council contains soy, of course, and milk allergens. We used lower-fat ingredients to reduce calories, but you can swap in the full-fat ingredients.

Soy and Spinach Artichoke Dip

  • 1 pound silken tofu, crumbled
  • 1 pound low-fat cream cheese, cubed
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 pound frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained
  • 1 15-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup green onions, chopped
  • Parmesan cheese, grated, for garnish (optional)

Using a mixer, beat tofu until smooth. Mix in cream cheese, mayonnaise and pepper in a mixer bowl. Fold in spinach, artichokes and green onions. Spread mixture evenly in a 9- by 13-inch pan. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top, if desired. Bake at 350 F for 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbly and browned on top. Serve with tortilla chips or crackers.

Makes 25 servings. Each serving has 70 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, 6 grams of carbohydrate, 1 gram of fiber and 270 milligrams of sodium.

Answer key

How did you do on the food allergens quiz?  Here are the answers: 

1. b. People with lactose intolerance have difficulty digesting milk sugar or lactose, which is a carbohydrate.

2. a. Look for “Contains (allergen)” right after the ingredient list or in parentheses after the food within the ingredient list. An example is “Lecithin (soy).”

3. b, c. “May contain” statements are not required. Sometimes the same equipment is used within food manufacturing plants for different foods and may result in cross-contamination.

4. c. 160 foods have been identified as allergenic.

5. Eight allergens: Milk, tree nuts, eggs, peanuts, fish, wheat, shellfish and soybeans are the eight allergens currently required on food labels.

6. Answer: Sesame will be required to be listed on food labels beginning in January 2023.

For more information, search online for “NDSU Extension Allergens” to find resources on several of the major allergens. The handouts include “swaps” and recipes.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.