HomeFree, maker of organic, allergen-free, whole grain cookies based in Windham, NH, released the results of a nationwide survey revealing that America is confused about the difference between Celiac disease and food allergies. Whereas Celiac disease is a lifelong, digestive disorder that creates an immune-mediated toxic reaction to gluten and causes damage to the small intestine preventing proper nutrient absorption, food allergies can cause acute, immediate medical emergencies possibly resulting in anaphylaxis. This difference is key when stocking products and selling foods to consumers with possible food sensitivities.
“We commissioned this survey out of concern for what appeared to be widespread confusion between food allergies and Celiac disease, given the potentially serious health implications of such confusion,” said Jill Robbins, president and founder of HomeFree in a press release. “People want to be able to serve food safely to other people.”
The survey of 1,013 adults, conducted by Harris Interactive by telephone January 28–31, 2010, found that three out of four Americans can correctly identify at least one food allergen from a list of foods including cinnamon, dairy, gluten, bananas, nuts, wheat and eggs. But just three percent of Americans could correctly identify all four of the listed common food allergens (nuts, dairy, eggs and wheat) without making any incorrect identification. Interestingly, 19% correctly identified all the listed allergens but also incorrectly included gluten as one of the allergens.
The survey also revealed how Americans interpret the urgency of food allergic reactions in comparison with gluten sensitivity reactions. It found that 54% of Americans correctly believe that when someone with a wheat allergy eats wheat, it could be an immediate life-threatening emergency, while about the same number (57%) incorrectly believes it could be an immediate life-threatening emergency when someone with Celiac disease eats gluten.
Because of the critical need for immediate treatment with the onset of food allergy reactions, and not for accidental ingestion of gluten, the results indicate a need for further education about allergies and food sensitivities in general.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, June 2010