Understanding the Top Eight Allergens

glass of milk

Written by Glen Call

October 14, 2020

Food allergies are commonplace in many households in the US. In fact, 11% of the population suffers from food allergies of some type. With so many people affected by food allergies, the USDA created labeling requirements to protect consumers.  While there are over 160 foods that cause allergies, 90% of people only deal with the eight most common. As a food manufacturer, understanding the top eight allergens is important to keep consumers safe and cater to your target market. Here’s a summary of the top eight allergens to plan for:


At the top of the list of food allergens is milk. It’s estimated that 2-3% of children are allergic to milk, though most grow out of that allergy by the time they reach adulthood. While some consumers are only allergic to cow’s milk, replacing with other animal milk can still cause the body to react in the same way. For this reason, most food manufacturers avoid substituting one milk for another.

Remember that milk may be present in other ingredients like:

  • butter
  • cheese
  • cream
  • ice cream
  • margarine
  • milk powder
  • whey
  • yogurt


Eggs come second on our list of allergens. Experts say that 2% of children suffer from an egg allergy, but most of them will grow out of it by the time they reach age 17. Egg allergies typically come from the protein contained in egg whites. Look for egg replacements for your baking goods if you’re concerned about alienating those with egg allergies.

Tree nuts

Many people are allergic to nuts that grow on trees. This allergy affects 0.5-1% of the population of the United States. This allergy is often life-threatening to those that suffer from it. Besides the nut itself, nut butters and nut oils are problematic.

These are the nuts that you need to worry about for those with tree nut allergies:

  • almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • cashews
  • chestnuts
  • filberts/hazelnuts
  • hickory nuts
  • macadamia nuts
  • pecans
  • pine nuts
  • pistachios
  • walnuts


The most common nut found in foods is also the most problematic. Peanuts cause allergic reactions in 0.6% of the US population and 1-3% of the Western world. Peanuts can cause a severe reaction in some people. The danger is so severe that it often requires peanut-free classrooms or peanut-less planes to protect those with the allergy.

Those with peanut allergies also can’t tolerate peanut butter or peanut oil. Try sunflower butter if you’re looking for a replacement for peanut butter.


Those who are allergic to shellfish constitute about 7.2M Americans or 2-3% of the US population. Oddly enough, shellfish allergies often manifest later in adulthood. This is the case in about 60% of those with the allergy.

The list of shellfish that cause allergies is a long one. It includes:

  • abalone
  • barnacle
  • clams
  • cockle
  • crab
  • crayfish
  • cuttlefish
  • krill
  • limpet
  • lobster
  • mussels
  • octopus
  • oysters
  • periwinkle
  • prawns
  • scallops
  • sea cucumber
  • sea urchin
  • shrimp
  • snails
  • squid
  • whelk


Wheat is another of the most common allergens, with 0.7- 1% of the population allergic to it. Wheat allergies often manifest in childhood, but many children outgrow it by age 10. A wheat allergy shouldn’t be confused with celiac disease, which is a sensitivity to the gluten found in wheat. Many people with wheat allergies can eat gluten from other grains such as rye or barley.


Soy allergies affect about 0.4% of children, but 70% of those grow out of it by the time they reach adulthood. Soy shows up in many types of foods, whether as soy milk, soy sauce, or soybean oil. 


Fish rounds out our top allergen list as one of the most common, with it affecting about 2% of US adults. Like shellfish, this allergy often manifests itself later in life. If you have an allergy to fish, it doesn’t mean you will have an allergy to shellfish and vice versa. In addition, those with an allergy to one fish may not be allergic to all fish. Those with fish allergies can work with an allergist to identify what fish they are allergic to.

Plan for allergens

As a food producer, it’s important to understand the dangers that allergens present to your potential market. By knowing the risks to potential customers or by eliminating allergens and using a dedicated allergen-free facility, you can build a customer base that is right for your product and experience the growth you want.

Learn More About How We Can Help you Create a Allergen Free Product Today

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