Can You Correctly Guess Which Are the Eight Major Food Allergens?

“A s a parent of multiple children with non-peanut life-threatening food allergies, it is upsetting that so much of the focus remains on peanuts”, Frank Jacobson — who is a reader of The Gateposted in response to this article pertaining to whether or not the food allergy policy of American Airlines is considered discriminatory. “There are 8 major allergens and plenty of others outside of those top 8, that can be equally dangerous. For some reason, the focus is too often on peanuts.”

Can You Correctly Guess Which Are the Eight Major Food Allergens?

When I read that comment, I wondered what exactly were the eight major allergens.

Although greater than “160 foods can cause allergic reactions in people with food allergies, the law identifies the eight most common allergenic foods”, according to this article from the Food and Drug Administration of the United States. “These foods account for 90 percent of food allergic reactions, and are the food sources from which many other ingredients are derived.”

The following eight foods — as well as any ingredient which contains protein derived from one or more of them — are officially designated as major food allergens by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004:

  1. Milk
  2. Eggs
  3. Fish — such as bass, flounder and cod as three of many examples
  4. Crustacean shellfish — such as crab, lobster and shrimp as three of many examples
  5. Tree nuts — such as almonds, walnuts and pecans as three of many examples
  6. Peanuts
  7. Wheat
  8. Soybeans

Allergic to Dairy Food Products

One might think that milk could be primarily used as a beverage by itself or as an added ingredient to a hot beverage such as coffee while aboard an airplane…

…but milk is indeed the source of most dairy products — more products than you might think. “One of my children has a severe dairy allergy”, according to Frank Jacobson. “The amount of dairy that is found out there is shocking. Everybody on the plane is drinking coffee, spilling their cream all over the place, and of course the coffee itself, mixed with cream is always spilling. Then we have powdered cheese. This cheese found on Doritos, Pirate Booty (and other cheese popcorn), and Cheez-It crackers is truly horrifying. The powder gets on the eater’s hands and then they touch EVERYTHING. This is besides the fact that the powder gets in the air just from opening the bag and grabbing the stuff.”


Let me offer at least one possible answer to Frank Jacobson as to why the focus is all too often on peanuts when aboard airplanes: that is because on many domestic flights operating within the United States, the snack is usually some variant of pretzels, cookies or — well — peanuts.

Interestingly, I do not typically hear complaints pertaining to pretzels and cookies from people who suffer from allergies related to wheat food products. That, of course, does not negate or diminish in any way the potential seriousness to a person who suffers from wheat food allergies; and I certainly would like to hear the point of view from readers who suffer from allergies to food products made from wheat — or any other allergens, for that matter.

The cookies could contain traces of egg, I suppose. Soybeans might be in some snacks. Crustacean shellfish is usually only present in meals. Tree nuts might be used in baked goods such as brownies or other types of desserts. Perhaps their relative scarcity may indeed be a reason why people with peanut allergies might be more vocal than people who suffer from the other seven major food allergies…

…but the difficulty increases significantly by the false perception that peanuts are somehow in their own special category with regard to allergens. “They are not”, according to Frank Jacobson. “There are no allergens that are more important that any others. There are no allergens that are more deadly than any others. If we are going to make demands, we need to ensure that we accommodate the full breadth of affected people.”

Could that statement be extended when pertaining to people who are allergic to animals when a fellow passenger brings a service dog or emotional support animal aboard an airplane?

Anyway, I am not ashamed to admit that I could not correctly guess which are the eight major food allergens; and indeed, I learned something new.

Thank you for the information, Frank Jacobson.

How many of the eight major food allergens can you identify in the airline meal shown in the photograph at the top of this article — and are you sure you can identify all of them? Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

4 thoughts on “Can You Correctly Guess Which Are the Eight Major Food Allergens?”

  1. Amy says:

    As much as I wish to obtain the honor, I don’t think I will ever fly First Class domestically or internationally. But when you make mention to tree nuts possibly being present in a baked good, do you forget about your predeparture dish of warmed nuts served with champagne? And when looking at the menus, see how often nuts are present in appetizers, salads, entrees and dessert. This isn’t limited to the First Class cabin either. I recently saw an economy menu with pesto chicken, but unlike on the ground, airlines are not required to publish their ingredient list, leaving a nut sufferer like myself with no choice but to skip that dish. Or a chocolate cake for dessert, topped with a walnut, which makes the treat inedible for me. I’m not saying remove all nuts from all flights – that isn’t fair to anyone. My personal policy is that as long as I’m not ingesting the nut, I’m OK. My seatmate can enjoy pad Thai to his hearts content. I’m just advocating for more transparency, especially from the catering department.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      The tree nuts possibly being present in a baked good is simply one of numerous examples, Amy. If I listed everything, the article would be incredibly lengthy.

      Your advocating for more transparency of what ingredients are included in a meal served aboard an airplane to help people with food allergies is not unreasonable, in my opinion.

      I also wonder if an airline should give passengers an option to voluntarily submit their dietary concerns when booking a ticket in order to avoid an encounter with dangerous allergens…

      1. Amy says:

        Brian, Thank you for taking the time to reply! I truly appreciate it. I do understand the limit on how much info a blog can have, and that your reference to a baked good is only an example.
        Regarding passengers giving food allergy information before a flight, I sadly cannot see that happening anytime soon. From the videos I have seen of behind the scenes action at airline catering facilities, offering more than the standard meals and standard special meals would be so costly that it is simply prohibitive. However, a label stating what ingredients are in a meal, especially when thousands are produced a day, or even if that info is put on an airlines website, would be effective for the majority of food allergy sufferers. Some of us are able to eat in shared food kitchens, but some are so allergic that they must have a fully allergen free kitchen. The former would benefit from a simple allergen listing on their meals, rather than playing the guessing game of “what is in this”.

        Thanks for running a great blog where dialogue is encouraged, and have a great day!

  2. People with peanut allergies tend to be more vocal because reactions to the peanut allergy can be more severe than the other allergies.

    (My older daughter has 6 of the 8 allergies on that list, dining out when traveling would be a lot more difficult if it weren’t for fast food…)

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