Food allergies: Rare but risky


  • Monosodium glutamate

    Monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been used for many years in home and restaurant foods, and in processed foods. People sensitive to MSG may have mild and transitory reactions when they eat foods that contain large amounts of MSG (such as would be found in heavily flavor-enhanced foods). Because MSG is commonly used in Chinese cuisine, these reactions were initially referred to as "Chinese restaurant syndrome."

    FDA believes that MSG is a safe food ingredient for the general population. It is regarded by the agency as among food ingredients that are "generally recognized as safe." FDA has studied adverse reaction reports and other data concerning MSG's safety. The agency also has an ongoing contract with the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology to re- examine the scientific data on possible adverse reactions to glutamate in general. MSG must be declared on the label of any food to which it is added.

  • Sulfites

    Of all the food additives for which FDA has received adverse reaction reports, the ones that most closely resemble true allergens are sulfur-based preservatives. Sulfites are used primarily as antioxidants to prevent or reduce discoloration of light-colored fruits and vegetables, such as dried apples and potatoes, and to inhibit the growth of microorganisms in fermented foods such as wine.

    Though most people don't have a problem with sulfites, they are a hazard of unpredictable severity to people, particularly asthmatics, who are sensitive to these substances. FDA uses the term "allergic-type responses" to describe the range of symptoms suffered by these individuals after eating sulfite-treated foods. Responses range from mild to life-threatening.

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