An Assortment of common ingreditns such as mushrooms, peppers and tomatoes.

Food Hypersensitivity: Food Allergies vs Food Intolerance

Here at LiberEat we are dealing in food safety and allergen detection daily. When it comes to  food allergens, we want to make food safer for everyone. We have created this article for you as an ultimate guide to food hypersensitivities where we explain the crucial differences between food intolerances and food allergies, and the varying symptoms.

What is food hypersensitivity?

Hypersensitivity, in relation to food, is a term used to describe when someone has an adverse reaction to certain ingredients. This can be through ingesting the ingredient or even just coming into contact with it, e.g., via touch. The intensity of a reaction can range from mild to severe depending on the allergen and the individual sufferer. Potential symptoms include rashes, upset stomachs, and anaphylactic shock.

Categories of food hypersensitivity

Food hypersensitivity is a general term that can refer to a number of different conditions. These can include food allergies, food intolerances, and autoimmune disorders (such as coeliac disease). 

What is a food allergy?

Food allergies are caused by the body’s immune system reacting badly to proteins found in certain ingredients. These reactions can be mild or more severe with some causing life-threatening symptoms such as anaphylaxis. 

Variety of lunch ingredients displayed on a table

Different types of food allergies exist, including:

  • IgE-mediated food allergy: This is caused by the body producing IgE (immunoglobulin E), an antibody that the body sends to fight allergens. This type of food allergen has a higher risk of inducing anaphylaxis and is the most common allergy type to suffer from. Symptoms can occur within seconds of consuming an allergen.
  • Non-lgE-mediated food allergy: This type of allergy is not as common as the first and can take longer to diagnose owing to the symptoms not appearing for potentially several hours. As the name suggests, what sets this allergy type apart from IgE-mediated allergies is that it is triggered not by IgE antibodies, but rather by other cells in the immune system. 
  • Mixed IgE and non-IgE-mediated food allergy: Some people can suffer from IgE-mediated and non-IgE-mediated allergies and their respective symptoms. This can be seen in some children who suffer from cow milk allergy. 

In the UK, allergen laws have been put in place to ensure the 14 major allergens are correctly labelled on food products. This is to protect consumers from accidentally ingesting allergens, helping to keep them safe. 

The 14 major allergens include:

  • Peanuts
  • Celery
  • Cereals containing gluten
  • Crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs, and lobsters) 
  • Molluscs (such as mussels and oysters)
  • Eggs 
  • Fish 
  • Lupin 
  • Milk 
  • Mustard
  • Tree nuts
  • Sesame
  • Soy
  • Sulphur dioxide 

Often food businesses’ allergen management systems rely heavily on human input which can lead to mistakes in food labelling due to human error.

LiberEat offers a unique allergen detection software that helps businesses minimise the risk of human error, helping to keep customers and their businesses safe. Incorrectly labelled allergens can cause expensive product recalls, increased food wastage, and even legal fees. 


What is a food intolerance?

Food intolerances differ from allergies as they don’t involve the immune system. They occur when the body struggles to digest certain ingredients found in food products. This means the symptoms are not as extreme as an allergy but can still be very upsetting for those that experience them.

The most well-known food intolerance is perhaps lactose intolerance, which affects 1 in 10 adults in the UK. Lactose intolerance is caused by the body not producing enough lactase, an enzyme used by the body to break down lactose.

Milk from a bottle being poured into a bowl of cereal

Lactose is a sugar found in dairy products, such as milk and cheese. When the body cannot properly digest the lactose, it results in a buildup of gas and symptoms such as stomach pains and nausea.

Other common ingredients consumers are intolerant to include:

  • Sulphur dioxide: An additive used in food products such as sauces and jams, but also naturally occurs in beer and dried fruits. 
  • Salicylates: Naturally occurring chemicals that can be found in a wide range of products, such as fruits, vegetables, and spices. 
  • Caffeine: Commonly found in coffee, energy drinks, and chocolate. Caffeine intolerance can cause symptoms such as a racing heartbeat and headaches.


What autoimmune disorders are related to food hypersensitivity? 

Some people with food hypersensitivities have autoimmune disorders. The most commonly known is coeliac disease. In these cases, ingesting the food causes the body to react differently than a regular allergy or intolerance. 

When people with coeliac disease consume food containing gluten, their immune system reacts and damages the body’s own cells in the intestine. Over time this can reduce the body’s ability to extract nutrients from food leading to further health complications.

Sliced loaf of bread

One way to prevent this is to avoid digesting any gluten products completely. It is clear to see why correctly labelling these allergens is so essential for food businesses. This can include bread, pasta and other cereals containing gluten. To learn more about gluten and how it affects people with hypersensitivity, check out our 14 major allergens hub.

How does food hypersensitivity impact people's lives?

Suffering from any type of food hypersensitivity can heavily impact someone’s life. Symptoms depend on what allergen and type of food hypersensitivity someone suffers from. 

In food allergies, there can be life-threatening complications from ingesting or coming into contact with the allergens. Symptoms can cause breathing difficulties and potentially trigger anaphylaxis.

Woman on sofa appearing stressed

Symptoms can appear immediately or may have a delayed onset and appear hours after consuming the allergen – this really depends on what type of allergy you suffer from: IgE, Non-IgE, or mixed. 

Other symptoms can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Sneezing
  • Swelling of the eyes, lips, and face 
  • Skin rashes

Food intolerances often have less severe symptoms due to the different reactions that happen in the body. As an antibody response doesn’t get triggered, there is usually no risk of anaphylactic shock. 

Symptoms of food intolerance can last anywhere between a few hours and a few days and can include:

  • Sore stomach
  • Bloating
  • Headache
  • Joint pain

What testing is available for food hypersensitivity?

There are many different techniques for diagnosing food sensitivities. Although they differ depending on what type of allergy or condition you are testing for.   

For food allergies, common tests include skin prick testing, blood tests, and elimination diets. 

Skin-prick testing involves placing drops of potential allergens on the skin and making a small piercing on the skin’s surface. This causes the body’s immune system to react to the allergen, and symptoms can be documented. Symptoms such as redness and itchiness often indicate the body is allergic to the substance. 

For food intolerances, doctors may recommend trying an elimination diet where you avoid the potential irritant to see if the symptoms improve. They may also try blood or breath tests if they suspect lactose intolerance. 

When testing for coeliac disease, blood tests may be carried out and a small biopsy of the intestinal tissue can be taken

How can LiberEat’s allergen detection technology help your business protect people suffering from food hypersensitivities?

LiberEat offers a unique allergen detection technology that provides food businesses with an additional layer of protection in food safety data processing. Our technology helps to ensure all allergens are correctly labelled on product packaging and menus, helping to prevent people from accidentally consuming one of the 14 major allergens

We are here to protect your consumers and your business, as unlabelled allergens are the main reason for food product recalls in the UK. Food product recalls can be expensive and potentially detrimental to your public image. Get in touch today to find out how LiberEat can help your business.

To find out how LiberEat Technology supports food businesses to detect allergens and errors, to protect consumers