Why do we have 14 allergens?

Have you ever found that as your food allergy is not on the top 14 allergen list you are taken less seriously at work or school, by friends, family or your GP? 

If the food you are allergic to does not need to be labelled it must be less serious, right? This kind of thinking could have significant consequences for the person suffering from the allergy.  Many people living without allergies don’t realise that you can have anaphylactic reactions to food that are not in the top 14. 

How were the top 14 allergens decided upon?

In 2003 12 top allergens were covered in Annex IIIa of the EU directive 2003/89/EC which is the directive which covers the labelling of allergens in food.  The original 12 in 2003 were

  1. Cereals containing gluten
  2. Crustaceans
  3. Eggs
  4. Fish
  5. Peanuts
  6. Soybeans
  7. Milk
  8. Tree nuts
  9. Celery
  10. Mustard
  11. Sesame Seeds
  12. Sulphur Dioxide

This was not a static list and work into better understanding of food allergies across Europe continued.

EuroPrevall was a large-scale study which launched in June 2005 across Europe.  It consisted of 3 main parts, birth cohort studies, Community Studies and Outpatient Clinic Studies.  The project was funded by the EU to inform on the bigger picture surrounding the incidence of allergic reactions to food in different European countries, advise on the effect of allergies on the quality of life of sufferers, standardising allergy diagnosis and work towards making standardised food labelling across the EU.

In January 2008 a proposal was put forward by the European Commission to look at labelling issues which had arisen since the last EU directive and reviewing all the new allergy research in the EuroPrevall studies.  This was discussed in 2011 by European Parliament and EU Regulation 1169/2011 was published in November 2011.  These directives were more explicit in what was covered by the regulations.  At this time Molluscs and Lupin were added to the original 12, taking the number of allergens to be labelled up to 14.

What do countries on other continents label?

The EU has regulations on 14 allergens, compared to the US which has 8 and Japan which has 7 (mandatory labelling for the 7 allergens shown in the table below and voluntary labelling for a further 20 allergens).

Many countries don’t have labelling laws at all.  The EU likely has more as it covers a more diverse group of cultures than Australia and the US which means different European countries have different eating habits.

I would love to hear from you if I missed out your country, let us know what the regulations for labelling allergens are where you live!

Are we done?

No, the list of allergens is unlikely to remain static.  The EuroPrevall studies may have concluded, but there is another large-scale follow-up study called iFAMM, Integrated Approaches to Food Allergen and Allergy Risk Management.  This newer study will incorporate study data from the US and Australia as well as continuing studies in Europe.

Does your food allergy make the top 14 or are you allergic to something more unusual?  Let me know on Twitter, Facebook or comment below, I am always interested to hear from you!



This is a blog and should not be used for advice on diagnosis or treatments.  If you think you may have a food allergy please contact your GP in the first instance to discuss treatment options.

References and Further Readings

Studies under EuroPrevall

  1. A framework for measuring the social impact of food allergy across Europe: a EuroPrevall state of the art paper, 2007, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1398-9995.2006.01303.x
  2. Food allergy QoL questionnaire for children aged 0–12 years: content, construct, and cross‐cultural validity, 2008, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2222.2008.02978.x
  3. Factors influencing the incidence and prevalence of food allergy, 2009, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1398-9995.2009.02128.x
  4. The EuroPrevall surveys on the prevalence of food allergies in children and adults: background and study methodology, 2009, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1398-9995.2009.02046.x
  5. Health‐related quality of life of food allergic patients: comparison with the general population and other diseases, 2010, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1398-9995.2009.02121.x
  6. The multinational birth cohort of EuroPrevall: background, aims and methods, 2010, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1398-9995.2009.02171.x
  7. Online version of the food allergy quality of life questionnaire–adult form: validity, feasibility and cross‐cultural comparison, 2011, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2222.2011.03711.x
  8. Can we define a tolerable level of risk in food allergy? Report from a EuroPrevall/UK Food Standards Agency workshop, 2011, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2222.2011.03868.x
  9. The EuroPrevall birth cohort study on food allergy: baseline characteristics of 12,000 newborns and their families from nine European countries, 2011, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1399-3038.2011.01254.x
  10. The EuroPrevall outpatient clinic study on food allergy: background and methodology, 2015, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/all.12585
  11. Prevalence of food sensitization and probable food allergy among adults in India: the EuroPrevall INCO study, 2016, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/all.12868

Other further reading of note







Click to access guide_asiapacificfoodlaw_sep2018.pdf



Published by Jemma D

I love to write about food allergies, asthma and eczema.

8 thoughts on “Why do we have 14 allergens?

  1. Hi Jemma,
    I’m allergic to chicken, beef, pineapple, black pepper, onions, and peppers, in addition to egg, milk, and gluten grains, especially oats, even though oats are not strictly speaking a gluten grain.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting blog post. It is interesting to see how the top declarable allergens differ by country. Buckwheat in Japan is a very interesting one. I have never heard of Buckwheat allergens. Unlike the other grains listed Buckwheat is not even a true real grain and is instead in the Polygonaceae family and a very close relative of Rhubarb and Sorrel but perhaps in Japan this allergy is more common.

    Personally i wish they would add the Nightshade (Solanaceae) family to the top allergens. I have an extremely serious allergy (anaphylaxis) to the entire Nightshade (Solanaceae) family. Even a tiny little trace amount can give me a serious reaction so i have to be extremely careful. If you are not aware this includes, Potato, Aubergine, Peppers, Chillies, Goji Berry, Physalis, Tomatillo, and a couple other rarer fruits and vegetables that are not really eaten in the UK (but Sweet Potato and Peppercorns like Black Pepper and White Pepper are ok as they are luckily not in this family). It is difficult as they are used in so many things.

    Unfortunately as this is not one of the top 14 it makes it very difficult. Especially as it can be hidden in “Spices” or “Herbs” or “Flavouring” or “Seasoning” or any of the other vague things manufacturers write on their ingredients lists. So this is why i cook pretty much all my food from scratch and avoid most ready made packaged stuff and going to restaurants etc. Having an allergy that is not in the top 14 is very difficult.

    What i would be interested to know is how Celery and Mustard and Lupin were chosen? Are these ones really that common? Whilst the other 11 all seem quite common these three seem to be so rare. I am someone who has been to lots of allergen and free from shows and events and read lots of blogs and stuff about allergens yet i have never heard of anyone being allergic to them.

    I have never met or even heard of anyone who is allergic to Celery or Mustard or Lupin so to me it seems odd they choose to include these in the top 14 list. I am sure that there are some people they do not come across as very common ones. Also why just Celery and not the entire Apiaceae family? Similarly why just Mustard and not the entire Brassicaceae family? I would have thought that someone allergic to these things would likely react to the entire family rather than just one species in that family but not to the others? Or is it common to be allergic to just one plant but not others that are closely related in the same family?

    So some of these choices of top declarable allergens do seem a bit odd but maybe they are more common than i thought.


    1. Hi Brian, glad you found the post interesting – I’m pleased to see we have similar interests, I am also interested in how families of plants cause allergic reactions.

      I am in half a dozen food allergy groups on Facebook and agree that I have come across more cases of Nightshade allergy than I have of those allergic to lupin, celery or mustard.

      If you are really interested in all the information they used to make the decisions you can read the links at the bottom of the post. This one in particular names the multiple studies used to look at thresholds and severity.

      https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.2903/sp.efsa.2014.EN-696 (2014)

      Thank you for your comment! Jemma


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