Carp, pike, trout, cod or salmon. These are only a few of the countless species of fish which according to the Food Information Regulation must be labelled as a potential trigger of allergic reactions. Put more exactly, those which should be labelled with a “D”. A significant measure, when considering of the aggressiveness and the increasing consumption of fish in Germany. But is the labelling for fish and products thereof really useful?
Which products will you have to label with a D?
On one hand, all fish should be labelled with a D. Labelling the entire species here would be somewhat impractical, which is why they are to be understood as “all species of fish”. In addition, caviar and roe are products subject to labelling obligations. Products which are derived from fish are also included in the labelling obligation.
Examples: Fish oils, fish gelatin, fish extract, fish sauce, anchovies, anchovy paste, crackers, sauces (e.g. Worcester sauce), stocks, sauce pastes, sandwich spreads, delicatessen salads, pastries, Vitello Tonnato, surimi, kamaboko, cod liver oil.
The exceptions confirm the rule!
The following are exempt from the labelling obligation:
- Fish gelatin as a carrier for vitamin or carotenoid preparations
- Fish gelatin or Isinglass used as fining agent in beer and wine
Warning fish! Is the FIR enough?
With a closer look into fish allergies, one thing is clear: fish definitely belongs to the more aggressive food allergies and the labelling is – in consideration of sensitivity and symptoms – definitely a good idea. At the same time, this doesn’t mean chicken allergies should be played down or gluten sufferers should be labelled as hypochondriacs. All the same, regarding fish allergies it is important to ask: does the FIR go far enough?
Posing such a claim might cause a fuss or outrage. All the same, it is a worthy question concerning fish allergies, because:
- even a small amount can trigger a strong reaction
- the main allergen is heat-resistant – as such, the consumption of raw and cooked fish should be avoided
- the main allergen parvalbumin often triggers cross-allergies. 50% of suffers who are allergic to a fish species, often cannot tolerate other fish species
- fish steam, cod liver oil, dust from dried fish and even the smell of fish can lead to allergic reactions. The smell can even be so subtle that it causes symptoms when a “healthy” person would not even notice it. Very sensitive people can even suffer from an anaphylactic shock from the inhalation of steam or dust, which in the worst case can lead to death
- the fish allergen can also materialize as hidden allergens. Should pigs or fowl be reared on fishmeal, even their consumption can lead to an allergic reaction. The consumption of eggs or sausage products which originate from fishmeal fed animals can be enough
Of course it doesn’t always have to be a life threatening shock – other symptoms may arise: skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing problems, swollen lips, blisters in the mouth, itching in the mouth or a circulatory collapse. In other words, it’s more than enough.
Some background information on fish allergies
Frequency of fish allergies
It’s pretty clear that fish allergies are pretty bad. The good news: similar to crustaceans (B), these occur primarily in coastal areas. The good news in this sense is that it is relatively low in landlocked countries or those with few coastal areas such as Austria, Switzerland or Germany.
The reason for this is that, as with crustacean allergies, allergies depend on the frequency of contact with and consumption of the allergen. The trigger of the allergy therefore depends on the consumption habits: cod in Norway and pike in Spain are the most common triggers. Jobs which are heavily in contact with fish are also often affected.
The villain: the allergen parvalbumin
At fault is the main allergen parvalbumin. The title is well deserved: 95% of those affected always have an allergic response to it.
Parvalbumin is a calcium forming protein from muscles cells, which resemble an excess of amino acid sequences of other fishes and as such often trigger cross-allergies.
Despite not all those affected sufferer from cross-allergies, and despite some lucky people react only to a specific species of fish and can eat other species with no problem, one thing is clear: fish allergies cannot be treated lightly. Those affected would be recommended to avoid eating food containing fish; due to its aggressiveness, even traces of parvalbumin in other foods are sufficient to trigger a reaction (against which the FIR cannot provide protection), those affected will have an easier time and a more pleasant restaurant visit if these traces are labelled.
Everything you need to know about fish allergies!
- Fish allergies apply to both cooked and raw fish
- In order to respond to those who suffer from aggressive allergic reactions, it is highly recommended to have an emergency kit
- The frequency of fish allergies increases with the frequency of contact with fish. As a result, those who work with fish and those who eat in coastal regions have a greater chance of suffering from fish allergies.
- Due to the high probability of cross-reactions from fish allergies, it is recommended to avoid all fish-containing foods entirely.
Have you missed A, B and C? No problem! You can read our previous posts from the series under the word “major allergens”.