Food Hygiene and Safety

What is Food Hypersensitivity? Category of Food Hypersensitivity

Ricky Kambray
Ricky Kambray

What is food hypersensitivity? This question often arises among individuals who experience adverse reactions to certain foods. Food hypersensitivity refers to the body’s abnormal response to specific food components, ranging from mild discomfort to severe allergic reactions. It is a condition that affects a significant number of individuals worldwide. Understanding the categories of food hypersensitivity and their associated symptoms is crucial for identifying and managing these conditions effectively.

In this write-up, we will delve into the various types of food hypersensitivity and their symptoms and provide insights into food allergy awareness training.

Let’s get started without further adieu.

Lactose intolerance concept of woman having stomach pain with a glass of milk.

What is Food Hypersensitivity?

Food hypersensitivity is a condition where certain foods can cause adverse reactions in some individuals. Imagine you have a friend who loves eating strawberries, but every time they have strawberries, they develop an itchy rash. That’s an example of food hypersensitivity. Their body reacts negatively to the proteins in strawberries, leading to an uncomfortable rash.

Similarly, someone else might experience bloating, stomach pain, or even difficulty breathing after consuming certain foods. It’s essential to understand that food hypersensitivity can vary from person to person, with different foods triggering different reactions.

Food hypersensitivity examples include allergies to peanuts, shellfish,Vector image of woman with rash itches with allergens around. milk, or gluten. By identifying and avoiding these trigger foods, individuals with food hypersensitivity can prevent uncomfortable symptoms and maintain their health and well-being.

Causes of Food Hypersensitivity

In the UK alone, an estimated two million people have a diagnosed food allergy, and an additional 600,000 have coeliac disease, indicating that food hypersensitivity is a significant health issue.

Food hypersensitivity is a complex and multifaceted condition influenced by various factors, like—

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Immune System Mistake

Food allergies develop when the immune system mistakenly identifies proteins in food as threats and releases chemicals that cause allergic reactions.

Genetic Factors

Some people may be genetically predisposed to developing food allergies, while others may have a family history of food hypersensitivity.

Early Development

Food allergies can be present from birth, while others may develop later in life, even during adulthood. Coeliac disease, for example, can occur at any age.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors such as exposure to allergenic foods or pollutants may play a role in the development of food hypersensitivity.

Category of Food Hypersensitivity

In this section, we’ll look into different categories of food hypersensitivity in more detail –

 A light blue background, bright multi-coloured pills in a spoon and two wooden blocks with the text food allergy.

Food Allergies

Food allergies are a category of food hypersensitivity where the immune system reacts excessively to specific proteins found in certain foods. When someone with a food allergy consumes an allergenic food, their immune system mistakenly identifies the proteins as harmful and triggers a defensive response. This response involves the release of chemicals, particularly histamine, which leads to allergic reactions.

Several foods are known to be common allergens. Common allergies include peanut allergies, tree nut allergies, shellfish allergies, egg allergies, milk allergies, and wheat allergies, among others. However, it’s important to note that any food has the potential to trigger an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals.


Food allergy symptoms can vary in severity, ranging from mild to life-threatening. Common symptoms include —

  • hives (itchy, raised red welts on the skin),
  • Itchy food allergy rash,
  • swelling (especially of the face, tongue, lips or throat),
  • difficulty breathing,
  • and anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is an acute allergic reaction that can result in a reduction in blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and even death if not treated swiftly.

What to Do?

  • Carefully read labels and ingredients to avoid specific allergens.
  • When dining out, inquire about the ingredients used in dishes to ensure they are allergen-free.
  • Be cautious of cross-contact in food preparation to avoid accidental exposure to allergens.
  • Keep epinephrine auto-injectors, like EpiPen, on hand to immediately treat severe allergic reactions.
  • Seek a proper diagnosis and personalised guidance on managing food allergies.
  • Raise awareness about food allergies to promote a safer environment and prevent accidental exposures.

There are 14 named allergens that must be declared if used as ingredients in food products, including celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, molluscs, milk, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame, soya, and sulphur dioxide and sulphites.

Study Plex offers a variety of online courses on Food Hygiene and Safety, where you can adopt specialised food allergy awareness training to enhance your knowledge and skills in ensuring safe food practices.

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Young girl in pink t-shirt having stomachache due to milk.

Food Intolerances

Food intolerances are a type of food hypersensitivity that occurs when the body has difficulty digesting or metabolising certain food components. Plus, food intolerances, unlike food allergies, do not involve the immune system.

Let’s get into the specifics of this category.


Food intolerance symptoms can vary but often include bloating, stomach pain, diarrhoea, and nausea. These symptoms typically occur within a few hours of consuming the problematic food.

Common Intolerances

Lactose Intolerance

The body lacks sufficient lactase enzyme to digest lactose, the sugar in milk and dairy items. This can lead to digestive discomfort after consuming these items.

Gluten Intolerance (Coeliac Disease)

The body has an adverse reaction to gluten, damaging the lining of the small intestine. Symptoms include digestive issues, fatigue, and weight loss.

Unveil the 15 most common symptoms of gluten intolerance in our informative blog. Explore the signs that may indicate gluten sensitivity and empower yourself to make informed choices for a healthier lifestyle.

Food Additives

Some individuals may be intolerant to certain food additives, such as sulfites or monosodium glutamate (MSG), leading to symptoms like headaches or flushing of the skin.

What to Do?

  • Undergo elimination diets or specific tests to identify problem foods.
  • Limit or avoid consuming foods that trigger symptoms.
  • Make adjustments like opting for lactose-free or gluten-free alternatives.
  • Seek professional diagnosis and guidance for personalised recommendations.
  • Work with a healthcare professional to ensure nutritional needs are met while avoiding problematic foods.

Close-up of Vector stomachache concept.

Food Sensitivities

Food sensitivities, or non-allergic food hypersensitivity, refer to adverse reactions to certain foods without involving the immune system.Although the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, they can lead to a variety of symptoms. Here’s a detailed version of symptoms and what to do in case of food sensitivities:


  • Individuals with food sensitivities may experience recurrent headaches after consuming specific foods.
  • Feeling excessively tired or experiencing low energy levels is a common symptom of food sensitivities.
  • Symptoms like bloating, stomach pain, diarrhoea, or constipation may occur after consuming trigger foods.
  • Some individuals may develop redness or a flushed appearance on the skin.
  • Food sensitivities can also contribute to joint pain or inflammation in susceptible individuals.

What to Do?

  • Keeping a food diary and systematically eliminating suspected trigger foods from your diet can help identify the ones causing symptoms. Gradually reintroducing eliminated foods can pinpoint the specific triggers.
  • Specific IgG antibody tests are sometimes used to identify potential food sensitivities. However, these tests are not definitive and should be interpreted cautiously.
  • Once trigger foods are identified, it is essential to avoid or limit their consumption to minimise symptoms.
  • Experimenting with alternative food options and substitutes can help maintain a balanced diet while avoiding trigger foods.
  • Keeping a food diary and tracking symptoms can provide valuable insights into which foods to avoid.
  • Consulting a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian can provide personalised guidance on managing food sensitivities, ensuring adequate nutrition, and addressing any concerns.

Close-up of vector boy with food allergies.


Cross-reactivity occurs when proteins in certain foods resemble proteins in allergenic foods, triggering an allergic response in individuals already allergic to similar proteins. Here’s a detailed explanation of cross-reactivity, including symptoms and what to do:


Oral Allergy Syndrome

The most common manifestation of cross-reactivity is oral allergy syndrome. It causes itching, tingling, or swelling in the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat after consuming certain fruits, vegetables, or nuts. For example, individuals allergic to birch pollen may experience symptoms when eating apples, cherries, or carrots due to their protein similarity.

Allergic Reactions

In some cases, cross-reactivity can lead to more generalised allergic reactions similar to those experienced with primary allergens. This can include symptoms like hives, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing, or anaphylaxis.

What to Do?

  • If you are already aware of your primary allergens, it’s important to be cautious about related foods that may trigger cross-reactivity.
  • Pay attention to any unusual symptoms that occur after consuming specific foods, especially if they are similar to symptoms experienced with your known allergies.
  • If you suspect cross-reactivity, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional or allergist for proper evaluation and diagnosis.
  • Once cross-reactivity is identified, it is crucial to avoid or limit the food consumption that triggers symptoms.
  • Educate yourself about the cross-reactive foods associated with your primary allergies. This will help you make informed decisions and prevent accidental exposure.
  • If you have a history of severe allergic reactions, consult with your healthcare professional to develop an allergy action plan. This may include carrying emergency medication, such as epinephrine auto-injectors, to manage potential anaphylactic reactions.

Wrapping Up

In essence, food hypersensitivity is an abnormal reaction to specific foods, which can manifest as food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities. A proper understanding of these categories is vital for effective management. If you suspect food hypersensitivity, seek expert guidance. By raising awareness and taking necessary precautions, individuals can maintain a safe and healthy lifestyle. So, what is food hypersensitivity? It’s a condition that necessitates knowledge, control, and support to ensure overall well-being.


What is not a category of food hypersensitivity?

Food preferences or dislikes based on personal taste are not considered a category of food hypersensitivity as they do not involve adverse reactions or abnormal responses in the body.

Is food poisoning a category of food hypersensitivity?

Food poisoning does not fall under the category of food hypersensitivity as it occurs due to consuming contaminated or spoiled food, leading to illness, whereas food hypersensitivity involves abnormal immune responses to specific food components.

Is IBS a food hypersensitivity?

No, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is not classified as food hypersensitivity. IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder characterised by symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits. While certain foods may trigger or worsen symptoms in some individuals with IBS, it is not considered a specific immune response to food components like food hypersensitivity.

Is coeliac disease a food hypersensitivity?

Yes, coeliac disease is considered a food hypersensitivity involving an abnormal immune response to gluten.

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Ricky Kambray

Hey this is Ricky Kambray an award-winning first-aid trainer with over 20 years of healthcare and teaching expertise. Highly certified general nurse regularly appears in the press discussing accident prevention and first aid advice.