The largest ever study of fatalities due to food allergies shows that stricter labeling requirements for food products and better education may save lives. Since only five of the 32 fatalities investigated occurred in the home, educational efforts need to reach beyond the individual with the allergy and his or her family to primary care physicians, emergency medical staff, manufacturers and the general public.

The research is published in the current issue of The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. At a press conference today at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, which was jointly hosted by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and Mount Sinai School of Medicine, researchers discussed the implications of the study.

Researchers investigated the circumstances surrounding 32 fatal allergic reactions to food. Cases were selected from a national registry established by AAAAI with the assistance of FAAN. The study was conducted by S. Allan Bock, MD, Department of Pediatrics, National Jewish Medical and Research Center, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center; Anne Munoz-Furlong, FAAN, Fairfax, Virginia; and Hugh A. Sampson, MD, Director, The Elliot and Roslyn Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

“Food allergy surpasses insect stings and patient administered medications as the most common cause of fatal allergic reactions and it is estimated that such reactions result in 150 deaths annually in the US alone,” said Dr. Sampson. “The fact that all but one of the individuals for whom we had information, believed they were eating something safe, clearly indicates the life-saving potential of improved labeling and education.”

Ages of individuals studied ranged from 2-33 and all but one of the individuals was previously known to have severe symptoms elicited by ingestion of particular foods. In the individuals for whom data was available, all but one was known to have asthma as well. Peanuts accounted for 63% of the deaths, tree nuts for another 31% and the remaining were due to milk and fish. Both sexes were affected equally.

Two key findings draw the sharpest attention to the need for better education:

  • At the time of the fatal reaction, and prior to eating, no individual was aware that the food about to be ingested contained the ingredient to which he or she was allergic.
  • Only three individuals had epinephrine (the medication of choice for treating severe allergic reactions) at the time of their attack.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) is the largest professional medical specialty organization in the United States representing allergists, asthma specialists, clinical immunologists, allied health professionals, and others with a special interest in the research and treatment of allergic disease. Allergy/immunology specialists are pediatric/internal medicine physicians who have elected an additional two years of training to become specialized in the treatment of asthma, allergy and immunologic disease. The Academy was established in 1943, to advance the knowledge and practice of allergy, foster the education of students and the public, encourage union and cooperation among those working in the field and promote and stimulate research and the study of allergic diseases. The Academy has more than 6,000 members in the United States, Canada and 70 other countries. The Academy serves as an advocate to the public by providing educational information through its Web site at . The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology is the peer-reviewed, scientific journal of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). It does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of the AAAAI.

Founded in 1991, The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) is the world leader in food allergy information. FAAN, a nonprofit organization based in Fairfax, Va., is dedicated to increasing public awareness about food allergy and anaphylaxis, to providing education, and to advancing research on behalf of all those affected by food allergies. The organization has more than 22,000 members in the United States, Canada, and 62 other countries. FAAN provides information about food allergy and educational resources to patients, their families, schools, health professionals, pharmaceutical companies, the food industry, and government officials. Educational materials published by FAAN are reviewed for medical accuracy by the FAAN Medical Advisory Board, which is comprised of eleven of the country’s leading food allergy physicians and scientists. In addition to printed materials, FAAN also sponsors awareness programs such as Food Allergy Awareness Week, Food Allergy Conferences, and the Mariel C. Furlong Awards for Making a Difference. Educational materials and information about special programs are also available online at , , and

Mount Sinai School of Medicine, located in Manhattan, is internationally recognized for ground-breaking clinical and basic-science research, and innovative approaches to medical education. One indication of Mount Sinai’s leadership in scientific investigation is its receipt during FY00 of $168 million in public and private research funding, including over $106 million in NIH grants, placing it 23rd among the nation’s 125 medical schools. Mount Sinai School of Medicine is also known for unique educational programs that not only prepare students to be highly skilled care givers, but help them to reach their maximum potential as caring, well-rounded people. Long dedicated to serving its community, the School extends its boundaries to improve health care delivery, educational opportunities and quality of life for residents of East Harlem and surrounding communities.