Story Update: Food Allergies vs Celiac Disease, America is Confused


We reported a news brief on this story yesterday, but the full news release was submitted to us today and offers even more details on the report findings … 

April 9, 2010 – New Nationwide Harris Interactive Survey Finds Gluten is Commonly and Erroneously Believed to Be a Food Allergen – HomeFree, makers of organic, ready-to-eat, whole grain cookies free of common food allergens including peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and dairy, today released the results of a new nationwide survey revealing that America has some knowledge of food allergies, but is confused about the difference between food allergies and celiac disease.

The survey of 1,013 U.S. adults, conducted by Harris Interactive® by telephone between January 28 – 31, 2010, found that three out of four Americans can correctly identify at least one food allergen from a list of foods including cinnamon, dairy, gluten, bananas, nuts, wheat and eggs.  Smaller majorities can correctly identify nuts, 65 percent, and dairy, 60 percent.  Less than half identify eggs, 46 percent, and wheat, 44 percent, correctly as common food allergens.  Interestingly, a similar number, 43 percent, incorrectly identify gluten as an allergen.  Just 3 percent of Americans can correctly identify all four of the listed common food allergens (nuts, dairy, eggs and wheat) without making any incorrect identifications, while 19 percent correctly identifies all the listed allergens but also incorrectly include gluten as one of the allergens.  Over 1 out of 5 Americans, or 22 percent, either don’t know or think none of those mentioned are common food allergens.

“We commissioned this survey out of concern for what appeared to be widespread confusion between food allergies and celiac disease, given the potentially serious health implications of such confusion,” said Jill Robbins, president and founder of HomeFree.  “People want to be able to serve food safely to other people.  To do so, it helps to know that people with celiac disease – a disorder in which people have sensitivity to gluten, found in foods such as wheat, rye, and barley – can get sick sometimes even from traces of gluten.  It also is important to know which foods are actually common food allergens. That is because if someone with food allergies eats even a trace of a food to which he or she is allergic, it can quickly lead to a life threatening condition called anaphylaxis.”

The survey also revealed how Americans interpret the urgency of food allergic reactions, including in comparison to gluten sensitivity reactions.  The survey found that that just over half of Americans surveyed, or 54 percent, correctly believe that when someone who has a wheat allergy eats a brownie and has a physical reaction, it could be an immediate life-threatening emergency, while about the same number, or 57 percent, of Americans incorrectly believe it could be an immediate life-threatening emergency when someone who is not supposed to eat gluten eats a brownie and has a physician reaction.  This number goes up to 68 percent of Americans when including those who identified at least one situation incorrectly (i.e. someone who is not supposed to eat gluten, and/or someone who has celiac disease).  Of further concern, fewer than half of Americans, 46 percent, correctly see someone reacting with a dairy allergy as similarly being at risk. 

Given the critical need for early treatment with epinephrine for some food allergic reactions, and not for accidental ingestion of gluten, the results indicate a need for further education about allergies in general, as well as about the difference between wheat allergies and gluten sensitivities.

Robbins says, “People want to know what to do if a loved one, or someone in their care, suddenly has symptoms.  Accidental ingestion of gluten for someone with celiac disease can be extremely uncomfortable, but is not an immediate life threatening emergency and is not treated with epinephrine. Accidental ingestion of a food allergen can lead to anaphylaxis, the successful treatment of which depends on rapid treatment with epinephrine (Epipen or Twinject).”

According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), “an allergic reaction to food may begin with a tingling sensation, itching, or a metallic taste in the mouth.  Other symptoms can include hives, a sensation of warmth, wheezing or other difficulty breathing, coughing, swelling of the mouth and throat area, vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, a drop in blood pressure and loss of consciousness.  These symptoms may begin anywhere from several minutes to two hours after eating an offending food, but life-threatening reactions may get worse over a period of several hours.”  The eight foods that account for 90 percent of food allergic reactions are peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, dairy, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish (note that the current study inquiries did not include peanuts, soy, fish, or shellfish).  FAAN reports that more than 12 million Americans have food allergies (about one in 25 Americans), and more than three million of them are children.  Research also shows that there are more than five times as many people with food allergies as with celiac disease nationwide.  HomeFree cookies were created for health conscious people looking for an enjoyable, certified organic, wholesome snacking option, and as a solution for safely including people with food allergies when serving treats.

Jill Robbins, HomeFree founder, mother and clinical psychologist, turned to baking when her son was diagnosed with food allergies eleven years ago.  The author of Allergen Free Baking: Baked Treats for All Occasions, Jill focused on creating a solution to the social aspect of food allergies, finding it heartbreaking to know that many children, and adults, cannot fully participate in school and social events when treats with potential traces of allergens are served.

HomeFree cookies carry a suggested price of $4.99 per box at retail locations or $5.49 per box (plus shipping and handling) through the company’s website,  HomeFree cookies are available in a variety of flavors including chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip, and oatmeal (6.3 ounce boxes), as well as mini chocolate chip, mini chocolate chocolate chip and mini oatmeal chocolate chip.  Individually wrapped cookies are $1.49 each or $14.90 for a case of 12.

HomeFree cookies, allergen-free baking cookbook and specialized allergen-tested baking ingredients are available for purchase through the company’s website.  The cookies are available at over 450 retail locations nationwide including participating Whole Foods, Wild Harvest sections of Shaw’s supermarkets, Food Town and Giant Carlisle Supermarkets, as well as at a growing number of supermarket chains and institutions such as schools, camps, and sporting venues.  For more information, or to purchase HomeFree products, please visit

About HomeFree
HomeFree, LLC is the maker of delicious, organic, ready-to-eat whole grain cookies and coffee cakes free of common food allergens including peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and dairy.  HomeFree was founded by Jill Robbins, a clinical psychologist, self-taught baker, author of Allergen Free Baking: Baked Treats for All Occasions, and the mother of a child with food allergies.  HomeFree manufactures and packages its products in a dedicated facility.  With the highest commitment to product integrity, HomeFree sources its ingredients with great care and conducts allergen testing on ingredients and random product batches.  HomeFree cookies, coffee cakes and specialized allergen-tested baking ingredients are available for purchase through the company’s website and the boxed cookies are available at more than 450 retail locations.   HomeFree, a woman owned business, is headquartered in Windham, NH, and donates a portion of its profits to organizations that provide food allergy research and education.  For more information, or to purchase HomeFree products, please visit

About Harris Interactive
Harris Interactive is a global leader in custom market research.  With a long and rich history in multimodal research that is powered by our science and technology, we assist clients in achieving business results.  Harris Interactive serves clients globally through our North American, European and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms.  For more information, please visit

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Survey Methodology
This allergen study was conducted by telephone by Harris Interactive on behalf of BML Public Relations/HomeFree between January 28 and January 31, 2010, among 1,013 adults comprised of 510 men and 503 women 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental United States.  A full methodology is available including weighting variables.  Please contact BML Public Relations at 973/337-6395.

About Author

Alisa is the founder of, Senior Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

1 Comment

  1. Most people will have some problem with allergies or allergic reactions at some point in their lives. Allergic reactions can range from mild and annoying to sudden and life-threatening. Most allergic reactions are mild, and home treatment can relieve many of the symptoms. An allergic reaction is more serious when severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) occurs, when allergies cause other problems (such as nosebleeds, ear problems, wheezing, or coughing), or when home treatment doesn’t help.

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