Insects can cause an allergic reaction in people. Generally speaking, one mechanism is through a food consumption, secondly is through environmental exposure.
What does the FDA think about food allergens?
The FDA’s primary concern with regard to food allergens are the ‘Big 8’. They are Milk, Eggs, Fish, Crustacean shellfish, Tree nuts, Peanuts, Wheat and, Soybeans. These foods account for over 90% of food allergic reactions. There are over 160 foods that can cause allergies but these 8 are the only ones that require labeling by law. People allergic the shells may see cross reactivity to insects. The prevalence of shellfish allergy in the United States is around 2%. The majority of the population can consume insects without significant risk of an allergic reaction. I do recommend voluntary allergen labeling for packaged insect products. Consumer education will help general acceptance of insects as food.
Environmental insect matter can cause allergy symptoms. Skin contact and dust inhalation can have adverse effects on people farming and post-harvest processing of insects. Fecal matter and dried insect parts can become airborne and subsequently be inhaled. Sensitization can occur from repeat exposure. Issues with worker related environmental allergens would involve the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). I am curious to know if insect farmers that currently produce high volumes have come across this issue.
What should we do about insect allergens?
- Regularly clean farming facilities including the farming equipment and other building surfaces to remove dust and particulate matter.
- Monitor the health of insect farmers for development of allergic sensitization. Use personal protective equipment such as mask and googles when appropriate.
- Limit dispersal of fine particulates when making insect flour through engineering controls.
- Label insect containing food products with an allergen statement such as ‘People allergic to shell fish may also be allergic to insects’.