According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergy rates increased by 18% between 1997 and 2007. This dramatic increase is keeping allergists and allergy-friendly food manufacturers busier than ever.

The FDA estimates that each year in the U.S., food allergy reactions result in 30,000 trips to the emergency room, 2,000 hospitalizations, and 150 deaths. The costs associated with diagnosing and treating allergic reactions can really add up. David Holdford, associate professor of pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University, estimated the annual cost of treating food allergy reactions to be between $340 million and $510 million.

Dr. Stanley Fineman, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, commented,

“We are definitely seeing more patients with food allergies in the last few years… Years ago we would see about one new patient with food allergies every two to four weeks. Now we are seeing a new patient with food allergies about two to three times per week.”

Food Manufacturers Find Big Market in Food Allergy Sufferers

Offering safe, allergy-friendly fare has become a booming business for food manufacturers. Whole Foods, a natural food retailer offering a wide selection of allergen-free products, saw sales top $10 billion in 2011, an increase of 12% over the previous year.

Small companies have also benefited from the rise in food allergies. Nut-free and gluten-free bakeries have been popping up in cities around the country. Kelly Delaney, owner of Cakes for Occasions, made her bakery 100% nut-free in 2006. The bakery doubled in size in March of 2012. The company’s marketing coordinator, Mikki Wilson, says,

“Aside from providing nut-free products to our customers, we also offer a limited, but growing selection of sugar-free, gluten-free and egg-free cakes and desserts for any individual who suffers from food allergies, sensitivities or dietary restrictions.”

Though food allergies are certainly no picnic, sufferers may benefit from soaring allergy rates, as the growing market pulls more food manufacturers into providing allergy-friendly options. Over the past few years, many supermarkets have greatly expanded their “free from” product selections, meaning more variety for shoppers trying to avoid allergens.

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