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Corn – The Unrecognized Allergen


Wendy Brady

Pretty much everyone has noticed the warnings on the back of pre-packaged food items. These warnings tell the user which of the top seven food allergens could possibly have contaminated the food within the package. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes the top eight food allergens as milk, egg, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish, and shellfish. The FDA states that these eight allergens comprise about ninety percent of allergies to food (FDA, Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004). However, another food allergen has yet to make it to the top level of recognition for its dangerousness among those who are allergic. This ninth most common food allergen is corn.

Corn is found in many products these days, both food and non-food items. Because of this, it is almost impossible to escape this particular allergen. Upon one trip to the store, one can find corn products in powders, deodorants, soaps, medications, certain types of paper, and many foods. The reason for this is that corn derivatives are used in so many products, including the cornstarch used on medical gloves, and these derivatives are given so many misleading names that unless they are all known, it is almost impossible to avoid every form of corn. Some of these names include dextrose, ethanol, gluconate, glycerin, sorbitol, maltodextrin, and inositol. A complete list can be found with a simple online search for corn and its derivatives. Reading the back of almost any label will show that these items or other corn derivatives are inside. Almost every candy, bread product, and even pizza has some form of corn.

The symptoms of a corn allergy can range from mildly irritating to downright dangerous, especially if left untreated and the allergen is not completely avoided. These symptoms can consist of headaches, stomach pain, hives, breathing trouble, wheezing, swelling anywhere on the body, anaphylaxis, and even a general feeling of malaise. This allergy can be dangerous because it can start out with the general feeling of malaise and then progress into anaphylactic shock in a very short time. It is important to have an Epi-Pen handy if a corn allergy is suspected.

While it is difficult to locate and eliminate all products that have a form of corn, it is not totally impossible. Select health food stores carry items that do not have any form of corn within them. These items are often made with natural sugars, such as honey, instead of corn syrup, and potato starch instead of cornstarch. Changing to these types of items can make all the difference for the person that suffers from this particular food allergy. Certain corn-free foods are sold in local grocery stores, but the sufferer must read every label to ensure that the corn derivatives are being avoided. It would be helpful to keep a list handy with all of the names of the corn derivatives to use for reference purposes.

While not every person is allergic to foods of any type, those that are truly allergic know that ingesting the food in question can add up to real trouble. It is important to read all labels and be aware of any other terms used for foods that can create allergic issues for the user. Knowing the dangers of a food allergen, such as corn, can be helpful in spotting an individual's response to the food. The FDA does not currently recognize corn as one of the top nine allergens, but it is quickly climbing the ladder to being one of the top food allergens. Since it is used in one form or another in so many food and non-food related items, corn is very difficult to eliminate from the diet, but it is not impossible if the user takes the time to read every label. Anyone that suffers from a corn allergy knows all too well how difficult it can be to cope with and should always search for alternatives in order to continue feeling as healthy as possible.

Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2010-2022. First published in January 2011, last updated in August 2022. Published with permission.

Reference: FDA. (2009). Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004.