The Big Eight Food Allergens are Now the Big Nine

The Big Eight Food Allergens are Now the Big Nine

An allergen is typically a harmless protein that, for some, the immune system mistakenly identifies as a threat, triggering an allergic reaction. These reactions can range from mild to life-threatening. Genetics may predispose individuals to allergies, making awareness and proper allergen management in food service critical.

Food allergies have long been a crucial concern for culinary professionals and establishments, especially with the prevalence of allergen reactions growing among consumers. With the 2022 food code changes, what was once known as the “Big Eight” food allergens has expanded to the “Big Nine”. In this blog, we will delve into these changes and what they mean for foodservice operators and those facing the ServSafe exam.

The Original Big Eight

The original “Big Eight” allergens—milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat—represent the most prevalent and potent allergenic foods. These ingredients are responsible for the majority of allergic reactions in the population and pose various levels of risk, ranging from mild intolerance to severe allergic responses that can be life-threatening.


Milk allergy, often confused with lactose intolerance, is one of the most common allergies, especially among children. It involves an immune reaction to the proteins found in cow’s milk. Food establishments must be careful to avoid cross-contact between dairy and dairy-free options.


Egg allergy is another common allergy, particularly in children. It can affect individuals differently, with some reacting only to the proteins in egg whites, and others also to those in the yolk. Operators must manage this by ensuring egg-free alternatives and strict kitchen protocols to prevent cross-contact.


Peanut allergies are well-known for their potential severity, with reactions ranging from minor irritation to anaphylaxis. Unlike some other allergies, a peanut allergy is often lifelong. Foodservice establishments have to be particularly careful as peanuts can be a hidden ingredient in many food items.

Tree Nuts

Tree nuts, such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts, are also common allergens. Each tree nut has its own specific protein, which can cause an allergic reaction. Some individuals may be allergic to only one type of tree nut, while others may react to several or all types.


Fish allergy can often persist into adulthood and usually requires those affected to avoid all types of fish to prevent a reaction. Restaurants offering seafood must have stringent cross-contact avoidance measures in place, given the severity of potential reactions.


Allergies to shellfish are also lifelong and can be highly dangerous. Shellfish allergies are usually divided into two groups: crustaceans (like shrimp and crab) and mollusks (such as clams and oysters). Avoiding cross-contact in establishments that serve shellfish is a significant challenge and a critical task.


Soy is a common ingredient in processed foods, making it a challenging allergen to avoid. Soy allergy varies in severity, and because soy is in many products, from sauces to baked goods, clear labeling and communication are vital.


Wheat allergies are different from celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity but are nonetheless a serious concern. Wheat is ubiquitous in many diets, requiring foodservice providers to offer gluten-free alternatives and maintain a vigilant approach to food preparation and handling.

Introducing the Ninth Allergen: Sesame

Sesame has officially entered the list as the ninth major food allergen, acknowledged by health authorities due to a significant rise in allergies and the severity of associated reactions. This move towards inclusion reflects an increased understanding of the risks posed by sesame, an ingredient commonly found in a myriad of products ranging from baked goods to spreads like hummus and tahini. The potent allergenic proteins in sesame seeds can cause severe reactions, including anaphylaxis, making their regulation as a major allergen imperative for consumer safety.

The prominence of sesame in global food practices has been a contributing factor to its rise as a common allergen. As cuisines from cultures where sesame is a staple have gained popularity worldwide, so has the frequency of sesame allergy diagnoses. This globalization of food culture has led to a wider distribution of culinary ingredients, which in turn has contributed to the increased exposure and sensitization to allergens previously considered less common in certain regions.

ServSafe and the 2022 Food Code Update

In adherence to the FDA’s 2022 Food Code updates, ServSafe has diligently revised its training resources to reflect the inclusion of sesame as the ninth major food allergen. This pivotal update encapsulates a broader spectrum of allergen awareness and safety protocols to ensure the food service industry is equipped to manage this change effectively.

Incorporating Sesame as a Major Allergen

Educational Content Overhaul: ServSafe’s educational materials have been updated to emphasize the identification, communication, and management of sesame. This ranges from distinguishing sesame in various food products to understanding the nuances of new labeling laws that mandate the clear indication of this allergen.

Risk Management Strategies: With the enhanced curriculum, ServSafe aims to provide a thorough understanding of the potential risks associated with sesame. This prepares professionals not only to adhere to compliance mandates but also to proactively ensure consumer safety.

Refined Allergen Management Protocols

Prevention Protocols: The ServSafe program has introduced detailed strategies to prevent cross-contact with sesame. The materials feature examples of segregated storage, dedicated equipment, and meticulous preparation processes to avoid allergen exposure in kitchen operations.

Operational Adjustments: To navigate the complexities of incorporating sesame as a major allergen, ServSafe offers guidance on reviewing suppliers and ingredients to prevent unintentional inclusion of sesame in food offerings. This level of detail in operational guidance is essential for businesses to successfully adapt to the new requirements.

Amplified Focus on Staff Education

Recognizing that informed staff are crucial in executing allergen management, the curriculum’s updates place additional emphasis on staff training. ServSafe ensures that food service teams are knowledgeable about handling customer inquiries, managing allergen-related incidents, and prioritizing accurate allergen information dissemination.

Preparing for the ServSafe Exam: Embracing the Big Nine

The expansion of recognized allergens from the Big Eight to the Big Nine, including sesame, marks a critical update in food allergen awareness. ServSafe’s adaptation to the 2022 Food Code has led to significant enhancements in their educational materials, ensuring that food service professionals are well-equipped to handle these changes. For those studying for the ServSafe exam, our practice tests and study guides have been updated to reflect these recent developments, offering comprehensive preparation tools. As the industry continues to evolve, ServSafe remains at the forefront, providing the knowledge and resources necessary to ensure food safety and protect consumer health in an ever-changing culinary landscape.

Keep Reading