The “Big Eight” Allergens

Cal Dining strives to serve food that is safe to our customers. We clearly understand that any type of food can cause an allergic reaction, but as identified by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) organization, only 8 foods account for 90 percent of all allergic reactions in the United States. These foods include the following: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. We are working to develop a system that makes these 8 allergens identifiable by our customers. Appropriate signage through our dining commons and ingredients listed in the package out our retail locations are some strategies you can use to identify these allergens. We know that having an encounter with these allergenic foods is not always 100 percent avoidable. Please take the time to read allergen signage, product ingredients, and recipe ingredients on the Cal Dining website. You will find more information related to each of the big 8 allergens below:


Peanut allergy is the most common and differs from tree nuts. The difference between the two is that peanuts grow underground while tree nuts grow on trees and include nuts such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts. Severe reactions to peanuts do not usually occur through casual contact. Reactions are mostly triggered if the peanut product comes into contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth area. If your body accidently comes in contact with a peanut containing food, wash that area immediately and keep it away from the eyes, nose, and mouth. At Cal Dining we list peanuts as an allergen if the food contains it or if it contains a product that is manufactured in a peanut manufacturing facility.

Tree Nuts:

Tree nuts include some of the following nuts: walnuts, almond, hazelnut, cashew, pistachio, and Brazil nuts. These differ from legumes, such as peanuts and seeds (sunflower or sesame). A person with a specific tree nut allergy may be at higher risk for developing an allergy for another tree nut. We advise our customers to please avoid all tree nuts if possible. There is also greater risk for cross-contamination with peanuts due to manufacturing; therefore, it is advised by FARE to eat peanuts with caution. 


Milk allergies are often confused with lactose intolerance. The two differ because milk allergies are an overreaction of the immune system to a specific protein in the milk. When ingested, this can cause an allergic reaction with mild to severe symptoms such as rashes, hives, trouble breathing, or loss of consciousness. Lactose intolerance does not involve the immune system and occurs when you are missing the enzyme lactase. Symptoms for lactose intolerance include nausea, cramps, gas, bloating, and diarrhea. This condition is generally not life threatening.

Here are a few foods that contain milk or milk derivatives:

  • Butter
  • Casein
  • Cheese
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Custard
  • Lactose
  • Pudding
  • Yogurt
  • Whey (in all forms)
  • Sour Cream


Typically the egg white contains the allergenic proteins but because of cross-contact contamination it is advised to avoid eggs altogether.

Foods and ingredients to avoid include the following:

  • Albumin
  • Egg (dried, powdered, solids, white, yolk)
  • Mayonnaise
  • Baked goods (if contains egg in the labeled “allergens”)
  • Egg substitutes
  • Pasta


Individuals who are allergic to wheat may usually tolerate other grains; however, scientific studies show that 20 percent of people with wheat allergy also are allergic to other grains. It is important that you consult with your doctor about whether or not you can consume other foods containing barley, oats, or rye.

Here is a list of foods to avoid if you have a wheat allergy:

  • Bulger
  • Couscous
  • Cracker meal
  • Durum
  • Farina
  • Flour (all purpose, bread, cake, durum, enriched, graham, high gluten, high protein, instant, pastry, self-rising, soft wheat, steel ground, stone ground, whole wheat)
  • Gluten
  • Pasta (wheat containing)
  • Seitan
  • Semolina
  • Spelt
  • Sprouted wheat
  • Starch (modified starch, vegetable starch, gelatinized starch)

Unexpected sources of wheat:

  • Soy sauce (dishes prepared in the kitchen use “wheat free” soy sauce but soy sauces on the dining hall tables DO contain wheat – please feel free to ask kitchen personnel for wheat free soy sauce if needed)
  • Soups
  • Salad Dressings


Soybeans are a member of the legume family. Other legumes include beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts. Having an allergy to soybeans does not make you more susceptible to developing an allergy to another legume.

Avoid the following foods that contain soy or soy derivatives:

  • Edamame
  • Miso
  • Shoyu
  • Soy (soy albumin, soy cheese, soy fiber, soy flour, soy milk, soy nuts, soy sprouts, soy yogurt, soy grits)
  • Soy sauce
  • Tamari
  • Textured vegetable protein
  • Tofu


The most common fish allergens are salmon, tuna, and halibut but despite being allergic to one fish, it is recommended to avoid all types of fish. Also, if you have an allergy to fish, this does not mean that you are also allergic to shellfish.

The following are unexpected sources of fish:

  • Caesar salad and salad dressing
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Meatloaf
  • Barbecue sauce


There are two categories of shellfish – crustacea and mollusks. Crustacea include shrimp, crab, and lobster, while mollusks include clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops. Often, if you are allergic to one group of shellfish you are usually able to eat varieties from another group. Before doing so, we advise you to please consult with your doctors. If unsure, we advise strict avoidance of all shellfish.

The following foods should be avoided:

  • Crab
  • Crawfish
  • Lobster
  • Prawns
  • Shrimp
  • Abalone
  • Clams
  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Scallops
  • Squid (calamari)
  • Fish sauce
  • Fish stock
  • Seafood flavoring


To help our customers with food allergy and/or intolerance to browse and choose safely, the Big-8 allergens (peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, egg, milk, soy, and wheat) are listed in our signage and online menu. In addition, we also list sesame (a seed commonly found in Tahini, breads and condiments) and gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, triticale and barley).
Cal Dining makes every effort to identify ingredients that may trigger allergic or other adverse reactions for individuals with food allergies or intolerance. Our staff is trained and educated on food allergies and gluten-free diets on an ongoing basis and they ensure that items marked gluten friendly are made without gluten-containing ingredients. However, due to the volume of meals served and items used each day along with food product changes from our vendors, we cannot guarantee that every allergen or gluten source in the food served will be identified and labeled. There is a small possibility that, without notice to us, manufacturers of the commercial foods we use can change the formulation at any time. Cross contact may also occur despite our best efforts to prevent it. Customers concerned with food allergens and gluten must be aware of these risks. Cal Dining cannot assume any liability for adverse reactions to food consumed, or items one may come in contact with while eating at any Cal Dining facility or catered event. Customers with life threatening food allergies in need to use an Epi-pen should be carrying their own at all times. Cal Dining staff is NOT trained to administer Epi-pens and CANNOT provide or administer them.