For food service management shopping for soy-allergic campers, it will seem like soy is everywhere. Because soy is a staple for many food manufacturers, it is one of the most ubiquitous food allergens in the US. Soy is largely used in prepackaged foods such as breads, cookies, chips, crackers, microwave popcorn, salad dressings, mixes, pasta sauces, and more.
As of January of 2019, 1.5 million US adults have a soy allergy (Gupta, 2019). Soy allergy reactions can occur with extremely small amounts of soy protein. Gastrointestinal distress, itching skin, itching and swelling of the lips, respiratory issues, and anaphylaxis to soybean protein are all reported reactions (Steinman, 1996).
Why So Much Soy?
Soybeans are legumes that contain no cholesterol and are low in saturated fat (Montgomery, 2003). Soy is high in protein, which makes it a popular meat and dairy substitute for vegetarians. Veggie burgers and tofu are examples. Soybeans are also a great source of nutrients, vitamins, and amino acids.
Manufacturers favor the legume for its low cost and its isolated soy protein, which emulsifies, or blends, and binds fat and water. This keeps products moist without affecting other ingredients. The soybean’s consistency allows it to be transformed into oils, flours, and meat and dairy substitutes (Van Evra, 2010).
The proven instigator of soy allergies is soy protein. Soy allergy occurs when soy proteins “bind to IgE proteins antibodies made by the person’s immune system. This triggers the person’s immune defenses, leading to reaction symptoms that can be mild or very severe” (Food Allergy Research & Education, 2020).
Soybean Oil and Soy Lecithin — Safe or Unsafe?
Soybean oil is extracted from soybeans, has a golden or pale-green coloration, and does not typically change product color. Soy lecithin is a food additive that provides lubrication, emulsification, and flavor protection to food ingredients.
Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) declares that “most” individuals with soy allergy can safely eat soy lecithin because only a trace amount is added to food products. University of Nebraska research (Gu, Beardsley, Zeece, Sarath, & Markwell, 2001) found that soy lecithin is primarily made of phospholipids, but also contains IgE proteins from 100 to 1400 parts per million (ppm) of total mass.
Will this amount of soy protein trigger a reaction? The University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP) claims there is currently little information on reaction levels/thresholds in the US. Because different levels of soy protein content affect people differently, there is no way to know. Many with soy allergy avoid foods with any soy ingredient, including those with precautionary labeling (“may contain”), because there are no definitive thresholds (Baumert, 2017).
US Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) has exempted highly refined soy oil from being labeled as an allergen, as clinical documentation supports the absence of allergic reaction to it (US Food and Drug Administration, 2018). Since the Swedish National Food Administration started recording all severe and fatal food allergen reactions, of the 25 percent reported soy allergy reactions, none have involved soybean oil as the sole source of soy within the product consumed (Messina, 2017).
Processing highly refined soybean oil involves grinding beans into paste, extraction with hot solvents, typically hexane, which is then flashed out with heat in sealed chambers (refining), bleaching, and deodorization (RBD). This process eliminates almost all soy protein, and therefore, allergens (Messina, 2017).
A danger for those with soy allergy is gourmet oils, those listed as “expeller pressed,” “extruded,” or “cold-pressed,” which contain higher quantities of soy protein. After grinding the beans into paste, gourmet oils are created by one of two processes:
- Expeller pressed by a large screw type machine which drills the beans inside a tubular structure; the oil is extruded through slots of the expeller machine (Wijeratne, Wang, & Johnson 2004).
- Stone grinding or milling, bladder press extraction, Modified Atmospheric Crushing (MAP), or Modified Atmospheric Packing (MAP), a method that uses enhanced cooling and refrigeration with “modified vegetable oil expeller presses that meet cold pressing temperature standards” (Broadus, 2017).
For assistance in finding safe foods for your campers with soy allergens, a “currently” soy-free starter list follows. Note the use of canola, palm, sunflower, and safflower oils in these products instead of vegetable (contains soybean) oil. All labels should be read carefully before consuming a product, even if it has been used safely in the past.
Soy-Free Foods Starter List
Duncan Hines Cake Mixes and Frosting
Act II Microwave Popcorn
Smart Balance Light Mayonnaise
Land O’Lakes Butter
Nabisco 100% Whole Grain Wheat Thins Original crackers
Nabisco Premium Saltine Crackers
Old El Paso Taco Shells (also gluten free)
Santita’s Tortilla Chips
Kettle Brand Potato Chips (various flavors)
Lay’s Potato Chips (various flavors)
Rold Gold Pretzels
Jif Natural Peanut Butter
Trader Joe’s Sourdough Sandwich Bread
Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Butter Hamburger Buns
Kellogg’s Mini Wheats
Pam No Soy Grilling Release Spray
Prego Traditional Italian Pasta Sauce (also gluten free)
Classico Pizza sauce
Rao’s Homemade Pizza Sauce
Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows
Pamela’s Product Gluten Free Graham Crackers
Simply Chocolate Chips by Nestle
Litehouse Homestyle Ranch Dressing
Bitten Salad Dressings
Marzetti Simply Dressed: Ranch, Caesar, Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressings
Ingredients to Avoid
The following ingredients may contain soy. Consider posting this list in your camp kitchen.
Soy Ingredient Avoidance Lists
Canned tuna & meat
Hydrolyzed soy protein
Kyodofu, freeze-dried soy
Mono and Diglycerides
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Okara (soy pulp)
Soy nut butter
Soy oil: cold-pressed, expelled, or extruded
Textured soy flour
Textured soy protein
Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
May Contain Soy
Asian cuisine (Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Indonesian, etc.)
Baked goods and baking mixes
Bouillon cubes, broths
Chicken (raw or cooked) processed with chicken broth
Deli meats made with hydrolyzed soy protein
Eggs (chicken feed often contains soy)
Energy bars or nutrition bars
Hamburger meat with soy protein fillers
Hamburger buns made with added soy flour
Hydrolyzed plant protein
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
Imitation dairy foods
Peanut butter and peanut butter substitutes
Protein powders made soy protein powder
Sauces, gravies, and soups
Sausages and hot dogs made with soy protein fillers
Seafood based products/fish
Soups, soup mixes, & stocks
Thickener, thickening agents
Vegetarian meat substitutes
- Baumert, J. (2017, March 16). Advances in food allergen threshold and quantitative risk assessment. Retrieved from fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/d4ceaccf-4689-4d1d-b571-4bbda293b375/Allergens-Slides-Baumert-031617.pdf?MOD=AJPERES
- Broadus, H. (2017, July 17). Difference between solvent expelled, expeller pressed & cold pressed. Retrieved from centrafoods.com/blog/difference-between-solvent-expelled-expeller-pressed-cold-pressed
- Food Allergy Research & Education. (2020). What is soy allergy? FARE. Retrieved from foodallergy.org/living-food-allergies/food-allergy-essentials/common-allergens/soy
- Gu, X., Beardsley, T., Zeece, M., Sarath, G., & Markwell, J. (2001, November). Identification of IgE-binding proteins in soy lecithin. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11752879/
- Gupta, R. S., Warren, C., Smith, B. M. (2019, January 4). Prevalence and severity of food allergies among US adults. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2720064/
- Messina, M. (2017). Highly refined soybean oil not allergenic. Retrieved from soyconnection.com/newsletter/article/highly-refined-soybean-oil-not-allergenic
- Montgomery, K. (2003). Soy protein. Retrieved from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595159/
- Steinman, H. A. (1996, August 1). ‘Hidden’ allergens in foods. Retrieved from jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(96)70146-X/fulltext
- US Food and Drug Administration. (2018, July 16). Inventory of notifications received under 21 U.S.C. 343(w)(7) for exemptions from food allergen labeling. FDA. Retrieved from fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/inventory-notifications-received-under-21-usc-343w7-exemptions-food-allergen-labeling
- Van Evra, J. (2010, September 2). The scoop on: Why soy’s in so many products. Retrieved from allergicliving.com/2010/09/02/the-scoop-on-why-soys-in-so-many-products/
Kimberly Whiteside Truitt writes from experience as a camp food service manager and presented at the 2020 North American Camp Food Service and Maintenance Conference. She is married to Thomas and Mom to Eagle Scouts Harrison and Ben.