Food allergy is a pathological, potentially deadly, immune reaction triggered by normally innocuous food protein antigens. The prevalence of food allergies is rising and the standard of care is not optimal, consisting of food-allergen avoidance and treatment of allergen-induced systemic reactions with adrenaline. Thus, accurate diagnosis, prevention and treatment are pressing needs, research into which has been catalysed by technological advances that are enabling a mechanistic understanding of food allergy at the cellular and molecular levels. We discuss the diagnosis and treatment of IgE-mediated food allergy in the context of the immune mechanisms associated with healthy tolerance to common foods, the inflammatory response underlying most food allergies, and immunotherapy-induced desensitization. We highlight promising research advances, therapeutic innovations and the challenges that remain.