An integral part of the safety assessment of genetically modified plants is consideration of possible human health effects, especially food allergy. Prospective testing for allergenicity of proteins obtained from sources with no prior history of causing allergy has been difficult because of the absence of valid methods and models. Food allergens may share physicochemical properties that distinguish them from nonallergens, properties that may be used as a tool to predict the inherent allergenicity of proteins newly introduced into the food supply by genetic engineering. One candidate property is stability to digestion. We have systematically evaluated the stability of food allergens that are active via the gastrointestinal tract in a simple model of gastric digestion, emphasizing the major allergens of plant-derived foods such as legumes (peanuts and soybean). Important food allergens were stable to digestion in the gastric model (simulated gastric fluid). For example, soybean beta-conglycinin was stable for 60 min. In contrast, nonallergenic food proteins, such as spinach ribulose bis-phosphate carboxylase/oxygenase, were digested in simulated gastric fluid within 15 sec. The data are consistent with the hypothesis that food allergens must exhibit sufficient gastric stability to reach the intestinal mucosa where absorption and sensitization (development of atopy) can occur. Thus, the stability to digestion is a significant and valid parameter that distinguishes food allergens from nonallergens.