The imminent EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation will mean that information about allergenic ingredients will have to be made available for non-pre-packed as well as pre-packed foods. Sarah Beresford, The Anaphylaxis Campaign, urges all operators to ensure their houses are in order before the
regulations become law on 13 December.
One of the catalysts for the formation of the Anaphylaxis Campaign 20 years ago was the death of a 17-year-old girl, Sarah Reading, who experienced a fatal anaphylaxis reaction The dish had crushed peanut sprinkled on the top, which she was not informed about by the restaurant staff, and was not marked on the menu.
A group of concerned parents, including Sarah Reading’s father David Reading, founded the Anaphylaxis Campaign to raise awareness of severe allergies and to improve food labelling and NHS care of the condition.
If a similar tragedy happened after these regulations come into force on 13 December, the department store that served this dish would be taken to court.
Food can kill
Food allergens are life threatening to those who have a severe allergy to them. The only way people can manage a food allergy is to avoid the foods thatmake them ill. Food allergens cannot be removed by cooking.
Ian Negus, a member of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, has a severe peanut allergy. Ian had a terrifying experience in one of his local restaurants in North London. “I ordered a special from the board. First misjudgement. It was a tuna kebab with rice and I was in an ‘exotic’ mood,” recalls Ian. “The dish did not say if it contained nuts or not as it wasn’t specified on the board.
“When the dish was presented it looked great. However, accompanying the dish (on the plate), was a sauce. My immediate instinct was that this could be nuts. Without hesitation I got up and approached the chef and waitress behind the counter. I asked the chef if the dish had nuts in it. He didn’t reply but the waitress did and said it didn’t contain nuts, that it was a mix of oil and balsamic vinegar.
“I sat back down, picked up the sauce, sniffed it and ran a fork through it. The consistency felt different. Here I made a crucial error. I did not trust my
instincts. After a long flight back from Sao Paulo, being in an ‘exotic’ mood and feeling very hungry I applied a tiny dab to my tuna and rice and ate it.
“Immediately my lips swelled, my throat was closing up and my heart was racing. I got up with the sauce and asked another waitress if this had nuts in. “Yes, it’s peanut satay!” Subsequently an ambulance arrived, I was given steroids, I was put on a nebuliser and I spent seven hours in A&E under observation.
“It is only thanks to the quick response of the NHS that I am here today to share this with you. I did not have my adrenaline autoinjector with me and, as the ambulance arrived within a couple of minutes, I was treated without the need for adrenalin.”.
Ian was very lucky that he received prompt medical care and recovered, this could have been a tragedy. If this had happened after the new legislation had come into force on 13 December, the restaurant would have been held culpable and would have suffered dire consequences.If the worst were to happen and a customer were to die of an allergic reaction having eaten at your establishment, you would probably lose your business and have to serve a jail sentence.
After 13 December, people with food allergies will obviously continue to remain vigilant and talk to food service staff in the same way as they do now about allergenic ingredients before eating out. The difference is that, post 13 December, consumers will have a right to demand to know what is in their food; and the law dictates that you must have the answers.
Food allergens are life threatening
to those who have a severe allergy to them
- 6–8% of children have a proven food allergy (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, 2011)
- 2-4% of adults have a food allergy
- Cases of peanut allergy have tripled in the last decade
- UK hospital admissions for food allergies have increased by 500% since 1990
- Every year around 20 people in the UK die from anaphylaxis
- about 10 of these from food
The Anaphylaxis Campaign is the only UK-wide charity solely supporting people at risk from severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). For over 20 years the Campaign has provided information and support to patients and their families. The Anaphylaxis Campaign works with healthcare professionals, the food industry and pharmaceutical companies to deliver better understanding of allergies and anaphylaxis.
Know Your Allergens
There are 14 major allergens that need to be declared when they are used as ingredients in a food. Any service provider should be able to provide information on which foods contain these allergenic ingredients. If a member of staff is unsure of the answer to a customer’s question, they must ask somebody who knows. This information must be accurate and verifiable.
|Cereals containing gluten namely wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan wheat), barley, rye and oats - these can be found in some types of baking powder, couscous, meat products, pasta, pastry, sauces, soups and fried foods that are dusted with flour||Nuts not to be mistaken with peanuts (which are actually a legume and grow underground), this ingredient refers to nuts that grow on trees such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio, Macadamia and cashew|
|Crustaceans such as crabs, lobster, prawns and scampi - watch out for shrimp paste that is often used in Thai and south-east Asian curries or salads||Celery this includes celery stalks, leaves, seeds and the root called celeriac. You can find celery in celery salt, salads, some meat products, soups and stock cubes|
|Eggs found in cakes, some meat products, mayonnaise, sauces, pastries and foods brushed or glazed with egg||Mustard found in breads, curries, marinades, meat products, salad dressings, sauces and soups|
|Fish found in some fish sauces, pizzas, relishes, salad dressings, stock cubes and Worcestershire sauce||Sesame often found in bread, houmous, tahini and always in sesame oil|
|Peanuts found in items such as biscuits, cakes, curries, desserts, sauces and groundnut oil||Sulphur dioxide or sulphites often used in dried fruit such as raisins, dried apricots and prunes. Can also be found in meat products, soft drinks, vegetables, wine and beer. People with asthma have a higher risk of developing a reaction to sulphur dioxide|
|Soya a staple ingredient in oriental food, soya is often found in bean curd, edamame beans, miso paste, textured soya protein, tofu, desserts, meat products, sauces and vegetarian products||Lupin found in some types of bread, pastries and pasta|
|Milk watch out for milk in powdered soups and sauces||Molluscs including mussels, land snails, squid and whelks, but can also be commonly found in oyster sauce and as an ingredient in fish stews|
Icons courtesy of the Food Standards Agency.
Further information and resources including chef cards, can be found on the Food Standard Agency’s website.
The British Hospitality Association’s website also contains useful information.