Food allergy is real for many people its not just a fad. Around half a million people throughout the UK suffer severe allergic reactions to food, including about 250,000 young children with peanut allergy, and these figures are rising steadily.
Food allergy is very different from food intolerance which has also received widespread publicity lately. Food intolerance is the result of an adverse reaction which does not involve the immune system and, although it can cause much discomfort and pain, is not life-threatening. Common symptoms of food intolerance are diarrhoea and bloating.
The consequence of having a severe food allergy impacts not only the individual concernedbut also their family and friends. Going out for a meal is often a social occasion and choices will inevitably be made with the food-allergic person in mind.
People with food allergies are very keen to find food outlets which are prepared to cater for them, and will become regular customers if they find that their needs are met. On the whole, decisions about which catering establishment to visit for a meal will be dictated by the choice of safe dishes available, as well as the overall awareness and helpfulness of catering staff.For example, knowing the exact ingredients of a dish and fully understanding the issues of cross-contamination and how it can be prevented.
An example which clearly illustrates the danger of cross-contamination is that of a hotel bar which served peanuts in bowls around the room. When the peanuts had been eaten, a member of bar staff would top up the bowls with crisps without washing them. A bride on her wedding day who had a nut allergy ate the crisps, nearly died and spent her wedding night in hospital.
So what exactly is anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction of the immune system to a particular substance which the body thinks is harmful. Reactions can occur within seconds of exposure to the substance but can sometimes happen after several hours.
Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) The symptoms
generalised flushing of the skin nettle rash (hives) anywhere on the body swelling of throat and mouth difficulty in swallowing or speaking alterations in heart rate severe asthma abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting sudden feeling of weakness (drop in blood pressure) collapse and unconsciousness
A person would not necessarily experience all of these symptoms.
What can cause anaphylaxis?
Peanuts and tree nuts (hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, etc) are the most common cause of severe reactions and have received much publicity for that reason. Some people also react to wheat, fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, sesame, soya and a wide range of other foods including some fruits. In the UK, kiwi fruit allergy among children is becoming common. There are also many non-food causes of anaphylaxis such as insect stings, latex and drugs.
Research has shown that over 3/4 of adult food allergy deaths are caused by catered food. Typical causes are peanut flour used to thicken curries, cross contamination by unrefined oils and other allergens (eg peanuts, cashews and prawns when cooking with woks) and nutty ingredients used deliberately in cakes and desserts but not obviously visible.
The Anaphylaxis Campaign is a registered charity which provides help and support to people with severe allergies. Food allergies are serious but manageable and with this in mind, they have recently launched a website for the catering industry, which tackles the problems faced by caterers everywhere to provide the food-allergic customer with a safe choice of meals.
www.cateringforallergy.org addresses the problems of cross-contamination, provides information on current law and labelling regulations as well as practical guides and tips. Although still in its early stages, the website is regularly updated and welcomes comments and feedback from caterers so it can be further improved.
Further info / contact details:
Vicky Field Communications Manager Anaphylaxis Campaign +44 1252 373793
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