An insight into food allergies

We hear from our Strategic Advisor Sterling Crew about new insights into consumers and food hypersensitivity and allergens.

Food allergy is front and centre of the food zeitgeist and is recognised as an important food safety issue, which rightly commands a great deal of media, regulatory, industry and consumer attention. At present there is no cure for food allergies or food intolerance conditions, sufferers must avoid eating problem foods and rely on an emergency treatment in the event of exposure. The dietary restrictions which follow can become a blight on affected individuals and their families. For some individuals with severe forms of the condition life threatening reactions can be prompted by even small traces of the trigger foods. The allergic reactions may range from relatively short-lived discomfort to anaphylactic shock and death. As a result sufferers often live in fear and anxiety, which naturally impacts on their quality of life. Recently, widely reported deaths of teenagers with food allergies have highlighted the human impact of the condition, and the importance of clear, accurate labelling and effective allergen management.

The law on labelling

A new law protecting allergy sufferers has been introduced, following the tragic death of 15-year old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died of anaphylaxis after collapsing on board a flight to Nice in July 2016. She suffered a severe allergic reaction after unknowingly consuming sesame seeds in an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette. The baguette did not have any allergen advice on its wrapper and there was no requirement for it to do so, due to reduced labelling requirements for food produced on site. For items made in-store and pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS) it is sufficient for general allergen warnings to be posted around the shop, rather than on the packaging, and for specific advice to be given orally by staff. The new law, due to come into force on 1st October 2021 will require the full listing of ingredients, with the 14 prescribed allergens highlighted in bold.

What consumers are telling us

So, with all the media attention and new legislation, what do customers think? The results of a recent survey by the Food Standards Agency gives us a unique insight into consumer beliefs. 79% of the survey’s respondents reported no food hypersensitivity, while 21% reported having an adverse reaction to certain foods. Food intolerances were the most common type of hypersensitivity (12%) followed by food allergies (5%) and ‘other’ adverse reactions (5%). It is notable that self-diagnosis was the most common form of diagnosis, reported by 77% of those with food intolerances, 63% of those with food allergies and 61% of those with ‘other’ adverse reactions. It is unsurprising that those with food allergies (45%) were more likely to have a clinical diagnosis than those with food intolerances (23%) or ‘other’ adverse reactions (25%) probably because they had the strongest reactions to the food.

In regards to eating out, there were no differences between individuals with and without a food hypersensitivity, in terms of how frequently they ate outside the home. People with food intolerances (39%) were more likely to eat in a fast food restaurant than those with food allergies (27%) or other reaction (21%). Consumers with food allergies (66%) and food intolerances (59%) were more likely to report that recommendations or invitations from someone they know were important in their choice of where to eat out, in comparison to 49% of people with no hypersensitivity.

Absence of a clinical diagnosis could lead to increased risk of adverse reactions, whilst self or over-diagnosis could lead to unnecessary elimination diets with nutritional and social implications.

In light of recent tragedies the food service industry should be doing more to keep customers with allergies safe. It makes sense for those food businesses to review the robustness of their approach to the management and labelling of allergens. Every customer must have the information they need to make the right choice for them.

Time to take action?

If you need advice or support with your allergen management  please contact Shield Safety Group. With strategic services and operational software solutions to suit businesses of all sizes we can help you manage food safety compliance in your kitchen. Contact us today to find out more.

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Sterling Crew

Food Safety

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