By Sian Hopkins | Comment Editor
From young we are taught to eat everything that is in front of us and not to be picky eaters. When we refuse to eat something or suggest we don’t like foods we are labelled as ‘difficult.’ This is of course different to those of us that then discover we suffer from a food allergy and in most cases, several food allergies. I have food allergies and several intolerances that make eating out and travelling a bigger decision for me.
I wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was 16, as a child I was already used to hearing how I was being difficult and overreacting when I said I didn’t want to eat something that I knew would make me sick. However, even with my diagnosis I sometimes feel awkward and anxious when asking if I will be able to eat a particular dish or realising I can’t eat anything at that Thai restaurant because it’s all fried in nut oils.
A lot of similar anxieties could be avoided or made easier for people suffering with food allergies. A clear labelling system showing at least the core 14 allergens to look out for on every food item, especially on menus in restaurants or freshly baked products. The constant worry that I could die just from one meal is not a choice, it’s now a lifelong struggle.
I spoke to another Cardiff student with a severe peanut allergy to ask whether she believed places labelled their food dishes effectively and she commented:
Especially not on menus at restaurants, it’s not specific enough and I will have to ask someone. 80% of the time people get annoyed and make me feel uncomfortable when I explain my nut allergies,as my nut allergies are specific they have to look at the ingredient lists which takes time. Some places I’ve been to won’t check and they just say I’m better off not eating there which is frustrating because all food places should have ingredient lists accessible to their staff.
Whilst some may argue that everywhere they go out to eat appears to have a bold highlighted text of ingredients next to food items, it was only a few years ago that Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died from cardiac arrest because of a Pret A Manger sandwich that wasn’t clearly labelled as containing sesame. The BBC reported the coroner stating:
‘Natasha had been “reassured” by the lack of specific allergen information on the packaging.’
This 15 year old girl died thanks to the incompetence of the brand, because she put her trust in them being able to label their food products correctly. Pret since released that they:
‘will list all ingredients, including allergens, on its freshly made products following the death,’
but I question why it takes someone to die for just one brand out of many to introduce proper health measures for customers with life threatening food allergies.
The government Food Standards Agency, overseeing guidelines for all food businesses in the UK, suggests that currently food businesses must provide allergen information in writing if selling or providing food to customers directly. This must be presented with ‘the full allergen information on a menu, chalkboard or in an information pack’ and any information provided to the customer via conversation can:
‘be backed up by written information. This would ensure that it is accurate and consistent.’
Whilst this would be promising not all food businesses with pre-packaged food are required to give this information in such uniform procedure; at least not until October 2021, when,
‘Foods will need to have a label with a full ingredients list with allergenic ingredients emphasised within it.’
The idea that the globalised media of a young girl’s death and the fact that the world is currently facing a shortage of Epipens still doesn’t highlight the importance of businesses providing clear allergen information is a baffling notion. All it takes is for a restaurant to provide an accessible allergen list or helpful customer service to change that customer’s whole experience. October 2021 cannot come soon enough.