Health: New rules taking the fear out of meals out

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A change in the law means restaurants must give details of allergens in their food. Katie Baldwin reports.

A takeaway is a treat for most, but it could land one Leeds student in hospital.

Catherine Dolan

Catherine Dolan

Catherine Dolan has a severe peanut allergy which sends her into anaphylactic shock, which can be life threatening.

The 20-year-old said: “I can tell straight away if I’ve accidentally eaten something with peanuts in – you get that feeling of dread in your stomach.

“The whole experience of an allergic reaction is quite scary and traumatic, especially as I know they’re getting progressively worse each time.

“I’ve been hospitalised three times due to allergic reactions and each time it’s been due to restaurant or takeaway food.

“The first time was at a buffet restaurant – before eating, I asked the staff whether any of the food contained peanuts.

“However, there must have been a misunderstanding as despite them answering no, I then went on to have a severe allergic reaction.”

Her reactions come on rapidly, with symptoms of anaphylactic shock including swelling, rashes, fainting and struggling to breathe.

Luckily each time an ambulance has been called in order to get her to hospital before it becomes life-threatening, and Catherine carries an Epipen to use when she realises she’s having a reaction.

When she goes to hospital, she is normally admitted overnight and it takes several days to recover fully.

So the Leeds University student has welcomed new legislation which means restaurants and takeaways will be required by law to tell customers if any of the top 14 ingredients most likely to cause an allergic reaction are in the foods they serve.

For Catherine, who lives in Headingley, takeaways had been the biggest problem for her.

“Even when specifically asked, they do not always state that a lot of their sauces contain peanut oils and that food is sometimes fried in it.

“This is especially common in Chinese and Indian food. It’s definitely something that needs to be stated more on menus.

“The legislation will definitely be helpful. By providing more detailed information about what exactly is in their product, food businesses can avoid unexpected allergic reactions like my own.”

Research by the Food Standards Agency and Allergy UK has found that Catherine is not alone – 70 per cent of those with allergies said they avoided buying takeaways and over half said they avoided eating in restaurants.

Before the introduction of the new rules, almost three-quarters said they didn’t feel confident when asking food businesses for allergen information as they felt it could be inaccurate, but nearly 70 per cent were more likely to eat out once the new legislation was in force. It is hoped the changes will cut the number of people hospitalised per year due to allergic reactions, which currently stands at around 5,000 after having risen by 87 per cent between 2002 and 2014.

On average 10 people die every year because of severe allergic reactions.

Under the newly introduced rules, food businesses can communicate allergy information verbally through explanations by staff or signposting to where or how more information can be found on menus or in additional leaflets.

Chun-Han Chan, food allergy expert at the FSA, said: “With a steady rise in the number of people suffering from food allergies and intolerances in the last decade, these new measures will make it simpler for those with allergies to buy and consume food. Allergies can be fatal for some people and this is why it is vital that food businesses give their customers information they can trust.

“The legislation is a huge step forward for those with allergies, who should now feel confident they have a right to ask about allergenic ingredients in the foods they buy. This normalises allergen information as something that should be available at all times. We have been working very closely with local authorities, food businesses and consumer groups to ensure that these changes can and will be put into place.”

* Visit www.food.gov.uk/science/allergy-intolerance.

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