Allergies can be life-threatening. Most people are aware of potential reactions to peanuts, but for a long time, the public was generally unaware of allergens within other foods.
In July 2016, a teenager suffered a fatal reaction to sesame in a baguette bought at a national chain.
In the UK, the Food Information Regulations act was introduced to ensure that the correct labeling of ingredients in Pre-Packaged foods included all 14 main allergens.
Unfortunately, freshly handmade, non-pre-packaged food does not have to be individually labelled.
The company had positioned signs in the fridge and at the till points asking customers with allergies to speak to a manager for advice or to see its allergen guide. However the teenager, according to the Coroner, was “reassured” by the lack of specific allergen information on the packaging leading her to believe it was safe.
The government is now likely to revise packaging requirements.
Data highlighted by Allergy UK suggests that young adults and children are “disproportionately more prone to die from an allergic reaction than adults”.
8% of children are thought to be affected by food allergies or intolerances in comparison to 2% of children. An estimated 4,500 people are admitted to UK hospitals each year with ten food allergy-related deaths reported.
While various hypotheses have been proposed to explain the apparent increase in allergies, increased awareness of how allergies work has helped us identify the key food-based allergens. This article gives a description of the 14 types of allergens, what foods they can be found in, and how to identify an allergic reaction.
What are the main Allergens?
Legislation introduced in 2014 requires food businesses to clearly label products with whichever allergens may have contaminated the product. There are 14 such food-based allergens that are required to be identified under this legislation:
- Celery: The stalks, leaves, seeds, and the root of the celery plant are all possible allergens. Celery can also be found in many stocks, meat products, soups, and pre-made salads.
- Gluten-Containing Cereals: These cereals include wheat, Kamut, barley, oats, and rye, and are very often found in flour, bread, baking powders, batters/breadcrumbs, cakes/biscuits, pastas, pastries, soups, and most fried foods.
- Crustaceans: Any kind of shellfish, as well as crabs, lobsters, and scampi fall under this allergy.
- Fish: Any piece of fish, or dishes made from fish such as relishes, Worcestershire sauce, stock cubes, and pizzas topped with fish.
- Eggs: Dishes made from eggs like cakes, quiches, pastas, mayonnaise, pastries, mousses, or many sauces. It is also important to watch out for foods that may have been glazed with eggs.
- Lupin: A kind of flower, Lupin is found in some types of flour, Lupin seeds, breads, pastries, and some pastas.
- Milk: Products made from milk include butters, cheeses, creams, powdered milk, some sauces, and yoghurts. Like eggs, it can be found in foods that have been glazed with milk products.
- Molluscs: Mussels, snails, squid, and whelks, as well as sauces including oyster sauce or dishes such as fish stews.
- Mustard: Products derived from mustard plants, including both liquid and powdered mustard, as well as mustard seeds themselves. It can also be found in curries, marinades, sauces, soups, salad dressings, and some bread products.
- Nuts: This particular allergy does not include peanuts (which are technically a kind of legume), but does include all kinds of tree-grown nuts like cashews, hazelnuts, and almonds. They can be found with bread products, crackers, desserts, marzipan, biscuits, sauces, oils, and nut powders.
- Peanuts: Peanuts are most often used in cakes, curries, pastries, desserts, sauces, groundnut oil, peanut flour, and biscuits.
- Sesame Seeds: These are often found in breads (most commonly burger buns), breadsticks, humus, tahini, and oils. They can also be found in some salads.
- Soya: It is usually found in dishes of Asian origin, such as tofu. It can be found in miso paste, edamame beans, soya flour, bean curd, or textured soya protein. It’s often found in desserts, ice cream, many meat products, sauces, and a lot of vegetarian/vegan products.
- Sulphites: These are often used in dried fruit products like raisins, apricots, and prunes. They can also be found in wine and beer, soft drinks, meat products, and vegetables. An allergy to sulphites is at a higher risk of developing in people who suffer from asthma.
Identifying an Allergic Reaction
The main symptoms of allergic reactions are:
- Dry, red, or cracked skin
- Swollen lips, tongue, or face
- Vomiting or diarrhoea
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, and a tight chest.
- Runny nose and sneezing
Vomiting is particularly common in food allergies since it is the most effective way for the body to get rid of the thing causing the reaction.
The most serious symptom of allergic reactions is anaphylactic shock. A relatively rare occurrence, its symptoms include those mentioned above, as well as more serious ones. These include:
- losing consciousness
- blue skin/lips
- throat swelling
- difficulty breathing
Anaphylactic shock is life-threatening, so if someone has gone into one you must immediately dial 999. You can also help by injecting them with adrenaline if they carry an autoinjector with them (and again within 15 minutes, if their symptoms don’t improve), but it is also important to lay the victim down and remove any possible triggers from the area immediately
Further Reading on Allergens
The NHS website has lots of information about allergic reactions, and different kinds of allergies: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/allergies/
Training on Allergens
It is strongly recommended by the Food Standards Agency that all staff working with food should have training in order to remain hygienic and compliant with the law.
Tutorcare offers a number of accreditations to ensure that staff of all experience levels are catered to. These include Allergen Awareness, Diet & Nutrition Training as well as Food Safety Level 2, Food Safety Level 3 and Food Safety Level 4.
Specialists courses such as Healthier Food and Special Diets (see Food Safety courses), HACCP and HACCP for Food Manufacturing are also available for supervisors and managers.