Sufferers of food allergies in Europe will find their shopping experience a little bit easier later this year.
On December 13, a new European Commission directive comes into force allowing consumers to have clearer knowledge of the food they are thinking of eating.
The new regulations make it mandatory for the information to be shown clearly and in a prescribed format, even down to stating the minimum font size that must be used.
Information on allergens must also be made easily available in the case of unpackaged foods and at takeaways.
The legislation will cover producers and manufacturers at all stages of food production.
So you have discovered that you or a member of your family is allergic to a particular foodstuff and you need to change your food purchasing, preparation and cooking routines.
First thing to do is not to panic – things are probably not as bad as you think.
Next, start to list/remove all the products you already have that could cause a reaction. Check kitchen cupboards, refrigerator, freezer, secret sweet-hiding drawers, anywhere that the allergen could possibly be lurking.
Don’t throw perfectly good food away unnecessarily though – friends, family, neighbours, even local charities will most likely be happy to take it off your hands. Having this conversation with friends and family will also highlight the problem and make them aware of what can/can’t be eaten when they next invite you round for a meal.
Now you should begin learning about alternatives to the “baddie” – mouseover “Types Of Food Allergy” at the top of this page and go to the relevant page for more details. You will also find details of how the food could “hide” under a different name. Until you get used to the names, it’s a good idea to make a list of these and carry it with you when you go shopping.
All that’s left is for you to change routines/purchasing habits to ensure none of the offending foodstuffs sneaks back in to your home. Get into the habit of reading the ingredients on all purchases, or asking the vendor if you are buying unwrapped food.
One final point to note is that it is not possible to “cook the allergy away”. Most of us are brought up to know that if we suspect bacteria is present, say, in water, then boiling the water first will remove it and make the water safe. With food allergies, cooking can often make the problem worse.
Maybe “top food allergies” is the wrong way to describe this post as it makes it sound like a good thing – this is one occasion when you don’t want to aim for the top.
However, it can be interesting, particularly to non-sufferers, to see what food type is most likely to cause an allergic reaction. If you are going to be preparing food for a group of people (for example, friends of your child), you can avoid the obvious dangers by not using particular types of food or by labelling the resulting dishes.
It is generally agreed that the top eight food allergens cause around 80-90% of all food allergy reactions. These are:
- Tree nuts
Note that these are listed in alphabetical order, not in order of severity or how common they are.
Someone is said to have a food allergy when their body’s immune system takes a dislike to certain food items and reacts in an abnormal way. For most sufferers, the reaction can be relatively mild, but in some cases there can be serious or even fatal results.
Something that is totally harmless to most people can suddenly be seen as a threat by your body and a reaction is started to get rid of the threat. This reaction normally consists of the body producing chemicals to “fight the invaders”, and it is these chemicals that cause the symptoms of the food allergy.
While it is true that ANY food could cause such a reaction, the vast majority of food allergies can be covered by the following groups:
- Sulphur Dioxide/Sulphites
Of these, the first three (Peanuts to Sesame) would normally be classed as high risk as these are the food items that cause the most violent reactions. Milk to Molluscs are classed as medium risk, and the rest are low risk. Note that these descriptions relate only to the severity of the reaction and in no way underrate the fact that any reaction can be extremely unpleasant to the sufferer.
Common reactions caused by a food allergy can range from a rash developing on the skin, swelling around the face, nausea/diarrhoea, stomach pains, right through to anaphylactic shock.