Written by: Cally Worden
Allergic reactions to food are more common that you may imagine, causing around 5000 people each year to seek hospital treatment in the UK, and an average of 10 poor souls to die from a severe reaction to foodstuffs. Most of us are, thankfully, immune to most allergic reactions caused by food, but you never know when one may strike or when a new allergy may develop.
A Cautionary Tale
15 years ago I was sitting in a familiar haunt in London’s West End. It was a Chinese restaurant I’d been to many times before and on this day I’d ordered a new dish that happened to contain Chinese mushrooms. After 5 mouthfuls my jaw went numb, a deeply scary sensation that quickly spread to most of my face. It was like I was paralysed. Most of the party I was with thought it amusing, so I just stopped eating and tried to make light of it. Slowly, the sensation began to fade. Then a kindly woman from a neighbouring table who had noticed my subdued distress, came over. Speaking softly she told me the same had happened to a friend of hers recently, with no long term effects. The cause was an allergic reaction to Chinese mushrooms. Needless to say, I’ve never eaten them again.
As of 13th December 2014, restaurants and takeaways in the UK are now obliged by law to advise customers when the food they are selling contains anything from a list of specified ingredients. The list is as follows, and is made up of the 14 foodstuffs that have been identified as the culprits in the majority of allergic reactions to foods:
- Eggs (including glazes)
- Fish, Crustaceans and Molluscs
- Peanuts, Nuts and Sesame Seeds
- Lupin (commonly found in pasta and pastries)
- Cereals containing gluten
- Celery (a favourite addition to stock cubes and soups)
- Sulphur Dioxide (often used as a preservative)
No Chinese mushrooms then, so it just goes to show you can never be too careful about what you put in your mouth.
Will it Help?
Many of the foodstuffs on the above list are found in surprising places, such as nuts in BBQ Sauce and soya in tinned tuna. Even a humble jar of Marmite contains celery. If you are aware of a food allergy, then yes I’m sure these new rules will help. But in many cases individuals only become aware of a problem when they consume the food in question. By which time it’s too late.
Common sense must surely prevail here – if you know you or your child have an allergy then make the most of these new regulations and ask for details of any foodstuffs you are consuming when you’re out – you probably already do this, but hopefully now your food provider will be more informed about the contents of what they are serving. For everyone else, remain vigilant to unexpected reactions to new foods. If you start to feel weird, stop eating. Thankfully over 90% of food allergies are caused by only 8 of these ingredients – soya, wheat, eggs, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, milk and fish. The chances of an allergic reaction remain relatively low, thanks goodness.