The old adage, ‘buyer beware’ still holds true for all of us purchasing and consuming foodstuffs from an ever increasing range of commercial food outlets, be they roadside, Vietnamese, Mongolian, Burger or supermarket. It is reassuring to know that the entire food chain from seed to plate is strongly governed by a plethora of legislation that covers food production, labelling, packaging and much more.
However, the hospitality industry, as an end-user of this supply chain, under legislation introduced in December 2014 requires all food-handlers and service staff in the hospitality industry to be thoroughly ‘educated’ on the allergens that naturally occur in our foodstuffs and to be aware of the allergies that develop.
It is estimated that 1-2% of adults and 5-8% of children have food allergies. This equates to around 2 million people living in the UK with a food allergy and this figure does not include those with food intolerances. This means the actual number of affected people living with food allergy and/or food intolerance is considerably more.
The Food Standards Agency states that “An allergic reaction can be produced by a tiny amount of a food ingredient that a person is sensitive to (for example a teaspoon of milk powder, a fragment of peanut or just one or two sesame seeds). Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mild symptoms such as itching around the mouth and rashes; and can progress to more severe symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, wheezing and on occasion anaphylaxis (shock). Around ten people in the UK die from allergic reactions to food every year”.
There is no cure for food allergy. The only way to manage the condition is to avoid food that makes the person ill. As a consumer, this can be achieved by checking the ingredients details on labels of prepacked foods and asking food handlers for the allergen ingredients information on non-prepacked foods. The onus is now on the front line of the food service industry to be fully aware of what they are serving and advise, if asked, if it is safe for consumption by the allergy-intolerant consumer. All food businesses from January 2015 must provide clear and accurate information about allergenic ingredients in their products.
Let both the buyer and seller beware.