Hygiene Sue - News Board

Posted by Sue Richardson  15/08/2018

Food allergy facts

With Pret A Manger UK being in the news and allergy stories being a regular occurrence in the media, Hygiene Sue thought it would be a good idea to take a look at just what the problem is and highlight the 14 high risk foods. 

In the UK, about ten people die every year from food-induced anaphylaxis and many of those who die or suffer 'near miss' reactions had no idea that they were at risk. Tv presenter Kate Silverton suffered a mild reaction more than a decade ago after eating a prawn dish while backpacking in Egypt. An hour later large, itchy hives appeared on her chest and back and after taking some antihistamine tablets dismissed it as a mild reaction to a

Shelled Peanuts

henna tattoo she had…. However, it was most likely a warning sign that she was developing a severe allergy to certain types of seafood - resulting in a severe allergic reaction at Ascot races

Eminent paediatric allergist Professor Gideon Lack, of St Thomas' Hospital, London, stresses these early warning signs should be taken seriously. 'The body develops allergies when the immune system mistakenly recognises an innocuous substance (such as a peanut, prawn or grass pollen) as being harmful,' he says. 'If you suffer an immediate rash, swelling, runny nose or itchy eyes, often within minutes of eating a particular food or being in contact with a non-food substance, or if you have a tickling or itching in the back of the throat as you eat the food or it has a specific metallic taste, these could be signs of an allergic response and you should speak to your GP about it. 'Always obtain specialist advice as allergies can get worse in years to come, and some are potentially fatal.'


But why would someone just ‘develop’ an allergy? Dr Pamela Ewan, director of the allergy clinic at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, explains: 'Allergies are unpredictable. On one occasion a reaction can be mild and on a subsequent occasion severe, particularly if alcohol has been consumed or the individual has been exercising. We don't fully understand why but these things seem to exacerbate allergic reaction.'

Pregnant mothers now are under huge pressure to be healthy - but the advice they get is conflicting. Many are told to cut out foods or avoid eating peanuts, while others are routinely told to avoid eating French cheese or salamis, raw or undercooked meats because of the risk of very rare infections that other countries don’t worry about.

In this way they anxiously end up on very restrictive diets, lacking diversity and fibre. These diets could be having the opposite effects to those intended as they starve our gut microbes of nutrients and reduce the immune dampening chemicals they naturally produce.

An increasing trend is that many of us think we have food allergies when we don’t. One study found that while 38% of people think they have a food allergy, the real figure is closer to around 1%. This exaggerated fear of allergies means that parents are preventing some children from eating foods such as wheat, nuts, eggs or milk. Paradoxically, peanut allergy looks like it could be cured by reintroducing tiny amounts of peanuts slowly early on in life. Early studies also suggest microbes can help prevent the allergy as introducing probiotics has also helped. Data so far shows non-allergic mothers who eat peanuts are less likely to subsequently have peanut allergic children. And a change of heart may finally be underway after interim guidelines issued by the American Academy of Paediatrics, and based on a peanut trial led by Gideon Lack at King’s College London, suggested that babies at high-risk of developing peanut allergy are protected from peanut allergy at the age of five if they eat peanut frequently, starting within their first 11 months.

Which foods can cause allergy?

  • In Europe, food allergens are monitored and assessed through the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). They advise on which foods need to be labelled on pre-packed foods.

  • EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation lists 14 food allergens that must always be labelled in pre-packed and non-prepacked foods.

  • Foods that need to be labelled on pre-packed foods when used as ingredients are:

    • Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan wheat), rye, barley, oats

    • Crustaceans for example prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish

    • Eggs

    • Fish

    • Peanuts

    • Soybeans

    • Milk

    • Nuts; namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia (or Queensland) nuts

    • Celery (including celeriac)

    • Mustard

    • Sesame

    • Sulphur dioxide/sulphites, where added and at a level above 10mg/kg in the finished product. This can be used as a preservative in dried fruit

    • Lupin which includes lupin seeds and flour and can be found in types of bread, pastries and pasta

    • Molluscs like clams, mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid

  • The allergenic ingredients need to be emphasised using a typeset that clearly distinguishes it from the rest of the ingredients, for example by means of the font, style or background colour. This is why many labels have the allergens in Bold type.

  • When a product is not required to provide an ingredients list such as a bottle of wine, any allergenic ingredients within this product must be declared using a ‘contains’ statement followed by the name of the allergenic substance

  • Where several ingredients or processing aids in a food originates from a single allergenic ingredient, the labelling should make this clear for each ingredient or processing aid concerned. For example, skimmed milk powder, whey (milk), lactose (milk)

  • Where the name of the food (such as a box of eggs or bag of peanuts) clearly refers to the allergenic ingredients concerned, there is no need for a separate declaration of the allergenic food

  • Where foods are offered to sale to the final consumer or to mass caterers without packaging, or where foods are packed on the sales premises at the consumer’s request or prepacked for direct sale, information about allergenic ingredients is mandatory and must be provided

There are both criminal and civil legal regimes that are relevant to the sale of foods containing allergens and the provision of 'allergen-free' lists. It is essential that these are given careful consideration.

The following is a brief outline of the main provisions to assist manufacturers in identifying their legal obligations. It also suggests the appropriate courses of action in respect of good manufacturing practice and the provision of information for consumers.

Manufacturers should seek their own legal advice as appropriate.

The EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC) changes the way allergen information appears on labels and on food that is prepacked, sold loose or served when eating out. The EU FIC brings general and nutrition labelling rules together and simplifies and consolidates existing labelling legislation into a single framework.

The regulation builds on the previous allergen labelling provisions for prepacked foods as well as extending the provision of allergen information to foods sold non-prepacked or prepacked for direct sale.


Whether you know  the law or not the best rule of thumb is ‘belt and braces’ is it not better to label something that may not even need a label than not at all?


For more information on Allergens please call Sue Richardson 01892 524957 or email theteam@hygienesue.co.uk