A focus on food allergens for Allergy Awareness Week
Shropshire Council’s regulatory services team is marking Allergy Awareness Week, which begins today (Monday 24 April 2017), by raising awareness of food allergies amongst businesses that make and sell food across Shropshire.
The team is keen to remind businesses of their requirements to identify and provide information in relation to food allergens on their menus, so those who have an allergy do not suffer adverse consequences as a result of eating out.
In the UK, it is estimated that 1-2% of adults and 6-8% of children have a food allergy. This equates to around two million people living in the UK with a food allergy. In Shropshire, it is thought that approximately 3,787 of adults and between 6% and 8% of children aged 1 to 4, meaning between 724 and 966 children, are being affected by food allergies. Unfortunately, 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.
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 10 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. This can be achieved by checking ingredients details on labels of prepacked foods and being provided allergen ingredients information for non-prepacked foods. Therefore, it is very important that food businesses provide clear and accurate information about allergenic ingredients in their products.
The EU Food Information for Consumers Regulations (EU FIC) came into force on 13 December 2014 and required food businesses to provide allergen labelling on prepacked food and the provision of allergen information for non-prepacked (unpackaged) foods. On non-prepacked food, food businesses, such as restaurants, takeaways, bakeries and institutional caterers (prisons, nurseries, schools, hospitals, workplace canteens etc.) can give allergy information in writing and/or orally.
The 14 allergens listed in the Regulation are recognised across Europe as the most common ingredients or processing aids that cause food allergies and intolerances.
The allergens are:
- Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and khorasan wheat), rye, barley, oats.
- Crustaceans for example prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish.
- Milk (including lactose).
- Nuts: namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia (or Queensland) nuts.
- Celery (including celeriac).
- Sulphur dioxide/sulphites, where added and at a level above 10mg/kg or 10mg/L in the finished product. This can be used as a preservative in dried fruit.
- Lupin, which includes lupin seeds and flour which can be found in certain types of bread, pastries and pasta.
- Molluscs like, mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid.
Under the requirements of the legislation food businesses should ensure that:
- Customers have complete and accurate information on all menu items served so that they can make informed decisions about the food they eat.
- Analyse their ingredients and identify where allergens are present. You need to provide that information to your customers.
- Either provide information on menus, or train staff to provide accurate allergen information to customers on request.
Over the past year the health protection team in regulatory services have been carrying out interventions in food businesses in Shropshire, and have found that approximately 24% of businesses are not compliant with the requirements of the Food Information Regulations in relation to allergens.
Matthew Aldridge, Shropshire Council’s health protection team manager, said:
“Food allergies and intolerances are a serious matter.
“People may be aware of some recent high profile publicity in the UK where customers of food businesses have died as a result of consuming food containing undeclared allergens. In certain cases, this has resulted in the prosecution of a number of businesses and we want to raise awareness amongst food businesses in Shropshire of their obligations.
“We will use the information that we have gathered in relation to the levels of compliance in Shropshire to launch a targeted sampling and follow-up intervention campaign, whereby meals will be sent for analysis to determine whether they contain any of the listed allergens and to ensure compliance with the Food Information Regulations.
“We will also be launching awareness sessions for specific sectors of food businesses to receive further training and advice on their obligations.”
Kate MacDonald, Shropshire Council’s insight officer, said:
“I found out I had food allergies at the age of nine after suffering an anaphylactic shock. Fortunately, living close to an A&E, I received treatment quickly. I now have to avoid eating nuts and shellfish, and anything that may have come into contact with these foods.
“I have to be extremely careful when dining out, and I always discuss my requirements with the food business to determine if the food is safe for me to eat.
“I really appreciate the businesses that can clearly identify the allergens in the food and demonstrate excellent food hygiene practices, though I tend to go to the restaurants I know I can trust.”
During this week the team will be:
- Launching a targeted sampling project to determine compliance amongst food businesses in Shropshire.
- Launching awareness sessions for certain sectors of food businesses on how to comply with the requirements to inform customers on the presence of allergens.
- Promoting information via the public protection Facebook pages with interesting facts and an interactive quiz.
More information on the regulations for businesses can be found by clicking here.