Focus on food allergy

Hazel Gowland has been allergic to nuts and peanuts since 1960 and has survived a number of life threatening reactions. 

She has worked at national level with the Anaphylaxis Campaign since its earliest days in 1994 and is now its main food adviser. Hazel supports and advises those at risk of severe food allergies, both through personal experience and professional expertise.

Read her comment on Rob Rees’s post ‘May Contain Nuts’

If your job involves preparing food for allergic people, then you may be interested to know how to ensure that you protect their food from cross contamination and also how to include food allergy risks in your food safety plan.

Whilst there is no doubt that tiny traces of some foods can trigger symptoms in some people, and also that symptoms can occasionally become severe, and whilst we are still waiting for more scientific research on the subject, there are still a number of very practical steps you can take to protect people with allergies.

The first step is to really know exactly what is in all the foods you handle. If you don’t know your ingredients, then you can’t tell a customer who asks. In addition you won’t know whether there might be a cross contamination risk to other foods.

Once you know exactly what is in the food you handle (by checking ingredients in recipes, on labels as well as ‘may contain’ information), your next step is to have a look at controls you already have in place.

Without realising it, you may already have some very effective controls in place.

For starters, do you wash your hands properly?

If you use hot water and soap and spend the recommended 15 seconds washing your hands, you will also help to control any allergen contamination. Whilst using a sanitiser is designed to get rid of bugs, research has shown that it is yet another effective control against allergen contamination.

Then you need to look at your work areas. In additional to removing ‘gross contamination’ – food residue from previous dishes or products, the use of normal detergents and sanitisers with hot water is effective, as long as you use a CLEAN cloth or paper. Dirty cloths will transfer allergens round your kitchen and service areas. If you are unsure about using a pitted chopping board, then chop up food for an allergic person on a clean stainless steel surface or on a clean plate.

Washing up and dishwashing

Once again common sense prevails. If you remove solid food before washing up and pre-rinse crockery, cutlery and utensils, this will mean that your washing up machines / sinks contain less food residues before you start using them. It is important to maintain equipment according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This includes cleaning out filters and other food traps, ensuring that the water is the correct temperature and using the correct programmes and products at the correct dilution. Manual bowl washing is the least effective method of controlling allergens but careful rinsing and ensuring segregation between clean and dirty items are still effective.

If you have a food business or if you regularly serve food to others, perhaps in a voluntary group or in your home, you may be interested in the SOFHT award-winning Allergy training DVD training pack – Stage 1.

For further information please see www.allergytraining.com. This practical training resource usually sells for £50+VAT but there is a current special offer for £20 including VAT.  Email celine@hygieneauditsystems.com or ring Celine on 01727 866779 for your copy.

Here Hazel gives us a short insight into her world and offers some tips to those of you who might also suffer.

Insights into food allergy….

What a tricky time of year for people with allergies. Even taking a ‘one a day’ slow release antihistamine which can be bought over the counter (in my case Loratidine), I also need anti-allergy eye drops if I go out in order not to arrive at my destination streaming with tears and unable to see properly. Dark glasses can also help, as can plenty of cold water – rinsing eyes, face and hands. I feel for students preparing for exams, particularly if the particular crop or tree to which they are sensitised happens to produce its pollen just at that time.

The other exacerbating factor can be exercise. I have been trying to avoid using the car and walk more, but allergic symptoms such as hay fever and itchy skin can be worse if you are hot and bothered. My research into severe allergic reactions to food also supports this. People who already have allergic symptoms and then eat something they are allergic to are likely to experience more severe reactions and should be extra alert during these episodes. The same applies to school trips, and excursions eg for the Duke of Edinburgh Award. If you are out in the open, remote from emergency help, exercising and maybe eating different food, take extra care to check ingredients, read labels etc.

I’ve been helping a Dutch friend whose 15 year old food allergic daughter is coming over on a student visit. He sent me details of where the group plans to eat during their 5 day trip. I’ve been contacting the restaurants ahead to see what they can offer a person who (like me) has a severe nut and peanut allergy. The response has been very helpful. Most of the places say that they serve people with nut allergies on a regular basis, and have staff who are well informed. As long as the person with the allergy makes herself know to staff, they will help her to choose something on the menu to suit. One restaurant was ultra-cautious, saying that they have a lot of nuts around in their kitchen and could not guarantee that they could serve a dish without possible traces of nuts. They would leave it up to the customer to decide whether to take that risk.

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8 Responses

  1. Does Hazel have any advice to young Mums who are often told by a GP that any sign of dry skin etc is Dairy Allergy? Do GP’s just use it as an excuse and induce paranoia or is there a genuine increase amongst babies?

  2. A leading paediatric allergy doctor says:

    My own experience is that milk allergy, which can be a cause of eczema is most often missed by GPs as opposed being talked up as a possible cause. Most children’s eczema is not related to food but the more severe the eczema, and the earlier the onset, the more likely there is co-existent food allergy, with milk being most common.

    In infants with early onset moderate to severe eczema e.g. during the first 6 months, but especially the first 3 months of life, there should be suspicion of milk allergy, especially if there is also reflux / loose stools / poor growth / constipation.

    The history may also give clues e.g. eczema getting worse when breast feeding is swapped to bottles of formula. One approach is to consider changing the baby for a trial period onto a hypoallergenic formula but the ideal would be specialist evaluation in an allergy clinic. This is covered in the NICE eczema guidelines.

    Hazel adds:

    We do also know that many babies with milk allergy outgrow it by 3-5 years, but that it can persist. Milk allergy is more common in some populations e.g. Chinese and Afro-Caribbean people.

  3. thanks for your help

  4. I have supplied goats milk for 30 years.
    My experience is that parents of a small child with eczema often find that the condition is easier to live with if the child avoids bovine products and drinks goats milk; this combination doesn’t ‘cure’ the problem, it helps to make it easier to manage in the pre school years; by the age of 5 most of these children no longer need goats milk.
    1 This only works if the child reacts adversely to bovine protein.
    2 Low allergy milk formula would seem an excellent idea for bottle fed babies with this problem, who are too young to drink whole milk.

  5. Is coconut a high risk item for young people. I am keen to put it in a korma for my young children and wasnt sure if the risk is to great.?

  6. From what we understand, coconut allergy is very rare in the UK, but it can cause reactions in some who are particularly sensitive.

    A small proportion of people (between 5% & 10%) who are allergic to nuts also react to coconut, and some who are allergic to latex may also react to coconut too.

    A few allergy clinics around the country offer testing for coconut allergy on request.

  7. Hazel adds:

    Coconut is not a nut, it is a palm – different plant family. Most people with nut allergies are not allergic to it including me. However it is necessary to remember that it is often processed on the same line or packed in the same area as nuts and can carry traces. Sometimes prepacked coconut carries a nut warning, but if shops pack their own, or if it is weighed out by staff / customers, then it may not have a warning.

  8. <strong>Hazel adds: </strong>

    <blockquote>Coconut is not a nut, it is a palm – different plant family. Most people with nut allergies are not allergic to it including me. However it is necessary to remember that it is often processed on the same line or packed in the same area as nuts and can carry traces. Sometimes prepacked coconut carries a nut warning, but if shops pack their own, or if it is weighed out by staff / customers, then it may not have a warning.</blockquote>

    ; <strong>Hazel adds: </strong>

    <blockquote>Coconut is not a nut, it is a palm – different plant family. Most people with nut allergies are not allergic to it including me. However it is necessary to remember that it is often processed on the same line or packed in the same area as nuts and can carry traces. Sometimes prepacked coconut carries a nut warning, but if shops pack their own, or if it is weighed out by staff / customers, then it may not have a warning.</blockquote>

    ;;

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