Food allergy is a serious food safety hazard. It is an abnormal immunological response and occurs when the body mistakenly perceives the protein in certain foods as a threat. The number of people with food allergies has risen sharply over the past few decades. Food allergy in the UK affects around 8% of children under age of three and 2% of adults. Every year 10 allergy sufferers will die and 5000 are hospitalised due to a serious reaction to allergenic ingredients in food.
Allergic reactions can happen when food is consumed or in contact with the skin, and usually starts within minutes. Most cases of allergic reactions are mild or moderate due to histamine and other chemicals being released locally into the tissue and symptoms normally last no more than 24 hours. General symptoms include itching, swelling, vomiting and diarrhoea. Anaphylaxis on the other hand is an extreme and severe allergic reaction and occurs when histamine and other chemicals are released into the bloodstream. A severe allergic reaction can happened within minutes or in some cases can happen an hour or so later. Early symptoms may be mild, such as a runny nose, or skin rash which then develop into life threatening conditions that affect the respiratory system, heart rhythm or blood pressure.
Any food can cause an allergic response, but 90% of reactions are by caused peanut, nuts, shellfish (molluscs and crustaceans), soy, gluten, fish, milk and eggs. The most common food allergies among adults are fish, shellfish, peanuts and nuts. Children often have allergic reactions to milk, eggs, peanut, nuts and fish. Most children will outgrow food allergies, but 20% will continue to have a peanut allergy in adulthood. It is also not uncommon to be allergic to more than one food due to cross reactivity, and occurs when the proteins in one food share characteristics with those in another food. People allergic to peanuts, for example, may have a reaction to lupin.
The Food Information Regulations 2014 require food businesses to provide accurate and verifiable information to consumers for 14 allergenic ingredients in food. This information can be written or communicated verbally by a competent member of staff. But even with these new rules in place, problems still persist. A survey conducted by the Food Standards Agency in 2016 showed that 25% of allergy sufferers had an allergic reaction when eating out in a restaurant or café since the new legislation came into force. The survey also showed 69% consumers thought staff did not understand the severity of food allergy and 68% indicated staff did not know the allergenic ingredients in food products on the menu. Despite the risks to food allergy sufferers, some food businesses are deliberately replacing ground almonds with peanuts to save money. This practice has resulted in a number of deaths and hospitalisations from food adulterated with peanuts, and a six year prison sentence for a restauranteur who put costs before safety.
Training is important. A Level 2 Award in Allergy Awareness will help identify the potential allergy hazards, including cross contamination and poor communication between the consumer and person preparing their meal.
Allergenic hazards must be assessed effectively and controlled with a robust food management systems based on the principles of HACCP. The most common reason for product recalls is incorrect labelling. This is a serious food safety hazard for consumers with sensitivities to food allergies. Level 2, 3 and 4 courses in HACCP cover allergenic food safety hazards.
Please contact us to discuss how effective food safety training can reduce the risk of allergenic hazards.