Some people need to avoid certain foods because of a food intolerance rather than a true food allergy. Food intolerance is different from food allergy, it usually doesn’ involve the immune system and is generally not life threatening; however, if a customer eats a food to which they are intolerant, this could make them feel very ill or affect their long-term health. For example, people with lactose intolerance need to avoid lactose (a sugar found in milk), because they lack the enzyme that breaks down this sugar. This causes symptoms such as diarrhoea, weight loss, bloating and anaemia.
Coeliac Disease (Gluten Intolerance)
Other people need to avoid certain foods because of coeliac disease, which is a life- long auto-immune disease (about 1 in 100 people have coeliac disease) and they need to avoid gluten, a type of protein found in the cereals, like wheat, barley and rye. Some coeliacs are also sensitive to oats. They have symptoms such as wind, diarrhoea, constipation, tiredness, reduced growth, skin problems and this condition can also affect their long term health.
What are the symptoms of food allergy?
The symptoms can vary and their severity can change from one occasion to the next and from one person to another,even a very small amount of allergen can present a serious problem to some people with food allergy.
The most common symptoms of an allergic reaction are:
- Dry, itchy throat and tongue
- Itchy skin or rash
- Nausea and feeling bloated
- Diarrhoea and/or vomiting
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
- Swelling of the lips and throat
- Runny or blocked nose
- Sore, red and itchy eyes
(Not all of those symptoms would necessarily occur in a single episode.)
On rare occasions allergy sufferers may experience a life threatening reaction called anaphylactic shock. When someone suffers anaphylaxis they can have symptoms in different parts of the body at the same time, including rashes, swelling of the lips and throat, difficulty in breathing, a rapid fall in blood pressure and loss of consciousness. Anaphylaxis can be fatal if not treated immediately, usually with an injection of adrenaline (epinephrine). People with severe allergies should take their medication with them wherever they go.For these people especially, it is very important that they are given accurate information about what is in the foods you are selling or providing if they are to avoid the risk of a severe reaction.
Cross-contamination with food allergens
Although this guide is mainly about allergenic foods which are intentionally used as ingredients, it is important to be aware of accidental allergen cross- contamination. As even a very small amount of allergenic food can be a risk for customers with a food allergy when someone asks if the product you are selling is free of the food they are allergic to, you also need to consider possible cross-contamination in the kitchen. You need to think carefully about this when considering whether you can provide a meal without the allergen present.
There are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of cross-contamination:
- Thoroughly clean work areas, surfaces, serving areas and hands, to remove traces of food allergens.
- Ensure any utensils, equipment, chopping boards, and the like, that have been in contact with the food that the person is allergic to have been thoroughly cleaned with hot water and detergent.
- Use airtight containers to store food allergens and colour code them to make them stand out.
- Take steps to ensure that the area where the customer will eat the food is clean, for example, the table, crockery and cutlery.
- Avoid cross-contamination for example, with flour or crumbs that are easily carried from one dish to another.
Whilst it may not be possible to separate all the foods to which people are allergic by using “best practice”, you should be aware of where foods that can cause serious allergic reactions are coming into contact with non-allergenic ingredients. It is important that if it is not possible to provide food without the allergen present, that you say so.