British-Chinese lady Chen-Lee Tsui lives in Hertfordshire. Both her children (7 and 4 years of age) suffer from severe allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Her son is also allergic to lupin. The main impact of allergies on her children is that they have to be very cautious eating out and experience exclusion when it comes birthday parties. She often has trouble identifying allergens on labels as they are too small to read. She expects new legislation from the Food Standards Agency to make some difference, but she will still be vigilant and ask restaurants for details.
What food allergy/allergies does your child have? Do they have any other non-food allergies?
Both: peanuts, nuts.
Aimee: Kiwi, Oral Allergy Syndrome – raw fruits can cause swelling, itching, hotness, etc.
James: Lupin (baking ingredient, used more in gluten free products).
Non-food allergies: dust mites, hayfever
When did you first become aware of your child’s allergy and what are their symptoms when they have an allergic reaction?
Year & half ago.
Aimee ate Christmas dinner and started becoming blotchy, round eyes, cheeks, chin – cherry and almond biscuit (never really given children nuts before). Should’ve known as vomited when younger after eating kiwi. Took to doctors for test, stabbed three times by nurse.
Six months later James had a Snickers bar – straight away ‘grandma my throat and tongue feel funny’ started wheezing quickly. Grandma acted quickly administered antihistamines, called ambulance and paramedic arrived but ambulance took 50 minutes to arrive. Luckily paramedic on scene was senior – monitored James, checked blood pressure. Trouble with antihistamines make you drowsy and James was no exception. If he deteriorated any further the paramedic would’ve called air ambulance.
Now we’re vigilant allergic reactions occur rarely, as reactions only occur via ingestion.
Peanut particles are very airborne – strong risk, e.g. on aircrafts (recycled air).
Carry epi pens around all the time. When in school the pens are held by school itself, but PCT advises that the school gives it to child themselves.
How often, on average, does your child suffer an allergic reaction? How does a typical reaction progress – do you have any treatment for it?
Rarely. Approximately 2x per year.
Could you describe how your child’s allergy affects your day-to-day life and that of your child?
More aware of food, sometimes to the point of exclusion e.g. birthday parties and cake.
Aimee has asked ‘mum, why am I allergic to peanuts?’
Has your child ever suffered an allergic reaction from pre-packaged food, due to incorrect labelling, that you bought in a shop or supermarket?
Do you ever have problems identifying allergens on labels when buying food for your child?
Occasionally ingredients are written in Latin (often nuts).
Too small to read.
Sometimes ambiguous e.g. is this a nut?
Do you every encounter ‘may contain’ labelling (where a packet says that something may contain an allergen) when buying food for your child? How do you deal with it?
Yes. Depends how I feel on the day! Sometimes take the risk and usually take a tiny bite and wait ten mins, allow to consume.
Do you ever eat out at restaurants with your child? (If not, why not?If yes, what is the experience like? Is your choice limited? Do you tend to go to familiar restuarants that you know are safe?)
Not as adventurous as would like. Even with a chain restaurants depends on the restaurant itself. Pizza Express is good, Bill’s, MacDonald’s, Wagamama’s.
Have you ever experienced a feeling that your child’s food allergies are not being taken seriously by restaurant/takeaway staff? How do you/your child (if relevant) respond to this if so?
Yes. What type of ice cream do you have? Plain. * puts sauce/wafer* means well but doesn’t understand.
Have you ever had to seek medical/hospital treatment for your child after an allergic reaction in a restaurant or takeaway?
Yes. In Holland, having dinner with friends and they chose Chinese restaurant. Administered antihistamines. Never had to administer epi pen. ‘my mouth feels funny, I need to vomit’ Took her to toilet to make her vomit.
New legislation is coming into force from December 13th which means that restaurants/takeaways have to give accurate information about the allergens present in the food they sell. Do you think this will make a difference to how you and your child eat out? If so, how will it change?
Some outlets are worse than others – e.g. M&S rule out anything for allergy sufferers.
Yes and no. Will probably still ask to check what is in the dish if it is a oral information.
If the menu itself contains allergen information, will trust it.
Farmers markets still off the menu.
Do you or any of your close relatives or partner have an allergy? If so, does this have any additional impact on your life?
Husband- associated peanut allergy (reacts strongly to Birch trees, related to peanuts).
How do you hope that the way people treat those with allergies will change in the future?
Yes I hope so, hope society becomes more mindful.
NHS – hope they become better. Sometimes been given conflicting advice. Standardise treatment.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
For a lot of people allergies are a lifelong condition and the more accommodating society is can mean the difference between life and death. Please give these people a break.
From the 13th December this year, all food businesses will need to provide information about 14 allergenic ingredients used in food sold or provided by them. The EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC) outlines new requirements for businesses which are providing food sold prepacked and non-prepacked (loose) such as food sold in a restaurant or takeaway. It means that shops, takeaways and restaurants have to provide information about the 14 allergens if present as ingredients in food they’re selling.
The 14 allergens are:
– Cereals containing gluten namely wheat, barley, rye and oats
– Crustaceans like prawns, crabs, lobster and crayfish etc.
– Tree nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, cashew, etc)
– Sulphites (often found in dried fruit and wine)
The Food Standards Agency has been working to make businesses and consumers aware of these new regulations, and for the launch of the regulations they are keen to use real stories of people with allergies to tell the public why it’s so important that food businesses comply.