A new regional campaign aimed at cutting food allergy-related illness and deaths is launched this week.
Around 20 deaths could be prevented in the UK every year if life-saving guidance related to food was followed.
North East councils, including South Tyneside, have joined forces to spread the life-saving message to food businesses.
They are working alongside the NHS to change the lives of people with anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening condition which results in around 20 deaths each year in the UK.
It is estimated that one in 300 people will experience anaphylaxis at some time in their life. In the North East in 2019 there were 76 cases of anaphylaxis under the age of 18 and one fatality.
A common cause of anaphylaxis is the consumption of or exposure to food allergens – most commonly in peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, egg, fish and shellfish, and sesame seeds/sesame oil.
Symptoms range from mild itchy skin and swollen lips, face or eyes to vomiting, abdominal pain and anaphylaxis – these symptoms can cause difficulty swallowing or breathing, poor circulation and loss of consciousness and, although rare, symptoms can be fatal.
To raise awareness of the dangers, the region’s 12 local authorities have produced a series of short videos for food businesses on the measures they should have in place to protect their customers who have a food allergy.
Councillor Jim Foreman, Lead Member for Housing and Community Safety at South Tyneside Council, said:
“This campaign highlights the huge importance of making sure those who have a food allergy are safeguarded.
“Businesses, whether they are food producers, suppliers, restaurants or catering companies, must make sure they can manage and handle allergens safely.
“They also have a vital role to play in ensuring customers have all the information they need about the exact ingredients in any food so that they can make safe choices.
“We fully support this work in the region. Our Environmental Health teams will continue to work closely with businesses to ensure they are on the right side of the law and are protecting the health of their customers.”
Local authority Environmental Health Officers work with food businesses to ensure that they have good allergy management arrangements in place.
Unfortunately, in some cases food businesses have put their customers at risk.
One such case is teenager Eleanor Lincoln who suffered an anaphylactic shock after consuming a curry which contained peanuts.
The 18-year-old’s mother treated her with an Epi-Pen and she spent the night in hospital following a severe allergic reaction to peanuts.
The takeaway involved had failed to omit peanuts from the meal despite a specific request from them to do so. They were fined £450 and ordered to pay £3,000 in costs.
Judith Hedgley, Chair of the North East Public Protection Partnership, said:
“There are well over 20,000 food businesses across the North East and we wanted to work together regionally to provide simple messages to help these businesses prepare their food safely and manage the risks around food allergens.
“Environmental Health Officers and Trading Standards Officers work closely with local food manufacturers, restaurants, takeaways and food retailers to help them understand the potentially severe health effects of food allergens and their legal obligations to identify and control allergenic ingredients in the foods they handle and serve.
“Consumers should be able to make an informed and safe choice when buying or ordering food.
“When our officers inspect food businesses they check that food handlers have a good awareness and understanding of the effects that food allergens can have on their customer’s health who suffers from a food allergy.
“Food handlers must be able to identify whether the foods they handle contain allergenic ingredients, know how to control food allergens, and provide accurate information to customers when asked about food allergens.”
And local businesses have shared their approaches to staying on the right side of the law and keeping customers safe from potentially life-threatening allergens.
Elena Dickson, Marketing Director for South Tyneside-based meat product and pre-packed sandwich supplier Dicksons, said:
“As a business we’ve always been aware of the importance of having product information readily available for our staff and customers.
“We regularly update our allergen documentation and share this with all our stores whenever there’s an ingredient or product change within our business.
“It’s vitally important that consumers who suffer from allergies can shop with us with confidence, and we are able to give them all the information they require.”
Dr Andrew Bright, Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Allergy and Editor in Chief of BeatAnaphylaxis.co.uk, said:
“This is a vital campaign to help food businesses across the North East protect their customers from potentially life threatening allergic reactions through safe handling of allergens.
“This fabulous video series also highlights key measures and legal requirements surrounding provision of allergen information.
“BeatAnaphylaxis is proud to support this important work.”
The series of videos on food allergies and anaphylaxis are available as a simple and readily accessible education and training resource for all food businesses. They can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLz3yV2kde1-OwXMtTWiwmx6O1w5JMhvST
Further information about food safety including allergens and labelling is also available on the Council’s website at www.southtyneside.gov.uk/foodsafety