Food allergy is an immune system reaction to a food protein. Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction and is potentially life threatening.
A food allergy is not the same as food intolerance.
A food intolerance does not involve the immune system. It is the inability to digest a food which can cause discomfort and distress, but is not life threatening.
The signs and symptoms of food allergy can vary from person to person. An allergic reaction can happen very quickly after eating and can suddenly become life threatening.
Signs of a mild to moderate allergic reaction can include:
Signs of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) can include:
Any food can cause an allergic reaction. However, the most common food allergens, which cause around 90% of food allergic reactions include peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews), eggs, cow’s milk (dairy), fish, crustacea (shellfish, e.g., prawns, lobster), sesame seeds, soy and wheat.
Most fatal allergic reactions are triggered by peanut, tree nuts or seafood, however, any food allergy can cause severe and even fatal reactions.
Some people need to avoid gluten and gluten containing cereals. This is different to having a wheat allergy, where the person is allergic to the proteins specifically in wheat.
People with coeliac disease need to avoid all gluten and cereals containing gluten and their products namely, wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt and hybrids of these cereals (e.g., triticale).
When a food does not have to have a label (such as food made and packaged on the premises from which it is sold), then the Food Standards Code, requires the seller to provide information about the following food allergens to customers on request:
Sulphites in concentrations of 10mg/kg or more must also be declared on food labels of packaged foods.
Some people find labelling about gluten and wheat confusing. Customers with wheat allergy will need to know if wheat is an ingredient rather than just gluten, as the gluten may come from another source (e.g., rye, barley, oats, spelt or their hybridised strains).
Remember, the law requires you to provide accurate information when a customer asks about allergens in the food you are serving. Consumers have a legal right to receive, on request, written or verbal information on allergen content when buying takeaway foods or eating out.
By law, manufacturers must declare all of the allergens listed above on foods with a label.
It is also useful to know that those allergic to peanut may also be allergic to lupin. Remember that ANY food (e.g. kiwi fruit, mushroom, celery) can cause a severe allergic reaction in an at-risk person.
When preparing a meal for someone with a food allergy:
In the first instance, it is the customer’s responsibility to advise food service staff that they have a food allergy. It is then the responsibility of food service staff to make sure the food they serve the customer does not contain that allergen.
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