Natasha’s Law Forces greater allergen transparency across the Food Industry

Don't you think it's monumentally sad that a 15 year old child had to die to force some long overdue changes in the law around responsible allergen information on pre-packed food

Natasha’s Law Forces greater allergen transparency across the Food Industry

Don’t you think it’s monumentally sad that a 15 year old child had to die to force some long overdue changes in the law around responsible allergen information on pre-packed food and, for a large number of food businesses to pay attention to the seriousness of the situation?

The child was 15 year old Natasha Edman Laperause who, due to some missing allergy information on the packaging of a baguette she purchased, from Pret a Manger at Heathrow airport, died in front of her father’s eyes on a flight an hour or so later. 

This is especially poignant for me as my husband, a severe sesame allergy sufferer, nearly died himself, due to some inaccurate allergy information whilst dining in a restaurant.

He was lucky as he had the right support and facilities around him, but he had to be revived and he genuinely nearly died as a result of the incident. 

On this occasion it was made very clear to the restaurant that he had a serious allergy to sesame and that the kitchen should be made aware that nothing should be allowed to reach our table which included the fatal ingredient.  The waiter simply did not take it seriously thinking he knew enough about the menu and failed to share the warning with the chef, who randomly substituted sesame oil for olive oil on the salad. 

For a lot of allergy sufferers it is quite embarrassing to have to speak up, be singled out, appearing to ‘make a fuss’ when dining out because of their allergy and without doubt, there is a great deal of education still to be done across the food industry, including how front of house deal with these enquiries.

In reality, it has only been since 2014 when the original allergen legislation came into play, that the concept of managing allergies has started to be taken seriously across the sector.

It was witnessing my husband nearly dying that prompted me to create and co-found Kafoodle, a kitchen management system developed to help commercial kitchens manage their allergen compliance and then seamlessly communicate safe, transparent food information to their diners, via various Apps and web components.

In case you are not aware, allergic reactions happen when a person is exposed to a normally harmless substance, but their immune system overreacts causing the cells of the body to release chemicals. Hives may appear, lips may swell, there could be sniffles and stinging eyes, vomiting and diarrhoea, all dependent on the type of chemical released.

For an unfortunate few, allergies can trigger a potentially fatal whole-body reaction known as anaphylactic shock. When this happens, the treatment options are limited and not always successful, as in the tragic case for Natasha.

Over the last six years, as we have scaled Kafoodle, I have learned a great deal about allergy information from both sides. Having lived with my husband, Ron, for over 35 years, I have experienced first-hand what it is like to live with the fear of eating something that could potentially kill you and, as a result, the dramatic limitation of choices there are when eating out, or ordering takeaways, to only consider what is his perception of ‘safe’ restaurants and cuisines and even then, with caution! 

Over that time, having worked with thousands of restaurant owners and operators across the food industry, I completely understand how difficult it can be to extract easy to use and accurate allergen information from the supply chain, and how much effort and responsibility there is when it comes to creating safe, transparent menus. 

Then comes the challenge of accurately and easily sharing that information with the front of house teams, shopkeepers and of course, ultimately, the customer. And trust me, gone are the days where consumers will tolerate or feel confident when a waiter, server or retailer has to trawl through pages and pages of allergen dish data in ring bound folders.

Seeing the situation from both sides, I can assure you that it is a real-life minefield for everyone and that there are no easy solutions.

Over the last few years I have spoken about this subject a lot and the main message I try to put across, over and over again, is that although the legal onus is on the side of the food business to be transparent, the allergy sufferer has an equal moral obligation to make it very clear when they have an allergy and not to feel like they are being victimised or singled out when speaking up! 

Kim Antoniou
Kim Antoniou

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