Price of fussy eaters

The Scotsman - - Scottish Perspective -

and there were traces of dairy protein. Whether Mrs Marsh ac­tu­ally did die af­ter eat­ing the yo­ghurt, which had been used to make the “su­per-veg rain­bow flat­bread” she had con­sumed, is still a mat­ter of de­bate. Coyo has de­nied its prod­uct is to blame and said the “true cause” of Mrs Marsh’s death has not been es­tab­lished.

It is still not clear ex­actly what hap­pened in this case, but of­ten when traces of a known al­ler­gen are found in a sup­pos­edly ‘free-from’ food, it is be­cause the same fac­tory is used for non-al­ler­gen-free pro­duc­tion and some­thing has not been cleaned prop­erly in be­tween.

Dairy al­ler­gies, like nut or shell­fish al­ler­gies, are ana­phy­lac­tic. Dairy ‘in­tol­er­ances’ aren’t. There are peo­ple whose re­ac­tion to lac­tose – or the A1 protein found in milk – makes them un­com­fort­able, bloated or gassy. But it is not life-threat­en­ing.

The prob­lem is that it is a case of the boy who cried wolf. It has be­come so fash­ion­able to have an in­tol­er­ance, or com­pli­cated di­etary re­quire­ments, that there are fears the food in­dus­try is start­ing to take real al­ler­gies less se­ri­ously.

For peo­ple who have coeliac disease – like my friend’s eight-yearold – con­tam­i­na­tion will not have an im­me­di­ate life-threat­en­ing re­ac­tion, but they will suf­fer highly un­pleas­ant side ef­fects, po­ten­tially for days. Mean­while, con­tin­u­ous ex­po­sure to gluten will per­ma­nently dam­age their bowel, caus­ing them ma­jor health prob­lems in the fu­ture.

Restau­rant own­ers have told me of cus­tomers who claim to have an al­lergy to, for ex­am­ple, dairy, mean­ing that the chefs have to pre­pare their food in a sep­a­rate part of the kitchen, away from where any dairy prod­ucts could po­ten­tially con­tam­i­nate the dishes – only to find that the cus­tomer or­ders or­di­nary ice cream for pud­ding.

“Ohhh ... a lit­tle bit won’t hurt me,” they say, sali­vat­ing over the creamy dessert, when the dili­gent wait­ers check that they do, ac­tu­ally, re­alise that ice cream con­tains dairy?

You see, if you have a real dairy al­lergy, a lit­tle bit of dairy could most def­i­nitely hurt you. It could kill you, in fact, as it may have in Mrs Marsh’s case.

Most restau­rants have dairy-free menus, or an op­tion of foods they can pro­duce with­out dairy, or gluten, or nuts. Yet chefs tell me that the cost of pro­duc­ing a truly al­ler­gyfree meal is huge. If they do it prop­erly, staff have to work specif­i­cally on the al­lergy-free meal and only that – at risk of cross con­tam­i­na­tion if they have been han­dling other foods.

Some restau­rant work­ers ad­mit that each time they have an ex­pe­ri­ence as de­scribed above, it makes them just that lit­tle bit less sym­pa­thetic to those who des­per­ately need them to be so.

Pret an­nounced last week that it will be­gin in­clud­ing full in­gre­di­ent la­belling on all of its prod­ucts. This is wel­come – and no less than many other chains do – but it is too late for Ms Ed­nan-lap­er­ouse and her fam­ily.

Peo­ple with al­ler­gies of­ten rely on chains be­cause they ex­pect them to have sweep­ing poli­cies in place to pro­tect them, proper la­belling be­ing the least of it. The fear is that the pub­lic – and that in­cludes restau­rant work­ers, they are only hu­man – are be­com­ing over­ex­posed to peo­ple’s di­etary choices and the line be­tween in­tol­er­ance and proper al­ler­gies is be­com­ing blurred, with po­ten­tially deadly con­se­quences.

Quite frankly, if I had a se­vere al­lergy, or a child with one, I’d be ter­ri­fied to leave the house. Al­lergy ed­u­ca­tion needs to be im­proved – and fast.

Pret a Manger in Bath. The com­pany says it con­tained non-dairy yo­ghurt con­tam­i­nated with traces of dairy pro­teins

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