Price of fussy eaters
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