Stories in the media from time to time present some of the challenges that allergy sufferers can face. These can range from the physical limitations caused by severe symptoms through to the social and emotional impact that allergic disease can have on people’s lives.
In fact, almost half (44%) of allergy sufferers are living in daily fear of suffering a life-threatening reaction. This is why it is extremely important to understand the difference between food allergy and food intolerance and the effects that each of these conditions can have. For those with a food allergy, it is the tiny traces of allergens present in food that can lead to fatal consequences.
It is for this reason that food labelling is so vitally important. Thousands of food allergy sufferers are affected every day as they constantly trying to manage their allergy in order to prevent a severe reaction. It is therefore understandable that those with a food allergy are often reluctant to eat out of home. Nevertheless, eating at home presents its own challenges, with food labels listing ingredients needing to be carefully checked to ensure there is nothing that could cause a severe reaction.
In December 2014, it became a legal requirement for food product manufacturers and restaurants to provide clear labelling information with regard to the presence of the top 14 allergens in their food products. The new legislation meant that allergens must now be either printed in a bold font or alternate colour and must be very clear within the ingredients list.
These top 14 allergens, recognised throughout Europe are:
- Cereals containing gluten
- Sesame Seeds
- Sulphur dioxides (sulphites)
The leading patient charity Allergy UK runs an Allergy Alert service which attracts more subscribers every year. Allergy UK works with the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which provides information to the charity regarding product recalls by food manufacturers. Allergy UK sends this information as a priority to the charity’s subscribers by email. Food manufacturers can also contact the charity directly. These alerts usually concern change in ingredients, mislabelling or cross contamination, based on credible information from the FSA. The Allergy Alert service is also a customised service, through which subscribers can request specific alerts based on the allergens they must personally avoid.
One of Allergy UK’s key objectives is to support people living with allergy, and their families, with quick, efficient and helpful services. Accurate food labelling is vital for these people - 17% of the UK population live with a food allergy.
Increasingly catering outlets and food manufacturers are understanding the need to cater for those with allergies. For this market, in which the consumers are wary of and even fear the effects of some everyday foodstuffs, clear labelling and transparency regarding allergen content can have a positive effect on brand reputation. Clear labelling can create brand loyalty as customers recognise brands that understand and provide solutions to their needs and become regular purchasers.
Report by Lindsey McManus, Deputy CEO, Allergy UK