Food

If food allergy labelling is to be useful for sufferers like me, companies need to take it seriously

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Two years ago, I had a baguette from Pret a Manger. It was a flavour I tried before but hadnt eaten for a while.

After eating the baguette, I experienced tingling sensations in my mouth, severe stomach pains, nausea and speedy dashes to the loo.

I checked the ingredients in the store – no nuts, no sesame. Odd, must be a one-off. I did not approach a member of staff.

As someone who has multiple food allergies – some severe, some not – I wasnt actually that concerned. I just thought, this is annoying but it cant be the baguette because of the labelling.

Minor reactions to food are common for me and often I wont know the cause of them.

Earlier this year, I went into the store again and, to my surprise, saw that the ingredients list on the baguettes had altered. It now said it contained sesame.

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I was confused. When I checked the ingredients before, it hadnt said this. I also doubted myself – maybe I wasnt reacting to the baguette before and it was just a coincidence that the labelling has now changed.

I forgot about it, made a mental note to avoid, and again didnt speak to a member of staff.

Why you shouldn't be scared to ask someone to stop eating something that will kill you
(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

Then last month, I read about the death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse and I felt sick.

Same name, same allergy and same brand of baguette – but this bright, beautiful teenager had died.

I felt sick with shock, for the loss of her family and the similarity to my own experience.

During the inquest into Natashas death, it was found that between July 17, 2015, and June 29, 2016, nine cases of sesame-related allergy incidents had been reported.

Four of these led to hospital treatment.

I was one of the people affected during this time period but I was not one of the nine people who reported it.

I doubted my own bodys reaction because I trusted the labelling.

But my own attitude towards allergies needs to change as much as food companies commitment to food labelling.

I fear that – such is the outrage around deaths like Natashas – a default warning will be put on all products, like the ever useless and unhelpful may contain nuts warning.

Why you shouldn't be scared to ask someone to stop eating something that will kill you
Severe anaphylaxis can lead to facial swelling, closure of airways and heart failure. (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

This is known as precautionary allergen labelling, and also includes not suitable for someone with X allergy.

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Since I was a child, I have had to explain to overly cautious adults that yes I am fine with products even if they say may contain.

But when they ask me why that is, and why the label is on even there, I have never had an answer.

And that is because generic allergy labelling is not the answer.

According to the Food Standards Agency, this type of labelling should only be used if a thorough risk assessment has found cross contamination risk is real and cannot be removed.

Food labelling is not about covering the backs of companies, it is about protecting the welfare and lives of allergy sufferers.

But how do companies measure this risk and, for that matter, why should they? My gut tells me they wont.

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The inquest into Natashas death found Prets labelling was inadequate. Another inquest, into the death of Celia Marsh (after she reacted and died, allegedly owing to a dairy protein in a vegan wrap last year) is due to take place.

Unfortunately, they will not be the last allergy sufferers to have their lives cut short by eating something they thought was safe.

So we must keep the conversation going.

Allergy food labelling should be accurate and specific, not one size fits all.

Life is already awkward enough for allergy sufferers without food companies hiding death traps in our food.

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What have I learned from Natashas death?

Ill listen to my body even if that means questioning a list of ingredients with staff at shops, cafes and restaurants until food companies finally get it right.

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