New rules that force restaurants and takeaways to tell customers exactly what allergens are present in their food have come into force.
Allergies leave many people too scared to ever eat out, but new EU regulations that have just come into force should ensure that they are given clear information about the 14 main allergens.
Donna Hindley is allergic to nuts, shellfish, dairy and eggs among other things and only trusts one restaurant and a local fish and chip shop.
She says she may now try other places but will always be anxious as eating the wrong thing could kill her.
“One particular restaurant, I asked for a roast dinner and there was some swede and I said ‘Is there any butter in that?’
“[The staff member] said there was no butter but after eating one mouthful I realised there was butter in it and then had to go to hospital with anaphylactic shock.
“If there is more than one person preparing food or cross-contamination of equipment, you never know what’s going in.”
Hospital admissions in the UK relating to allergies rose by 87% between 2002 and 2014, according to research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Allergy UK.
Every year 10 people die and 5,000 end up in hospital due to a bad reaction.
Some 70% of people with allergies avoid takeaways altogether due to fears they will fall ill.
Chun-Han Chan, food allergy expert at the FSA, said the legislation is a huge step forward for those with allergies: “We have been working very closely with local authorities, food businesses and consumer groups to ensure that these changes can and will be put into place.
“Businesses have the flexibility to provide this information how they wish to do so – so what works for them.
“This information can be up front on a menu. If it’s not up front, it could be signposted to a special folder or to ask the customer to speak to a member of staff.”
Businesses that repeatedly fail to provide the right information on allergens faces a maximum fine of 5,000.
At the Fisherman’s Basket chippy in Stowmarket, Suffolk, owner Jane Secker-Jacobs is happy to make sure Ms Hindley’s chicken and chips are cooked in the gluten-free pan.
She backs the changes, but would have liked more warning to prepare: “I agree that these things do have to be implemented and it’s good to keep the customers informed and give them what they want.
“I think it’s nice for them to enjoy their food with all the family and not feel left out at all.”
The new EU regulations will also change the way allergy information appears on labelling for pre-packed foods bought in shops and supermarkets.
The 14 allergens that need to be highlighted are: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, cereals containing gluten, eggs, crustaceans, molluscs, fish, soya, sesame, sulphur dioxide and sulphites, celery, mustard and lupin (used as a flour in baking).