It was in 2016 when Natasha Ednan-Laperouse passed away after eating a sandwich containing sesame, a food she was allergic to. Five years later, the food industry is preparing to welcome in Natasha’s Law, a set of regulations designed to prevent history repeating itself. While this reason for the law is clear, we know not every business will be preparing to make the necessary changes.
This month, Kafoodle released a guide for food operators looking for clarity on the law and how it affects their business. In this blog we want to follow that by digging a little deeper into the reasons for enhanced allergen management laws.
What is a food allergy?
At its most simple, some people will have sensitivities to food that others find harmless. The reaction they experience is caused by their immune system detecting the food and deciding that it’s not safe. Their body goes into overdrive, resulting in a reaction that for some, can be life-threatening. The scary thing is that there is no cure for an allergy, and the violence of the reaction is unpredictable, being much worse at some times than at others.
People with food intolerances will also have reactions, but they’re not triggered by the immune system and are rarely life-threatening.
Interestingly, what people have allergies to has expanded. In the past, it’s been enough for food operators to know whether a dish included seafood, milk, eggs or nuts – but that list is expanding. While there are now 14 main allergens, almost 160 different ingredients have been recorded as causing allergic reactions.
How common are allergies?
It’s hard to know the exact number of allergy sufferers worldwide; in the UK, an estimated 2 million people are living with a diagnosed food allergy and 600,000 (1 in 100) with coeliac disease. What is widely believed, is that food allergies are becoming more common.
A report released by Natasha’s Allergy Research Foundation (NARF) stated that the number of children hospitalised with severe allergic reactions in England rose by 72% over a period of five years. There were 1,746 hospital admissions for anaphylactic shock in children in 2018-19, up from 1,015 in 2013/14. When adults and children are counted together, the increase is 34%, from 4,107 cases to 5,497.
Allergen experts and the wider scientific community continue to debate the reason why allergens are increasingly prominent; a leading argument is that humans are living too ‘clean’. The theory is known as the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ and suggests that, by not exposing ourselves to enough ‘dirt’, our good gut bacteria is decreasing. What’s more, with fewer infections and bacteria to fight against, the immune system gets over-excited when exposed to harmless foreign bodies.
What can be done to help?
Very little can be done for allergy sufferers. There is no way to cure an allergy, just manage it. Management happens through avoidance, and avoidance is made easier through industry education, awareness and communication – which brings us full circle to the original question.
We need enhanced allergen management rules like Natasha’s Law so that allergen sufferers – and those with food intolerances – can feel comfortable eating food purchased away from home.
As an industry, we should want that for customers. Of course, no one wants to be to blame for another consumer death, but more than that, operators should want to do everything to keep their loyal customers safe while engaging with their brand. Mckinsey evidences how important safety is to allergen-avoiding consumers, saying that 66% are loyal to products they know and trust. Searching for safe foods historically takes time and is stressful which is why, once a safe product has been identified, they’ll buy it repeatedly. Natasha’s Law – and if it is introduced, Owen’s Law – will remove some of that stress. Consumers will be able to explore new products with greater ease, and brands, in giving them the means to do so, will win their long-term loyalty and custom.
Explore our website to find out more about how we can help you comply with Natasha's Law or contact us to find out more about Kafoodle and how we can help you boost your allergen management programme.