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FSA responds to peanut allergy deaths

January 2012: The Food Standards Agency has written to leading allergy doctors highlighting two recent deaths caused by allergic reactions to peanuts in people with known peanut allergy.


The Agency hopes staff at allergy clinics will convey two key points to people with peanut allergy when providing them with advice.


1.  Information provided by caterers


Both cases involved Asian food ordered from takeaway restaurants, although there was no suggestion of any fault by the businesses concerned. It appears the customers did not ask about the use of peanuts in the dishes they ordered, but instead relied either on menu descriptions or on the fact that they had previously eaten a dish with same name in another restaurant.


The present food regulations do not require restaurants to declare all the allergens used in the foods they sell. Although some caterers provide some description and list key ingredients in dishes (such as ‘chicken korma made with cream and almonds’), not all allergenic ingredients will necessarily be listed.


Food Allergy Support is here to offer information, expert guidance and training to the food industry.

The Food Standards Agency points out that the law in this area will be changing in three years when recently agreed European legislation comes into force, making it mandatory for allergen information to be provided for foods sold unpackaged, such as in restaurants and takeaways and on deli and bakery counters. In the meantime, the Agency would like allergy doctors and their staff to advise patients with peanut allergy that they should always enquire about the ingredients of the dishes they order, even if they have eaten the same meal elsewhere or even in the same restaurant, as recipes do sometimes change.


2. Nut ingredients


While many dishes contain specific nuts (such as almonds used in korma sauces), it is common for caterers to use mixtures of nuts in dishes rather than single nut ingredients. Peanuts can be used together with smaller amounts of tree nuts such as almonds, walnuts or cashew nuts to give a required flavour.


The Agency says people who are allergic to peanuts but can eat tree nuts should be strongly advised not to eat foods containing tree nuts unless they are absolutely sure that only tree nuts are used in the food in question. The Agency says customers should specifically ask if nuts are used in any dish they order and if so, which nuts.


People with allergy to only one type of nut should also be aware that many food producers handle a variety of nut ingredients and there is a high risk of cross contamination of one nut ingredient with another.


The Agency has sent its letter highlighting the problem to the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI), the professional body of specialists in this area. The BSACI has emailed the letter to its members.


To read the Food Standards Agency’s advice for people with food allergies, click here.

See other news items and articles, click here


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