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Food allergy occurs in around 1 in 20 children and in about 1 in 100 adults.
In fact, Australia has one of the highest allergy prevalence rates in the world and it tends to run in families.
Food allergy and food intolerance are both types of food sensitivity and both can make you feel very ill. If you have a food allergy this means your immune system reacts to a particular food and causes immediate symptoms, such as itchiness, rash and swelling. Sometimes this reaction can be so severe that it can trigger a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.
Food intolerance however, doesn’t involve the immune system; instead food intolerance is actually an adverse reaction to a particular food.
The symptoms can be unpleasant and in some cases severe but are generally not life threatening.
What are the symptoms of food allergy?
- Low blood pressure, dizziness, faintness or collapse.
- Swelling of the lips and throat, nausea and feeling bloated.
- diarrhoea, and vomiting.
- Dry, itchy throat and tongue, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath and a runny or blocked nose.
- Itchy skin or a rash, hives and sore, red and itchy eyes.
If someone has a severe food allergy, this can cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis affects the whole body, often within minutes of eating the food. Anaphylactic attacks are commonly characterised by symptoms such as the rapid spreading of hives, swelling of the face, tongue and throat, difficulty breathing, wheezing, vomiting and loss of consciousness.
Immediate treatment with injected adrenaline can be lifesaving.
People at risk of anaphylaxis should always carry an EpiPen® for emergency use.
Having a food allergy means you experience an abnormal immune reaction to a food that is harmless for most people. This is because antibodies are produced in the body against the protein in a food (the allergen) so that when you eat the food, histamine and other defensive chemicals are released into your system causing inflammation.
It is these chemicals that trigger reactions that can affect your respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin or cardiovascular system.
What are the most common food allergens?
The 10 foods or ingredients that must be declared are:
These ingredients must be declared on the food label whenever they are present as ingredients or as components of food additives or processing aids. These allergens, as well as gluten (from wheat, rye, barley, oats and their products) and sulphites (which are added to food as a preservative) are required by law to be declared on food labels.
As a food handler, what is your responsibility?
The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code requires that the following substances must be advised to customers (either on the package of a food, or by the request of the customer):
- Cereals containing gluten and their products mainly wheat, rye, barley, oats and their hybrid strains
- Crustacea and their products
- Egg and egg products
- Fish and fish products
- Milk and milk products
- Tree nuts and sesame nuts and their products other then coconut
- Peanuts and soybeans and their products
- Added sulphites in concentrations of 10mg/kg or more
Key factors in understanding food allergens
It is important to understand that any food may contain an allergen,there are 8 common allergens.
Recipes, ingredients and food components (e.g. purchased sauces used in food preparation) should be reviewed to understand if they contain allergens.
Read the label on all ingredients used in food preparation. If the food item or ingredient does not have a label – it is not recommended for use unless you have documentation listing what is in the ingredient.
Be allergy-aware during food preparation. Allergens may be introduced through cross contamination between allergenic and non-allergenic ingredients (e.g. peanut oils used to fry non-peanut containing food, may introduce traces of peanut into food).
Cross contamination during preparation mostly occurs through the following ways:
Food to food - as in touching or dripping.
Food to hand - handling by cooking staff, front service staff.
Food to equipment - sharing of utensils.
Be aware of business responsibilities about communicating allergen information.
Know your food products
It is vital that you and your staff know the products that you make and sell as well as their ingredients.
All staff should be aware of:
Any ingredients added to products. For example, peanut butter added to a curry, or sesame oil used in a salad dressing.
The process followed in the preparation of food items and the risks of
cross-contamination. For example, using a whisk to stir eggs and then using the same whisk to stir a milk-based sauce, without thoroughly washing
and drying the whisk between procedures.
Only using labelled ingredients and products. For example, if a bag of dried porcini mushroom and herb risotto mix does not list all of the contents, then
the product should not be used.
Food Service (front of house):
Implement a procedure to ensure food service staff know their obligation to declare allergens and other substances in food if a customer asks.
Implement a procedure for ensuring all staff know how to access information about the food products they are selling, including recipes and ingredients. (e.g. sauces or cooking oils used in food preparation may contain an allergen ingredient)
Update information regularly so that staff are correctly informed.
Food Preparation (back of house):
Ensure that food preparation staff know and understand these process steps for preparing meals for customers with allergies:
only accept correctly labelled foods from the supplier
avoid cross contamination (explain cross contamination in the context of allergen control)
store food safely in clearly labelled containers
keep surfaces, utensils and hands clean.