One of the complaints of those who object to the new food allergen regulations is that they are being required to take responsibility for food allergy sufferers. ‘Why can’t they take responsibility for their own allergies? Why should we (as chefs or even as users of food service outlets) have to put up with all these regulations about allergens? Let them look after themselves!’

Well, of course the vast majority of food allergy and intolerance sufferers do just that – in the same way that diabetics take responsibility for injecting themselves with insulin when they need to. And essential to the ‘taking of responsibility’ is learning enough about your condition to allow you to manage it sensibly, with minimum risk to yourself. But although most do, occasionally some do not.

I only say this as a colleague in Ireland directed me recently to a report of the inquest into the death of 14-year-old Emma Sloan in 2013. Emma had been diagnosed as being nut allergic when she was a child but ‘never been informed that it could prove fatal’. On a family outing she ate a satay sauce which stated that it contained nuts but neither she nor her mother ‘noticed the sign’. When Emma started to feel a tingling in her lips, the family decided to leave the restaurant and go to the children’s hospital nearby – but instead stopped at a pharmacy where her mother asked the pharmacist to give her an Epipen as her daughter was having an allergic reaction. The pharmacist said they could not give out an Epipen without prescription and suggested she took Emma to hospital. But by the time the mother had got her car out of the car park to take Emma to hospital she was already dead.

Obviously, this is a horrendous story and one feels dreadfully sorry for the family. Obviously also, the pharmacist should have been very much more allergen aware and should have been prepared to use an Epipen if there was any chance of a serious reaction occurring.

But, how is it possible that, in this day and age when nut allergy appears so regularly in all the media, you could not be aware that a nut allergy can be fatal? And even if you had been told by your consultant ‘that sometimes they do not tell parents that their children could die (from nut allergy) because it was so rare and they did not want to panic people’ –  if your child had been diagnosed with a nut allergy, would you not have tried to find out a bit more about it? The mother obviously knew enough to ask for an Epipen when she thought her daughter was having a reaction. So why, even if they did not really believe that the allergy could be fatal, were they not checking foods to make sure that they were nut free to avoid the risk of a reaction? Is that a ‘responsible’ way to manage a nut allergy?

I am, of course, basing my comments on a newspaper report and that is a very unwise thing to do as it may have given a very inaccurate picture of the family’s actual situation. But it does illustrate how important it is that, if you are diagnosed with a food allergy, you learn all about it and how to manage it safely yourself. You may not always be able to rely on others to do it for you.

Another illustration of how important this is arose in a blog of Alex Gazzola’s. He had been contacted by a complementary practitioner using energy healing who claimed to be able ‘harmonise the threat of a potential allergen, so that the body no longer reacts’. Now I absolutely do believe in energy medicine and that, in certain circumstances, it can be very helpful and, indeed therapeutic. But….. The only occasion on which I would ever consider the possibility of it being used to treat a food allergy would be as an experiment conducted under expert medical supervision with full allergen resuscitation facilities available.

No doubt the practitioner concerned believed totally in her therapy – and in many areas her therapies may be very successful – but attempting to treat a potentially fatal food allergy with an untested energy protocol is seriously dangerous.  But that is apparently what she wants to do and, because of the lack of regulation in much of the complementary therapy world, she could well find herself doing so.

By far the best course is (as Alex did) to try to persuade her that her treatment option is potentially very dangerous and should not be offered. But the other approach is to ensure that any potential patient who does suffer from a food allergy has ‘taken responsibility for their condition’ and has learnt enough about it to understand the risks that this sort of treatment would pose. So, if they really want to try it, they would only to do so with full medical support as I suggest above.

If you have a food allergy that just might, conceivably, be fatal you need to be knowledgeable and aware. That way you can at least have some measure of control. It is, after all,  your life that could be on the line….



Way back in 1987, just as I was starting work on a major history of English food, my eighteen-month-old son, Jonathan, and his father were diagnosed with dairy intolerances. Back then the alternatives for those on dairy-free diets were few and far between and pretty unappealing so, after some months of experimentation, I launched Berrydales Special Ices, soya based ices which were dairy and additive free – and tasted delicious! While manufacturing the ices I started a newsletter, The Inside Story, about food allergy and food intolerance and, by 1995, it was a quarterly magazine circulating to over 35,000 health professionals. In 2000 The Inside Story, re-named Foods Matter, became a subscription magazine and now all of that information, and much, much more, is accessible on the Foods Matter, Coeliacs Matter and Skins Matter sites and on our two freefrom food sites, FreeFromFoodsMatter and FreeFromRecipesMatter. You can follow me on twitter @FoodsMatter or email me at And, of course, you can also follow the exciting growth of freefrom food by checking out our annual FreeFrom Food Awards celebrating the best and the newest in freefrom foods!

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