Food Standards Agency Allergen Food Safety Campaign.

Food is vital for our survival. It is recommended that we consume three solid and nutritional meals a day. However, this can be easier said than done for people who suffer from food allergies and/or food intolerances. Such people have to be more selective with what they eat, and as a result they might miss out on certain opportunities that other people take for granted. This can be especially true for students, as food can be a way of bonding with peers at University, whether it be going out for meals, or cooking as a group in halls. This is where The Food Standards Agency (FSA) comes in. They are developing a campaign targeting 16-24 year olds with food allergies and/or food intolerances so as to break down barriers for these young people, and to encourage them to ask about allergies when eating out or ordering food in a shared kitchen.

This campaign could potentially save lives given the fact that for some people with food allergies, just coming into contact with an allergenic ingredient could kill them. So if you are one of these people, or you think your friend may have a food allergy, the FSA is asking you to ASK and to be vocal before ordering or preparing food. A thorough study was conducted as part of this campaign, and when the respondents were asked if they avoided eating out in the last 6 months due to a food allergy or intolerance, it was found that 63% responded yes. This is shocking. Eating should be an inclusive experience, not exclusive. There has been so much progress and advancement when it comes to different restaurants and takeaway services tailoring their food and target audience to incorporate different dietary preferences and trends such as vegetarianism and veganism, so there really is no excuse why more is not being done to help those with allergies and intolerances. 65% of respondents with a food allergy, and 54% with an intolerance, also admitted that they avoided ordering a takeaway or food online in the past six months. Simple steps such as allergen information being listed next to dishes could vastly help to resolve this, and to ensure that such people do not need to gamble with their health.

What follows next as part of the FSA’s #easytoASK campaign, are a list of ten tips to follow when cooking an allergy-friendly meal. Because the FSA recognises that cooking for friends with food allergies can seem like a daunting task, but they want to ensure students that it doesn’t have to be. It can be a safe and enjoyable experience instead.

Tip 1: Don’t feel embarrassed about asking friends what they can / cannot eat. People will allergies and intolerances are usually quite clued up on what is safe for them (and will be pleased you asked!).

Tip 2: Allergies cannot be ‘cooked out’, no matter how hard you try.

Tip 3: Check ingredients labels for hidden allergens, like tahini (sesame paste) in hummus, fish in sauces, nuts in cooking oil and milk in gravy mixes. Don’t forget sulphites in wines and dried fruit.

Tip 4: Prevent cross contamination. Clean work surfaces and equipment thoroughly to remove traces of anything you might have previously cooked.

Tip 5: Be careful with decorations, sauces, toppings and dressings that might introduce new allergens into a safe dish – like adding chopped nuts or an egg glaze over pastry.

Tip 6: The ingredients list on prepacked foods clearly label allergens, so make sure you check them.

Tip 7: If a friend is allergic to something, simply taking off their plate isn’t enough. A tiny trace of the allergen (food they must avoid) can be enough to cause an allergic reaction.

Tip 8: Keep your meals simple. A meal that can be enjoyed by everyone will make sure your allergic friend won’t feel like an ‘outsider’ at the table.

Tip 9: There are often good substitutes for allergens in most food shops. Ask friends for suggestions of what to buy and where to find it.

Tip 10: Enjoy the creative challenge. Rather than seeing a friend’s allergy as a limitation, view it as an opportunity to try something new.

And remember: there is no cure for food allergies – the only way for people to manage the condition is to avoid the food that makes them ill.

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