Food Allergy Warning: Better be careful than sorry

This season of festivities look out for allergen labels on food items like 'prashad'

Rupanjana Dutta Wednesday 03rd October 2018 09:58 EDT

This season of festivals and festivities, a very important aspect of celebration is that gorgeous box of prashad, handed out to you, with your favourite sweet or savoury items in it. For Asians, contents of a prashad box is considered holy, and we often don't question what it contains. During celebrations, though we often don't want to give thoughts to grim consequences, it may be prudent to check the contains of a prashad box before sharing it with children, or even adults.

We know that people with food allergies, for them eating out can be more than often a distressing experience. So there is this fear of leaving the comfort zone of one's own kitchen, and often a feeling of embarrassment- of not wanting to ask too many questions or call for too much attention to one's dietary needs. So to combat those concerns, a new law aimed at making things easier for people with allergies to eat out safely was introduced in 2014.

Under current guidelines, takeaways and restaurants are only required to let customers know if any of the 14 most dangerous allergens viz. mustard, celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, nuts, peanuts, eggs, fish, lupin, mulluscs, seasame seeds, soya, suphur dioxide and milk are ingredients in their food. However, freshly handmade, non pre-packaged food does not have to be individually labelled, according to the UK's Food Regulations 2014. The recent death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse after eating a Pret Baguette, fell under that grey area. Environment Secretary Michael Gove said his government is considering a 'Natasha's Law' on food labelling, but the area still remains gravely inadequate, with not much being said or done.

Many organisations and temples like the BAPS Swaminarayan temple, Neasden, label their boxes with allergy warnings. But if anyone is not handing out a box with labels, or giving out only loose prashad, it is perhaps wise and definitely not rude, to check the ingredients of the prashad with them, as well as check for other contains on the 'prashad thali' (plate), and not blindly accepting it.

Aaron was a young 11-year-old boy in Derbyshire. He ate a condensed milk sweet that his was gifted to them by family as prashad. There was no allergy warning on the box, but the sweet was in the box along with some bombay mix in a pack, and the boy died of severe peanut allergic reaction, on his way to the hospital, in the ambulence. The coroner concluded that he was satisfied with the fact that the box contained peanuts in the savoury snack (and not directly in the sweets), but law now makes it mandatory that every such box needs to be labelled clearly with allergy warnings. So if you are picking up that prashad box anywhere, please look for the allergy warnings on the box or ask- there is no harm in asking.

Karanbir Cheema, popularly known as Karan, with a severe allergy to dairy, died after suffering from a serious allergic reaction in Greenford, West London, after he was reportedly 'chased with cheese and had it thrown down his t-shirt' at his school. The 13-year-old was severely allergic to wheat, gluten, all dairy products, eggs and all nuts, as well as being asthmatic and suffering from atopic eczema. He went into anaphylactic shock at William Perkin Church of England High School in Greenford, and was unconscious throughout the time paramedics battled to save his life.

9-year-old Nainika Tikoo was also one of the children who died because of severe allergic reaction to blackberries combined with dairy contamination. From childhood she was allergic to dairy and suffered from asthma. But one Saturday morning, after her weekly horse riding course, she wanted to have dairy-free pancakes with blueberries. Her mother Lakshmi Kaul reportedly said, “My husband Vinod made dairy-free pancakes, like he would normally, but with a few blackberries sliced up. She had one bite of that pancake and she reacted pretty violently. The rash came up and she started swelling. He gave her Piriton, anti-allergy medicine, her inhaler and more Piriton.

“Then he felt she was getting really bad, so he gave her the EpiPen and called the ambulance. He had to start giving her mouth to mouth and the ambulance arrived in just a few minutes. She had lost her pulse by that time and they tried to resuscitate her.”

Lakshmi who was outside, rushed home from work, finding her little girl lying on the floor, and paramedics trying to save her.

Two days later, after waiting for rest of the family to arrive, the couple had to kiss their little girl goodbye, switching off the ventilator.

Before they let her go, the doctors ran a prick test and discovered that Nainika was mildly allergic to blackberries.

The doctor later said it looked like it wasn't the blackberry on its own, but there was something to do with dairy too. The pancakes were dairy free, but the parents were not sure if the ingredients had been contaminated or something.

Lakshmi added, "We didn't have any dairy products at home. The exact cause is unknown and it has left us with a lot of questions.”

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