Allergens are substances that trigger an allergic reaction. In most people, these allergens are harmless and have no effect at all; however, for those that are allergic (hypersensitive), the body’s response is to attack the allergen. In this case, the immune system mistakenly believes the allergen to be a threat, and reacts by creating antibodies – releasing histamines, as well as other chemicals that ultimately create what we recognise as an allergic reaction.
In some cases, such as those who experience Anaphylaxis (the most severe form of allergic reaction), this response can be potentially life-threatening. In highly allergic people, even just one fourty-four-thousandth (1/44,000th) of a peanut can prompt an allergic response.
Allergies are not to be confused with intolerances: These are different as they do not involve the immune system, and generally will not be life threatening – however, they can still make you extremely ill.
So why is this so important to us?
In the UK, it’s estimated that between 6-8% of all children and 2% of adults have an allergy to food. This equates to around 2 million people. It will come as no surprise, then, that over the last 15 years hospital admissions for food allergies have increased by over 500%! On average, ER visits caused by food allergies amount to around 30,000 cases each year.
Approximately 10 people die every year due to this. And the worst thing, there is NO cure for food allergies. This means the only way to manage it is to avoid the foods which cause the allergy.
Recent research into allergy prevention has yielded encouraging results - particularly when looking to tackle peanut allergies. You can read more about the latest clinical research results here.
Through strict control measures, and ensuring areas where food is both prepared and packaged are kept controlled, we can help lower the risk. All food packaging by law has to state if that food contains one of the 14 major allergens.
Even taking a brief look at the information above, it’s clear just how important staff training at all levels has become. All staff who work with food need to be trained in Food Allergy Awareness in order to understand the requirements of food allergic customers, and how to prevent cross-contamination when working.