Just to alert those of you who find gardens a welcome relief from Brexit that there is now a short update on my garden pages.
Food allergy and food intolerance, freefrom foods, electrosensitivity, this and that...
Just to alert those of you who find gardens a welcome relief from Brexit that there is now a short update on my garden pages.
Because I am aware that over the next year or so I am going to have to move myself from the 14 rooms that I have been occupying in Lawn Road for the last 40 years into something at least a bit smaller – and because I have been helping my good friend Prudence (of the amazing daffodil tick in the garden) to downsize as well – I have been re-aquainting myself with Freecycle. Local websites on which you can post items that you wish to get rid of but do not wish to sell (the vast majority would not be saleable or if so would not raise enough money to justify the effort) – and where you can find items that you either cannot afford or do actually not wish to buy.
You connect directly with the ‘offerer’/person who wants them – and it is down to whoever wants the items to collect them. What a brilliant and brilliantly simple concept. And what a wonderful way of finding a better home than the tip for of all of that stuff that you didn’t think anyone could possible want. But oh yes they do! Even down to an extremely battered copy of Mrs Beeton with no covers and the first 200 page missing…… Yes, I really did find a home for that a few years ago.
At this moment I am waiting for someone to come to collect the unwanted packing materials from the FreeFrom Food Awards –
much of which, infuriatingly, you cannot recycle. (Surely those loathsome polystyrene pellets and chiller boxes would be ideal for recycling – but no…. But getting them re-used is even better.) But over the last few weeks I have found good homes for an amazingly weird collection of other bits and pieces. A back stretcher…
…a random collection of jugs…
Two ancient umbrellas/parasols with lovely handles but otherwise totally shot. And yes, I know that I could possibly have sold these as one had a silver handle – but – by the time I had actually got round to doing all of that, would I have got enough money to justify the effort? Instead they went to someone who really wanted to try and refurbish them for their own enjoyment.
And that is the joy of Freecycle – although you do have to be aware that there are commercially minded souls who comb the Freecycle offers for items that they can acquire for free and then sell on. However, these guys are fairly easy to spot as if you offer more than one thing they will often offer to ‘take the lot’. Beware…
The satisfying recipients are the ones who genuinely want the item for themselves – or whose means are such that they cannot afford to buy them new – or who believe that passing things on for multiple use is a far more sustainable way to live than the built in obsolescence with which so many of us were brought up.
A really lovely guy took up the offer of Prudence’s complete set of 1969 Encyclopedia Britannica’s that the local book dealer and the local Oxfam had refused. (‘Nobody’s interested in those these days – might as well just pulp ’em.’) He came to collect on a Saturday afternoon, having just been to south London to collect a ‘new’ FreeCycled car seat for his little boy who had just outgrown the one he had collected from Freecycle six months earlier – and was now about to put back on Freecycle so it could go to someone else with a smaller child. I told him who the Britannicas had come from and how pleased Prudence would be to know that they were going to a good home – and he, bless him, sent me the following email to pass on to her:
Dear Prudence,Thank you ever so much for giving away your wonderful collection of Britannica’s.My partner and I have just had our first child, he is 8 months of age, and as I am an avid reader of all things, I would like to instill this in him also.We are just in the process of trying to buy our first home, with an eye on a house to make into a family home, I always wanted to have my (ever growing) collection of books on shelves in the hallway above the door frames, so you are greeted with knowledge as soon as you enter the home!Additionally I have always wanted my own proper set of Britannicas, ever since as child, my Mother had a red children’s set in the only glass display cabinet we owned (along with any china or other considered valuables).Being from a lower income household, without a lot of possessions, I treasured these books, and so will do so with the collection you have generously given. I will read them to my son, in the hope he fosters the same thirst for knowledge I have. And I will tell him a very nice lady called Prudence gave us this fantastic collection.
My other particularly heart warming giveaway recently was also to do with Prudence who, as an upholsterer, had amassed an amazing collection of curtain and upholstery trimmings – this was only one of about ten boxes full!
Some of it the went to FFFA cooks Katherine and Kate, both of whom are extremely handy with a needle (indeed Kate actually is an upholsterer); some of it to a young man who was setting up in business as an upholsterer – and the remains to an art teacher who wanted to use some for her class displays –like this….
But mainly she wanted the trimmings for her farmhouse, Flynne’s Barn, in the Lake District. Flynne’s Barn is being set up in memory of her daughter who died of cancer aged only 16 – to provide a holiday destination for young people with cancer where they can not only have a wonderful holiday in fabulous countryside…
but can meet other young people with similar experience of cancer. For a much fuller explanation of the need and what they hope to do at Flynne’s Barn, see this page of their website. What better a home could all those trimmings have gone to….
So enthused am I now by the whole FreeCycle concept that very little in the house (or indeed anyone else’s house) is safe from me…..
Yesterday we finished the judging for this year’s FreeFrom Food Awards. Over 500 products judged over three weeks by 57 different judges – and that’s not counting 10 children!! (The shortlist will be out next week so keep an eye on the awards site.) Here are some of the Store Cupboard entries lined up in the store rooms waiting for their moment in the sun.
Some really excellent products entered – we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves – and now feel distinctly fatter than we did three weeks ago!!
However, the judging was not without its moments of disagreement – not, normally, about winners but about the ever-fraught topic of labelling. What do precautionary ‘may contain’ warnings actually mean (a topic for a different blog…) – and what about oats? How should they appear in an ingredients list? How indeed!! And how should an oat-sensitive coeliac ‘read’ them?
In an attempt to elucidate this for one of our entrants I have just written the following. Do not attempt to read unless you have had at least two cups of coffee and are feeling very ‘switched in’….
How should oats be listed in an ingredients list?
The regulations state that:
‘You need to tell your customers if any food products you sell or provide contain any of the main 14 allergens as an ingredient. The 14 allergens are:’
But…. gluten is not, technically, an allergen.
Gluten is a protein, made up of, in the case of wheat, barley and rye, the elements gliadin and glutenin; in the case oats of it is made up of avenins. An allergen is a type of antigen or structural molecule.
So the regulation is confusing from the start.
Of course, wheat, barley, rye and oats can also be antigens (allergens) and it is perfectly possible for someone to have a genuine allergic reaction to eating them. But they are not included in the list in their own right as potential allergens as only relatively few people have allergic reactions to them; they are included because they contain gluten.
Contradictory though this may seem, one can see why the regulations were phrased this way.
However, what it means for the manufacturer is that, in order to abide strictly by the regulations, you need to highlight/bold ‘oats’ in your ingredients list, even when they are gluten free oats.
Unfortunately, this will probably just confuse the poor coeliac consumer who may worry that, because they have been highlighted, they are actually an allergen and therefore not safe for them……
Gluten free oats
As long as you are using gluten-free oats, then, according to the regulations, the product can be flagged as gluten free (eg under 20 parts per million of gluten) whether you specify that the oats are gluten free or not.
However, this is even more confusing for the consumer who doesn’t know about this aspect of the regulation. Therefore oat-tolerant coeliacs worry that if the oats in the ingredients do not state that they are gluten free, even if the overall declaration is gluten free, then the oats might not be.
So we would always advise any manufacturer to say ‘gluten-free oats’/’gluten-free oat flour’ etc whenever oats are mentioned in the ingredients.
In this context it is even more confusing for the consumer if an ingredients list contains both oats and oat flour and one is flagged as gluten free and other is not. Even if all the oats in the product actually are gluten free the oat tolerant coeliac may be, understandably, confused.
Have you followed me so far? If so, congratulations. And you can see why I do not feel strong enough to embark on the subject of ‘may contain’ labelling right now….
Those of you who follow Cressida’s posts on Facebook and Linked In will know that this year’s judging for the FreeFrom Food Awards is in full swing. And thanks to the amazing efficiency of all – but especially of relatively new recruit Sarah who martials hundred of products and controls skips’ full of packaging down in her mole hole in the basement – all is going smoothly.
Since Cressida is doing such a splendid job of logging our progress on social media, I am only going to chip in with a couple of images from the children’s category yesterday – run for us as always by Christine Bailey down in Reading.
So here are Bilal, James and six year old George (at his first judging) debating what mark to give the ice cream on a stick…
And here are old hands, Charlotte, Emily, new recruit, Callum and Christine’s son Simeon also pondering over that ice cream…
And here are the now rather sad remains of a munched caterpillar…..
Meanwhile, Cressida may think that she has the ideal use for all those foil serving trays, but six-month-old Zack has a much cooler idea – and got himself labelled up while was at it!
You will be relieved to hear that they did all go in the dishwasher once Zack had finished with them.
Spurred on by the amazing campaign that Natasha Ednan Laperouse’s parents have fronted since the inquest’s findings into Natasha’s death, the Food Standards Agency/DEFRA have been remarkably speedy in getting out a consultation on how to move forward. The question is how feasible are any of the options – and will they work?….
The consultation is offering four which run from better training for food service operatives to full ingredients labelling for all ‘pre-packed foods for direct sale’ or PPDS – e.g. any food, like the Pret baguette that killed Natasha, that has already been packaged up before it is sold, no matter what the outlet.
With the exception of option 3, all are desirable – the question is, how feasible are they to implement – and will they work? So…
Option 1 – Better training and greater awareness
Or, as the consultation puts it, ‘promoting best practice’. This they see as:
Yes, all totally desirable and, as they point out, relatively quick and easy to implement – well, at least to offer. If for no other reasons that they would not be regulatory so much quicker to get up and running. But….
To what extent will local authorities actually be able to make use of the guidance, given that virtually all Environmental Health and Trading Standards departments are already severely understaffed and over worked ?
And will a public information campaign actually ‘get through’ to either/both food businesses and the general public? Public information campaigns can work. I can still see the image of the girl in the pale blue silk party dress with her face all slashed with windscreen glass and the tag line ‘I did not want to crush my party dress’ that fronted the ‘use your seat belt’ campaign 30 years ago. But that was an exception. Normally public information campaigns remain well below most peoples’ radar.
So, totally desirable but efficacious? I doubt it.
Option 2 – Mandatory ‘ask the staff about allergens’ labels on all PPDS foods.
Yep – another good idea. And also relatively quick, cheap and easy to roll out.
It would certainly help to raise awareness of the problem with both food service operatives and allergy sufferers. However, you are still left with the issue of whether the staff who are asked about allergens are able to answer the question correctly – and therefore safely.
However, it does avoid the risk inherent in the last two ‘declare allergens/ingredients on pack’ options: that the outlet will get the information wrong! Given the level of ignorance within food service about allergens, this is a significant risk.
So yes, a good idea and definitely worth implementing, but only stands a chance of making a serious difference if combined with very much better allergy training of all food service operatives.
Option 3 – Any of the 14 major allergens in the food to have to be declared on an on pack label.
In theory this would be cheaper and easier for food services to implement than full ingredients labelling but it would still be expensive and confusing with a strong likelihood (again, given the level of allergen ignorance in food service) that that they will get it wrong.
Moreover, it overlooks the problem that although the 14 ‘major’ allergens are the most common, anyone can be allergic to any food so it will not help anyone who has a life threatening allergy to corn, or bananas, or capsicums or any other food not on the list of 14.
So, really not.
Option 4 – Full ingredients labelling on all PPDS foods
This would obviously be the gold standard and is what allergy sufferers are calling for. It would also have the virtue of standardising practice across the food industry as that is what is required on packaged food. However, as the consultation points out, it definitely does not come without problems.
Since labels will have to be added on the premises, as the foods are made, they will add significantly to the work and therefore the cost of offering PPDS foods – quite possibly putting some smaller operations out of business.
And of as much concern in this context and given the poor understanding of allergy in food service, what chance is there that they will get them right? Talking to nut allergy sufferer Justyn Page (of whom more anon) who was put into anaphylactic shock by cashew nuts in a milk shake because the guy making the milk shake thought ‘cashews aren’t nuts’ – who will trust an in-house generated label in a relatively small café or eatery?
But, not all of those selling PPDS food are small operators – Pret certainly aren’t! So it seems to me that there is room for a fifth option which would close the loophole which allowed Pret to serve the baguette that killed Natasha.
Option 5 – All operations OVER A CERTAIN SIZE should be required by law to include full ingredients labelling with all PPDS foods that they sell.
Although larger operators, such as Pret, may (at least sometimes) make foods on the premises, they are large enough to be able establish better training and better control systems which should ensure that the information that they provide on pack is accurate. There will be an extra cost involved, but a cost that they should be able to absorb without too much pain – especially if it enabled them to avoid the opprobrium and the reputational damage that will come their way if another Natasha episode were to occur.
Smaller operators would not be required to carry full ingredients labelling but they would be required to carry the ‘ask about allergens’ stickers and would hopefully, at least attempt to improve their training as far as allergy is concerned.
So for me, it would be ‘yes’ to options 1 & 2 plus my option 5.
Have your say – how to respond
However, not what I say, but what you have to say. DEFRA/FSA would like lots of responses and ‘encourage respondents to provide not just their opinions but also the supporting facts and reasoning to inform the evidence base for the development of final proposals’.
Respondents do not have to answer all the questions and so can choose those of specific interest. Questions which you do not wish to respond to can be left blank. The consulation is open until 29 March 2019.
Please respond through the online survey (Citizen Space).
If you cannot respond online, you can request a copy of the survey and a response form by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Queries and completed surveys can also be sent there.
Alternatively you can respond via post at the addresses below, specifying which question(s) you are responding to:
Allergen Labelling Review Team, Defra, Room 202, Zone 2, 1-2 Peasholme Green, York YO1 7PX
Alex has done it again…..
Found an extraordinarily abstruse subject (did you ever read his piece on gluten-free communion hosts?) and dissected it in great detail. But on this occasion he has not only dissected it, but reconstructed it into manageable and comprehensible chunks for the average, scientifically and chemical illiterate reader – like me….
So – what is MI and should we care about it? Definitely, yes.
MI is an very effective – and therefore very widely used – preservative which is to be found in cosmetics and body care products and a huge range of homeware, household and gardening products. Around 1.5% of the population, mainly women, react to it and reactions can last for many weeks. These reactions can include redness and rashes, inflammation, itchiness, stinging, swelling (of eyelids), blistering and scaly or flaky skin. Its use is not always declared on packaging and it can ‘off gas’ into the air meaning that you don’t even need to come into contact with the MI to suffer symptoms.
Most doctors know very little about MI and, even when they recognise it, there is little available in the way of treatment – except the usual trusty avoidance. Which, as with so many of the more obscure allergens, is often easier said than done.
However, there are ways. And apart from a very much more in depths analysis what MI is, its history and where it can be found, in his Complete Guide Alex not only warns of where it may be found but advises on the best way to avoid it and how to deal with both the physical and emotional symptoms and fallout of being sensitive.
Excellent short primer and extremely good value from Amazon here (as both a paper back and an ebook) for £7.45 (or thereabouts….)