Tragic and horribly unnecessary as the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse was, it, and the tireless campaign that her parents have waged to get take-away foods (such as the baguette which killed her) better labelled, have certainly brought food allergy onto the front pages. They have also spurred the Foods Standards Agency to action. Within a few months of the inquest into Natasha’s death they had launched a public consultation on how the allergic population could be better protected when buying take-away foods. And now, less than six months later, they have come up with a course of action to be suggested to ministers for implementation/legislation.
Alex G reports on the FSA board meeting at which they announced their decisions on the FM site here – but it boils down to going for the most comprehensive option – mandatory full ingredients labelling with the 14 major allergens emphasised on all PPDS (prepackaged foods for direct sale) such as sandwiches, baguettes etc etc.
Not surprisingly, this was the option supported by 73% of the individuals who responded to the consultation – as it is, obviously, the most comprehensive and offers them the most complete information about the food they are about to buy/eat. However, not only was industry less enthusiastic about option 4 (which would require the most work to implement) but the NGOs and public sector bodies also had their doubts.
Their concern was that because of the difficulty of both implementing and policing option 4 throughout the industry, the regulations would not be well complied with. They would therefore be of little help to food hypersensitives – indeed, they might even put them at greater risk – while causing possibly catastrophic disruption to smaller outlets. One can only wait and see. Although, given the general governmental paralysis over anything not directly related to Brexit, one could be waiting quite a while.
Reaction to skin contact
Meanwhile, another area of concern has been highlighted by another inquest – this time into the equally tragic death of Karanbar Singh Cheema who died as a result of a severe allergy to cheese in 2017. Not, however, as one might have expected, from eating cheese but by coming into skin contact with cheese when some cheese was thrown at him by another pupil at break time.
Karan had a severe allergy to milk but, as Dr Adam Fox said at the inquest, for anaphylaxis to be brought on just by contact with the skin was ‘extraordinarily unusual’ – indeed he could find no record of such a case in the literature. However, Karan also suffered from bad eczema and from bad asthma. The high pollen count on that day could have increased his sensitivity. Meanwhile eye witnesses said that as a result of getting hit by the cheese, Karan was scratching his neck so furiously that he was drawing blood. Dr Fox suggested that this could have allowed the allergen more direct access to his system than just crossing the skin barrier.
While Dr Fox did not hold the school responsible for Karan’s subsequent death, the coroner certainly suggested that their care had been inadequate, both in terms of allergy provision (there was only one Epipen in his medical box and it was 11 months out of date) and awareness. They had made no effort to raise awareness amongst the other pupils of the seriousness of Karan’s allergies and the care that needed to be taken to ensure that he did not come into contact with them. No blame was attached to the boys who threw the cheese who had no idea that touching cheese could cause Karan so much harm. For a full report see yesterday’s Guardian here.
Education, education, education… How desperately it is needed and how far we have to go….