Click here to give yourselves a chortle – with thanks to John Scott for the link!!
Food allergy and food intolerance, freefrom foods, electrosensitivity, this and that...
Click here to give yourselves a chortle – with thanks to John Scott for the link!!
A post on the Sugarpuffish blog last week illustrates yet again the frustrating unintended consequences of the FSA’s attempts to keep allergic people safe.
Sugarpuffish, who is very intolerant of dairy, noticed that one of her favourite snacks, 9Bars, had taken their ‘dairy free’ declaration off their bars. Concerned that they might have changed their recipes she emailed them and they responded to the effect that nothing had changed in the manfucture of their bars which remained dairy free but….
They had recently been advised by the FSA that, in the absence of any clear guidelines on an acceptable ‘threshold’ for dairy, they would be enforcing a zero tolerance approach. This means that if any of the allergen at all, no matter how minute the amount, is found in a product – even if it is below the current levels for which a laboratory can reliably test (under 2.5 parts per million in the case of dairy) – the product will not be deemed to be dairy free. It would therefore be infringing the regulations and the makers would be liable to prosecution. (The threshold has now, as you will all know, been set at 20 parts per million for a product to be called gluten free.) Since 9Bars do use dairy in other areas of their plant, they cannot guaranteed that cross contamination could never ever happen, even be it at a minutely low level. At which point they would become guilty of selling as ‘dairy free’ a product which contained dairy, even thought the amount could be ten times smaller than the amount of gluten allowed in a ‘gluten-free’ product.
Result: another dairy-free product has been removed from the diet of those who are avoiding dairy, thus further restricting their choice.
I am not really blaming the FSA (and their partners in the EU) for this – well, not entirely anyhow. They want to ‘get science right’ before they set ‘levels’ or ‘thresholds’ for the amount of an allergen that will be ‘safe’ – and so they should. The trouble is that, not only is this an extremely lengthy process (they have already been at it for about ten years and there is little that there will be anything concrete coming out of their deliberations for another two or three years at the very minimum), but that this is not an area of absolutes.
Food allergy is extremely complex and little understood – why it happens, how it happens, what it takes to cause a reaction etc etc. Research is ongoing and the goal posts change on an almost weekly basis. Look, for example, at the ‘guidance’ given to new mothers about peanut allergy; a mere two years ago pregnant women were advised to avoid peanuts at all costs while they were pregnant; now the advice is the diametric opposite – and the research projects intended to settle the matter are still on going. Even if they come to some definite conclusions, who knows whether these will be overturned a month later by some yet newer piece of research.
So waiting ten years for guidance which may still only be provisional does not seem helpful. Why could we not have had some ‘provisional’ guidance now, or indeed five years ago? It could have been stringent (way below what was generally thought to cause a reaction) and it could have come with the proviso that those with very serious, life-threatening allergies should still treat the product with caution. At least it would have given freefrom manufacturers something to work to – and it would have avoided the current situation in which perfectly safe products are being taken off, or never being offered on, the ‘dairy-free’ market because of a risk far lower than that deemed acceptable for coeliacs. 9Bars are certainly not the only company that has removed a dairy free claim – or that has not made a dairy free claim – even though the product is totally dairy free.
To be fair, large buggies swollen to twice their width by hundreds of bulging carrier bags were responsible for at least some of the traffic jams but, despite the larger and deliciously lighter venue and the wider aisles, it was the crowds of keen and eager freefrom-ers who were responsible for most of the squeeze.
As exhibitors, presenters of the FreeFrom Skincare Awards’ winners and, on Sunday, front-woman for an excellent presentation for Action Against Allergy by Dr Marie Wheeler on paediatric allergy (apart from being very knowledgable, she was a genius at getting people to ask questions!) – we were very much part of the Allergy Show organisation – so had a slightly different take on the event to the many visitors. While I will therefore offer you a few brief thoughts from our perspective, for very thorough visitor reviews of both the show and many of the exhibiting products I refer you to the excellent blogs at What Allergy?, YesNoBananas, and GlutenFreeB .
From our point of view – from behind our rows of FreeFrom Skincare Awards testing products – the show was excellent. Lots of interested and involved consumers wanting test out balms and creams, and lots more anxious to fill in Cressida’s ‘freefrom food in vending machines’ questionnaire and fulminate about how there was never anything they could eat in the vending machines they met. (For more on this see yesterdays’ blog on vending.) The show also gives us an excellent opportunity to catch up with freefrom manufacturers and retailers that we already work with and to check out both new food and new skincare products.
The three blogs above give a pretty good run down of the more exciting new food products at the show. All three mention Venice Bakery, very newly arrived from Los Angeles with their thin and crispy gluten, dairy, egg and soya free pizzas – both bases and topped pizzas! Really delicious… We also really liked the new gluten-free (and dairy/soya but not egg)-free bread from Ireland BFree. (Interestingly yet another Irish gluten-free bread was on show at the Free From Food show in Freiburg earlier in the week – more anon.)
The newly launched Food Heaven soya ice cream stand (think latter day Swedish Glace) was next door to us and was mobbed from the moment the show opened! Excellent vanilla and raspberry flavours, plus chocolate mousses and cheesecakes – fuller reviews in the pipeline on FreeFromFoodsmatter. (Their Sicilian Lemon Cheesecake was a winner at last year’s FreeFrom Food Awards.)
In terms of new small manufacturers, Cressida got very excited over Heck’s sausages (so small they they have not even got a website up and running yet) while I got very excited over the thought that either the Port Royal veggy patties or the wonderful Rita’s Fugason vegetarian pasta pies (thin layer of soft pastry enclosing delicious veggie fillings), both of whom were exhibiting in the V-Delcious part of the show, might soon become available in a gluten-free version. Cressida was also enthusing about the new Ilumi range of gluten, dairy and nut-free ready meals from Tanfield Foods, and about….. and about…… But I shall not go on as if I do, I might never finish. However, we will be reviewing all of the new products both from existing and new manufacturers over the next few months so just stay tuned in and you will get all the low down!
Meanwhile, if you want to know more about the skincare aspect of the event, check in to the FreeFrom Skincare awards site for the winners of this year’s awards (pictured below) and to the Skins Matter blog where Alex has already reported on the show and the awards.
Meanwhile – well done to the Allergy & Freefrom Show team – a really well organised and successful event! And now we are all looking forward to Liverpool in October….
A report on the radio last night suggested that the horse in your lasagne could have gone through around 12 ‘virtual’ hands as it was traded from Romania (where there is a glut of horsemeat as horse-drawn carts have been banned from the highways) to Italy, to France, to Poland to (quite likely) Tierra del Fuego and and back again, before landing up at Findus’ French manufacturers and being turned into lasagne. This most certainly throws an unpleasant light on the industrial nature of much of the food we eat – are we surprised that Hugh FW fulminates?
But apart from depressing us about the industrialisation of food and industry’s glaring lack of its much vaunted transparency, and incensing those whose cultural gastronomic predjudices have been offended, the scandal presented little in the way of danger. Until, that is, someone remembered that horses were regularly dosed with the non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, phenylbutazone (‘bute’) which is not licensed for human consumption. The real risk to human health is probably very small – unless you eat nothing but horsemeat all you life – although prolonged use can give the poor horses ‘ulcers, kidney damage, internal haemorrhage, weight loss and, in advanced stages, kidney failure and death’ according to this morning’s Independent.
However, the arrival of ‘bute’ in the affair has allowed the blame to be shifted onto the Food Standards Agency who are meant to ensure that our food is safe – and contamination does indeed fall into their bag. But since this government emasculated the agency, transferring most of its powers to other governement agencies such as DEFRA and slashing both its budget and its workforce, it seems a little hard to blame them for failing to police the beef/horse situation when they have neither the money nor the staff to do so.
But never let it be said that any scandal comes without a silver lining. In this case it is David Cameron’s attempt to pass the whole affair off as ‘just a matter of labeling’ – which is focusing minds very nicely on labeling and its importance.
While some of those using gluten-free/dairy-free/nut-free foods may be panicking over the possibility that their food too may have been mis-labeled, I do not think they need to worry – well, no more than they would have worried anyhow. It seems pretty clear that the mislabeling in ‘horsegate’ is part of a criminal strategy to defraud. While the profits to be made out of dodgy beef/horsemeat are massive, those to be made out of mislabeled gluten-free bread are, relatively speaking, minute.
Not that this means that those wishing to exclude gluten, dairy, nuts, egg etc from their diets do not need to worry about labeling – they absolutely do. Of the seven allergy alerts/product withdrawals listed on the FSA allergy alerts page between 9th January and 7th February this year, all are for products that have been mislabeled – not for products that have been contaminated. So accurate labeling (setting aside it helpfulness) remains an issue requiring better and tighter controls throughout the industry.
But, if course, it is not just the accurate listing of what is/is not in the product that they are concerned about – it is the allergen advice and that dreaded ‘may contain’.
Many efforts have been, and are being, made by the industry and the regulators to find ways in which manufacturers can protect themselves and yet still give helpful and useful information to the allergic consumer. Not ‘may contain nuts’ for example, but ‘no nuts in the ingredients but manufactured in a factory which does use nuts’ or ‘made in a nut-free facility but cannot guarantee the source of the ingredients to be nut free’ etc etc. But all too many manufacturers, especially the smaller ones, have still really not ‘got it’.
As you are no doubt aware, we have spent the last two weeks judging the entries for this year’s FreeFrom Food Awards. Depressingly we have had to ‘demote’ several excellent products from winning or highly commended positions because, when we came to look at the packs after we had made our decisions we found that a product which claimed to be ‘dairy free’ (or gluten free or nut free) had a ‘may contain traces of dairy’ at the bottom of the ingredients list. We even had one, entered into our new-this-year ‘manufactured in a nut free environment’ category, which said ‘may contain nut traces’ on the pack.
Neither we at the FreeFrom Food Awards nor the freefrom community at large expects (although some might like) all foods to be manufactured in dedicated facilities. But if they are not, then that manufacturer must provide full information about the potential risk to an allergic consumer so that they can decide for themselves whether or not to take that risk. It is not good enough to claim ‘dairy free’ and then add a ‘may contain’ rider. If those products had claimed ‘dairy free but manufactured in an environment where milk is used’, or ‘made in a dairy-free facility but cannot guarantee ingredients are dairy free’ then we would have taken a different view, but just ‘may contain’ is not enough.
But while these entrants can, maybe, be forgiven for not yet getting their heads properly around the problem, what is unforgivable is the ‘mix’ companies. A couple quite big ones prominently flagged up ‘dairy free, egg free, gluten free’ on their mixes and then, in the instructions, told you to used eggs, milk or flour to make up the product…..
Cartoons by Christopher White – sorry – could not resist…..
I never thought I would hear myself saying this but – I love coconut… For years I was haunted by the memory of those multi-coloured dessicated coconut fudge sweety things that I was forced to eat at parties as a child – and which brought me very close to disgracing myself by throwing up all over my party dress… I still cannot face dessicated (is the name not enough to put you off?) coconut with equanimity, but fresh coconut – now that is a very different matter.
And there is no doubt that coconut is the new wonder food. This year’s FreeFrom Food Awards were awash in new coconut products – coconut milk, yogurt, ice cream, coconut water, cold pressed coconut oils – and very good they all were too. Not that it is entirely surprising as, of course, all of the above make excellent substitutes for dairy milk, yogurt, ice cream and butter, especially as fresh, cold pressed coconut products are far more delicate in flavour than the coconut of one’s childhood memories. (To see just a few of them see this year’s winners and shortlisted products in the ‘Plant’ category of the awards.)
My especial favourite is cold pressed coconut oil. You can use this as a butter or spread substitute, although not everyone can immediately get their heads (or taste buds) around its very white colour, slightly ‘lardy’ texture and more definite coconut flavour. It did take me a little while but I am now a convert. However, far less work was needed to convince me of coconut oil’s virtue as a cooking oil.
Because coconut oil is a saturated fat, it is, unlike the polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as sunflower or corn oil, stable enough to withstand cooking heat. (Polyunsaturated fats and oils break down when subject to heat, which causes the oils to oxidise which is not a good idea.) Coconut oil is also very high in ‘virtuous’ lauric and capric acid. Both good health reasons for cooking with it. However, the added appeal is that it adds the most delicious flavour and silky texture to whatever you cook in it – be it just some sautéed vegetables or a slow cook casserole. Give it a whirl… If you want inspiration, nearly all of the more recent articles on our FreeFromRecipesMatters site use coconut oil.
However, while I am now convinced of the coconut’s virtue as a food, I had completely forgotten, until a post arrived from Dr Mercola this morning, that it is also used very widely in the Far East both as a skin and a hair treatment. Because it is so temperature sensitive, the oil reacts to the heat of your hands and is fantastic as a massage oil – for skin, for muscles – and for hair. According to the study quote by Dr Mercola, ‘coconut oil, being a triglyceride of lauric acid, has a high affinity for hair proteins and, because of its low molecular weight and straight linear chain, is able to penetrate inside the hair shaft’ – unlike mineral oils and polyunsaturated oils which, because of their bulky structure due to the presence of double bonds, just sit on top of your hair! And, even better, while the coconut oil is nourishing your hair shafts, it will also dispose of any lice or nits who happen to be lurking there more effectively than any of those nasty chemical treatments…
And, if you need more…. A doctor in Florida has written at length about the success that she had in treating her husband’s advanced Alzheimer’s with coconut oil – or, more specifically, the ketones in coconut oil. Check here for a report from CBN News, here for Dr Newport’s original article or here to buy her book.
Like last year’s, this year’s judging for the FreeFrom Food Awards was a thoroughly enjoyable, if somewhat exhausting, experience! Made so by the range and quality of the entries, the enthusiasm and interest of our splendidly eclectic collection of judges and the superb efficiency with which Cressida, and her ‘kitchen assistant’, Katherine managed us all.
And managing us all, not to mention all the samples, is no mean feat. We run two judging rooms, alternating between them and, in each, timed to the minute, we need not only the samples (some hot, some cold, some frozen, some fried) but an endless supply of bowls, plates, spoons, rubbish bins, water – and tea/coffee to revive flagging judges.
This is all made infinitely more complicated by the fact that all entries are judged blind, judges only seeing the packs at the very end after they have made their choices – just in case their chosen winners have committed some packaging or labeling howler which would effectively, disqualify them. It has happened. But from an organisational point of view it means that every product and every tasting sheet has to be meticulously numbered – and that those numbers must tally or we are all in serious trouble!
Our judging process comes in two parts. Part one is delightfully silent. Judges look at, sniff, taste and assess each of the products laid out or presented to them, make their own notes on the relevant judging sheet and give the product a guide mark out of 10. The judging sheet will have all the information about the product (ingredients, freefrom claims, directions for storage/preparation, availability, cost etc) except the brand name and who makes it.
They are asked to bear the following criteria in mind when assessing each product:
Debbie of the Who says coeliacs can’t eat cake? blog checking out an entry.
We are very insistent that they do not talk to each other while doing this bit and that they at least try to keep their faces expressionless while they are tasting so as not to influence the fellow judges (either positively or negatively) who may not yet have tried that particular entry. Once they have all done their initial assessment, I ask them to draw up a shortlist and I note all their shortlist choices which will be used as a basis for a discussion of the potential winners.
At that point I ‘open the floor’ to discussion and, maybe because they have had to keep silent for so long – in virtually every category a very lively discussion ensued. This is mainly thanks to the diverse make up of the judging panels all of which include at least one nutritionist/dietitian, one foodwriter/chef/cook/’foodie’, one coeliac, one allergy sufferer (nuts, dairy, egg, celery, tomatoes etc) and one ‘normal’ non-foodie, non’freefrom’ person to benchmark the foods against non-freefrom food.
Coming from such very diverse backgrounds, the judges have very different ‘takes’ on what a constitutes good ‘freefrom’ product and the battle of nutritional content versus taste/quality, versus ‘Ohmigod – you mean this really is a dairy and gluten free quiche that I could eat’ can rage quite fiercely!
We were very lucky this year also to have a lot of ‘dual’ experts, nutritionists/dietitians such as Christine Bailey or Tanya Wright who not only have professional expertise in their area but are allergy sufferers themselves (Christine, dairy and gluten free, Tanya anaphylactically allergic to milk and eggs), chefs and food professionals such as Jane Milton, Hulya Erdal or chef Frank Bordoni who have also either had food problems themselves or been closely involved with some who had – and of course our new crop of ‘blogging judges’ all of whom have had very personal experience of living freefrom – and are delightfully vocal on the subject!
And what of the entries? Well, for obvious reasons, I cannot say much about them – except that there were some really exciting new products this year. Exciting not only in terms of flavour and texture (although some certainly were in those terms too) but in terms of going where no freefrom product has gone before!
Although you will have to wait till April to get the full story of who has won what, the shortlist will be out very soon so at least you will now what is in the running! Watch this space.
And meanwhile, thank you very much, again, both to all of those wonderful judges (for a full list of who they were see here on the FreeFrom Food Awards site) and to our amazing ‘in house team’ – seen below: Cressida, Katherine – and Daisy, who behaved immaculately throughout, merely waking every now and then for a quick look around and a little nosh!