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Grainne Gilson-Smith: Be aware of food allergies before you fire up the barbecue

It's important to be a thoughtful host when it comes to food allergies (Photo: Torwaistudio/Shutterstock)
It's important to be a thoughtful host when it comes to food allergies (Photo: Torwaistudio/Shutterstock)

For people living with food allergies, eating out or being invited as a guest for dinner can be a stressful experience.

And, while the usual questions on food preference and what to bring are generally always asked, how often do you query if your guests have a food allergy?

It might surprise you to learn that recent research led by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) found that more than one in 10 Scottish households (16%) includes at least one person with a food allergy. The most commonly reported allergies are to milk, gluten, eggs and some seafood.

Charity Allergy UK has conducted a study into perceptions of allergies and the psychological impact of allergies on sufferers. Findings showed that over half (53%) of people in the UK regularly avoid social situations due to their allergies.

And, more than half (52%) often felt they had to play down their allergies due to judgement from family members, which can put them at higher risk of having an allergic reaction.

Often, allergic reactions are mild, but they can be severe and can result in anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of an allergic reaction – it is life-threatening and can result in death.

Taking extra care could save a life

So, the next time you invite guests to your house for dinner and they ask you about what’s in their food, would you be able to tell them? It’s important that you make sure you can.

To make your guests feel comfortable and improve the experience of people living with food allergies, follow these tips – it could save a life:

• Ask your guest (or their parents or carers, if you are cooking for a child) what they can and cannot eat.

• Before you start preparing food, clean all work surfaces and equipment thoroughly, using hot, soapy water to remove traces of anything you might have cooked before.

Make sure to clean all cooking equipment and surfaces thoroughly when cooking for someone with food allergies. Photo by Dmitry Galaganov/Shutterstock

• Keep allergens separate from other foods and follow FSS advice for avoiding cross-contact in the kitchen.

• Double-check ingredients listed on pre-packed foods such as sauces for allergens.

• Keep a note of the ingredients used in your dish so you can answer any questions your guests may have about the food.

Finally, after the washing up is done and the barbecue is cleaned and put away until the next event, you still need to know if any information on food packaging labels was missing or incorrect, so you can inform your guests.

FSS’s food allergy text alert system can help ensure your safety, and that of those around you, when there are changes to information about the presence of allergens.

Grainne Gilson-Smith is a senior enforcement manager with Food Standards Scotland and aims to help bring greater awareness to consumers and food businesses about allergens

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