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Food Allergies: What’s Really In Your Food? - Tonight

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse and Megan Lee, both aged 15 when they died from food allergies. Photo:

There has been an unprecedented rise in the number of children with food allergies over the past few decades and as recent cases have shown, the consequences of getting it wrong can be catastrophic. The tragic stories of schoolgirls Natasha Ednan-Laperouse and Megan Lee who lost their lives to their allergies at the age of 15 highlight just how serious the issue is, prompting calls for a change in the law to keep consumers safe.

Every day around 15 people are hospitalised because of their food allergies, death is rare but in the past four years, 44 people have died. Tonight, Ranvir Singh investigates the rise of allergies, what’s being done to tackle the problem and hears from the families who’ve suffered when things go terribly wrong.

A single peanut has enough to potentially kill up to 25 people, claims Dr Duncan Campbell, a public analyst. Credit: ITV / Tonight

For Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a sandwich from Pret a Manger at Heathrow airport would cost her, her life. It contained sesame baked into the dough an ingredient Natasha was allergic to, but it wasn’t labelled on the packet. They didn’t legally need to due to the food being assembled on the day at or close to it’s premises.

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse and Megan Lee, both aged 15 when they died from food allergies.

Megan Lee, ordered a selection of Indian food via an app stating her peanut allergy, but the food she received from the Royal Spice in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire contained the allergen. That meal would lead to her death two days later. It’s owners are now in prison, jailed for manslaughter.

Credit: ITV / Tonight

From what we've learnt since losing Megan, there will be thousands of takeaways operating in the same deplorable, ignorant manner.

– Adam Lee

Megan did nothing wrong. Megan declared her allergies, she did everything that she should have done and she should be able... she should have been able to have a takeaway meal with a friend whilst they’re revising.

– Gemma Lee

Megan's family are now working with local trading standards to try and raise awareness.

Both parents are calling for tighter controls on food outlets big and small.

So what more could be done?

Labelling:

EU regulations stipulate all allergens must be listed in pre-packaged food products made off the premises. But because Pret’s food is assembled in or near its individual shops each day they don’t need to label products. Nadim and Tanya Ednan-Laperouse are hoping to close this loophole with “Natasha’s law” which will require all pre-packaged products to clearly show what allergens are in the ingredients.

Pret are currently trialling an allergen-labelling scheme in one of it’s stores:

“We're now doing a pilot in a single shop, which will allow us to develop the most practical, and effective way, to safely get full information, on all our products, as quickly as possible.”

– Clare Clough, Director of Food and Coffee, Pret a Manger
100
out of 136 councils have conducted no food sampling tests looking for undeclared allergens in 2018.

Sampling:

Food sampling makes sure the food is what it says it is. Councils are responsible for purchasing food, often at takeaways or restaurants, to test for hidden allergens. But Tonight has learned this isn’t happening as much as it could.

100 out of 136 councils have conducted no food sampling tests looking for undeclared allergens in 2018.

The Local Government Association said: “The significant funding pressures affecting everyday services undoubtedly make it extremely difficult for some councils to maintain previous levels of food standards work.”

Food Challenges:

Luke tries various nuts at Wythenshawe Hospital to test his allergies. Credit: ITV / Tonight

Some hospital’s offer ‘Food Challenges’ which can both confirm or dispel a food allergy. The patient is given small but increasing amounts of the food they are believed to be allergic to and monitored very closely for any reaction.

Tonight we follow Luke through one at Wythenshawe hospital.

“It is scary... especially when you know that your life’s on the line. I am in the safest place possible if anything happens.”

– Luke, a peanut allergy sufferer

Luke has a peanut allergy and was told to avoid all nuts his entire life. Now at the age of 16 he’ll be given a variety of nuts to see how he copes. A medical team will be on standby. See how he gets on tonight at 7:30pm on ITV.

Find out more about food allergy and advice here: