North East councils unite for allergy awareness campaign after deaths and near misses

  • Video report by Chris Conway

A teenager who spent her 18th birthday in hospital after eating a curry which contained peanuts is just one of the cases which has inspired a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of allergic reactions.

Eleanor Lincoln was celebrating her birthday with a chicken tikka masala from Khan's restaurant in Heaton when she went into anaphylactic shock in March 2021.

Ms Lincoln spent the night of her 18th birthday in the RVI but recovered after treatment.

The takeaway was fined £450 and told to pay £3,000 in court costs after being found guilty of a breach of the Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations.

Her case is just one which has brought councils in the North East together to produce a series of educational videos aimed at teaching businesses how to minimise the risk of contamination.

The campaign comes amid continued high rates of anaphylactic shocks leading to hospitalisations and, in the worst cases, death.

In the North East in 2019, the last time the full data was available for, there were 76 cases of anaphylaxis under the age of 18 and one fatality.

Ms Lincoln's mother believes if her daughter had not vomited or been treated with an Epi-Pen, she would have died. Credit: Eleanor Lincoln

It is estimated that one in 300 people will experience anaphylaxis at some time in their life.

Around 20 deaths could be prevented in the UK every year if life-saving guidance related to food was followed.

A common cause of anaphylaxis is the consumption of or exposure to food allergens – most commonly in peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, egg, fish and shellfish, and sesame seeds/sesame oil.

Symptoms range from mild itchy skin and swollen lips, face or eyes to vomiting, abdominal pain and anaphylaxis – these symptoms can cause difficulty swallowing or breathing, poor circulation and loss of consciousness and, although rare, symptoms can be fatal. 

The series of short videos produced by the councils educate businesses on the severity of anaphylaxis and teach them how to avoid it.

Judith Hedgley, chair of the North East Public Protection Partnership, said: "There are well over 20,000 food businesses across the North East and we wanted to work together regionally to provide simple messages to help these businesses prepare their food safely and manage the risks around food allergens.

"Environmental Health Officers and Trading Standards Officers work closely with local food manufacturers, restaurants, takeaways and food retailers to help them understand the potentially severe health effects of food allergens and their legal obligations to identify and control allergenic ingredients in the foods they handle and serve.

"Consumers should be able to make an informed and safe choice when buying or ordering food.

"When our officers inspect food businesses they check that food handlers have a good awareness and understanding of the effects that food allergens can have on their customer’s health who suffers from a food allergy.

"Food handlers must be able to identify whether the foods they handle contain allergenic ingredients, know how to control food allergens, and provide accurate information to customers when asked about food allergens."

Also part of the campaign, local businesses have shared their approaches to keeping customers safe from potentially life-threatening allergens.

Peter Hall, bar and concourse services manager at Middlesbrough Football Club’s Riverside Stadium, explained how the venue’s catering teams serve nearly 6,000 hot food items during up to 26 home matches every year, and up to 10,000 during a concert.

Members of the catering team at the Riverside including Peter Hall (right) flaunt their top hygiene rating. Credit: Middlesbrough Council

He said: "We fully recognise the importance of our role and responsibilities relating to the correct management of food allergens and intolerances throughout the hospitality and public concourse catering areas.

"We strive to provide our customers with up-to-date and accurate allergen information so they can make an informed choice on all of the available menu options.

"We do that through clear and accurate labelling on packaging, food allergen posters and allergen sheets held in each area which are an integral part of our food safety management system.

"Ingredients are constantly reviewed and monitored to ensure this information is correct and staff are trained in the basics of allergens and intolerances."

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