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Allergies are the most common chronic disease in Europe, with over 150 million people admitting to having at least one allergy. In the UK, over 20,000 people a year are admitted to hospital with allergy-related illness, and over 61% of those cases are considered medical emergencies. Cases of food allergies have doubled in the last decade, and the number of hospitalizations due to allergies has increased seven-fold.

With such alarming statistics such as these, and the growing prevalence of allergy-related illness in the UK, it’s essential that caterers understand the risks involved with allergies and comply with FSA regulation. Let’s take a close look at allergies and how we can help protect consumers.

Firstly, what is an allergy?

An allergy is a misdirected immune response that is triggered when the body comes into contact with a usually harmless substance.

In allergy sufferers, the body produces an overabundance of antibodies particular to a given allergen. These antibodies, known as IgE antibodies, bind to cells in the body which are exposed to the external environment. When these antibodies come into contact with a specific allergen, they burst, releasing histamine into the surround area.

It is this histamine release which causes the symptoms associated with an allergic reaction in a specific area of the body; inflammation, redness and irritation. Depending on the location, these symptoms can manifest as rashes and itching on the skin, sneezing and runny nose, swollen and sore eyes, or the swelling and closure of airways. Extreme allergic reactions can result in Anaphylaxis – a life-threatening reaction that affects the whole body simultaneously.

How can I protect customers?

The best way to protect customers is by taking great care in declaring allergenic ingredients in food. The FSA identifies 14 common allergens. Food containing or derived from the below should be declared by law:

– Cereals containing gluten
– Crustaceans
– Mollusks
– Egg
– Fish
– Peanuts
– Soybeans
– Milk (including lactose)
– Nuts
– Celery
– Mustard
– Sesame
– Sulphur dioxide
– Lupin

The FSA states that written allergenic information should be “easily visible, clearly legible and not obscured in any way”. Many caterers use an iconographic labeling system on menus and packaging that clearly indicates allergenic substances.

Remember that technically speaking, any substance could be a potential allergen (including water!), so it is best to be prepared for reactions with a well-stocked first aid kit that includes antihistamines and an EpiPen.

How can I recognise a reaction?

Allergic reactions are usually immediate but can occur up to a few hours after contact. Symptoms can vary greatly depending on the location of the reaction in the body and the severity of a reaction. Symptoms of a dangerous allergic reaction can include pain and cramping in the abdomen or chest, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, diarrhoea, vomiting, swelling, and unconsciousness. Check out a full list of symptoms here (

What should I do if a customer experiences a severe reaction?

If you suspect an allergic reaction, call for an ambulance immediately. Take no risks, as time to treatment may be critical. Milder reactions may be treated with an antihistamine, or with a blue-reliever inhaler. For severe reactions, the treatment is an adrenaline shot, commonly delivered with an EpiPen Auto-injector administered to the thigh. If loss of consciousness occurs, place the sufferer in the recovery position.

Where can I find more information?

Read the FSA Technical Guidance for Food Allergen Labeling here for a detailed view of allergen compliance. We hope you take care to avoid allergic incidents in your business and stay safe!