As lockdown rules begin to lift, and people venture out once more to cafes and restaurants, guest blogger Jasmine Watson from allergyabroad.com asks what allergy sufferers need to consider in this brave new world.
“Both my mum and I have an allergy to dairy and we’ve noticed that the new social distancing measures have brought new challenges for people with food allergies. Shops, cafes and restaurants are adapting to a new way of life as lockdown eases. The measures we’ve seen put in place might stay for the next year. These include limits on the number of people who can enter a store at a time (usually one or two for small retailers and controlled numbers for larger ones), new signage to manage the direction of flow for browsing customers, and plexi-glass on checkout tills to shield customers and staff.
“Our local shop has a rule of one person per aisle. It’s now not unusual to have a queue of people waiting to enter your aisle while you check the ingredients lists of what you’re buying. For anyone who generally finds shopping stressful this risks creating animosity between customers. We also know that shoppers are expected to limit how much they touch food items – in case they accidently pass on the virus. But this poses a real challenge for those who need to check ingredients lists for particular allergens.
“Some restaurants and cafes are implementing drop-off points for takeaways, in order to limit contact with staff. But if you have allergies, it can be critically important to have the chance to talk to staff. To understand the importance of why, you only have to look back to 2016 when teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse tragically died from an allergic reaction to sesame seeds which were baked into a baguette she bought at Pret A Manger at Heathrow Airport. The baguette packaging contained no allergen information – which was legal at that time – because the last stages of its preparation were on the café’s site.
“The tragedy will soon lead to the introduction of stricter labelling regulations for pre-packaged food, known as ‘Natasha’s Law’. This new legislation, which applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, mandates full ingredient and allergen labelling on foods which are pre-packed for direct sale. It comes into effect from October 2021.
“As important as it is for us to stay safe from Covid-19, it’s also essential that we remember our right as allergy sufferers to be able to check that food is safe for us. Natasha’s law isn’t coming into effect until 2021, so until then, food prepared on site does not have to list allergens on the packaging. For now, that leaves the onus on us to seek guidance from staff when ordering food.
So, here are some tips to help you when you’re eating out, while social distancing measures are still in place:
1. Phone beforehand if you can. This has proved to work for us more times than not, and provides safety not just for you but also for staff members who are social distancing.
2. If you didn’t phone but still want to check something, do try to find a safe way to speak to a staff member while still sticking to the government guidelines. It’s always the case that allergy suffers have to speak up for themselves and now is no different.
3. Very simply, if you can’t check whether the food is safe, don’t put yourself at risk by eating it.
“While it’s important to follow government guidelines with social distancing, safeguarding yourself against your food allergies doesn’t have to suddenly become second priority.”
Jasmine Watson is a regular contributor to allergyabroad.com, a place where allergy translation can be free and accessible. When she isn’t writing, she can be found hanging out with her family in the south of England. Follow on Twitter @allergy_abroad.