This year’s Allergy + FreeFrom Show at Olympia was a great success – huge crowds through the doors, lots of excellent seminars and workshops, loads of lovely freefrom foods to sample and skincare products to try out – and, of course, the presentation of the very first ever FreeFrom Skincare Awards. Cressida has written a full run down on the show for those who could not make it here, and Alex has written a full run down on the skincare awards here.
However….. While the show was a huge success and greatly enjoyed by the vast majority, some of the more acutely allergic visitors were less than happy about the number of ‘allergic’ foods on offer, the general lack of allergen control and awareness and the significant risk of allergen contamination on many stands.
Organisers of any ‘allergy’ food show are faced with an insoluble problem. Not only are there are an enormously wide range of foods to which allergic visitors could react but what is a major allergen for one visitor (nuts) can be a staple food providing significant nutrition for another (a coeliac) – and vice versa. So, excluding all possible allergens could mean that they could end up with very few foods that could be exhibited at all while many visitors would not get a chance to find foods which would be excellent for them because they would be a potential allergen for another visitor.
Allergen control, though is a different matter. The organisers are acutely aware of the potential contamination risk and are anxious to alert stand holders to these risks and to the importance of allergen control on their own stands. But despite their best efforts, the responsibility for ensuring that the food on offer is ‘safe’, especially if it is ‘freefrom’ food, has to lie with the exhibitor, and many stands left a great deal to be desired in this area.
Very unfortunately, Ruth of WhatAllergy? who is acutely allergic to dairy, got caught out by this exhibitor lack of awareness and suffered what could have been a very severe reaction. You can read the full story on her blog here but, in essence, she tried a dairy free macaroni cheese at one stand, unaware that the company made both a dairy-free and a dairy-filled version of the meal. She liked it so much that she went back for another. The two versions were not labelled as such on the stand and the exhibitor did not ask which one she wanted. Not knowing that they made two versions, she did not ask for the dairy free one – and got given the one with dairy. Fortunately, she realised very quickly, was able to take the very strong antihistamines that she always carries and was able to stave off a full blown reaction. None the less, had she been less quick thinking she could have gone into full anaphylactic shock and, even as it was, she spent the rest of the day in the emergency room and was still suffering from skin outbreaks four days later.
Even if they are unable to entirely control the contamination risk (and this will always be great with that number of people milling around) exhibitors at any show which address the problems of allergy must provide detailed, clear and obvious information about all the foods they are offering. They also must ensure that whoever is working on the stand understands about allergy and cross contamination.
On small stands which are usually run by the exhibitor this should be less of a problem as the exhibitor will understand all about the food that they are making and the allergen control involved. But… Small exhibitors often recruit family members and friends to work on the stand. Will they understand the issues involved?
On larger stands the problem may well be even greater as they may well be run by staff who normally work at exhibitions and know nothing about allergy at all! It really needs to be a requisite of exhibiting at an allergy show that everyone working on a stand is required to undergo some form of allergy training – even if it only consists of showing them a film of someone having an anaphylactic shock. Even if they did not really understand the issues involved it would hopefully scare them enough to ensure that they asked what each stand visitor was allergic to before handing out samples!
The final responsibility for avoiding a food to which they are allergic must always lie with the allergic person, but in order to shoulder that responsibility they must be given the information about the food that they need to make an ’informed’ decision. If they are not, they stand no chance of remaining safe and will not risk going to such events as the Allergy Show at all – which would be a great loss both for them and for the shows concerned.