LET'S TALK ABOUT PARENTAL FEARS IN AN ALLERGEN RICH ENVIRONMENT
This week we have come together as a nation, to mark and draw much needed attention to those suffering from allergies during Allergen Awareness Week from 26 - 30 April. I'd like to talk about real parental fears, felt daily, each time we send an allergen intolerant child into the school environment.
As a parent, I am fearful. I will always think about Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who, at the tender age of 15, died on 17 July 2016 of anaphylaxis. Natasha suffered a severe allergic reaction to sesame in an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette. The worst fears of parents, Tanya & Nadim Ednan-Laperouse were realised - they heartbreakingly lost their beloved child.
However, their unbelievable strength, conviction and sense of loss, drove them to set up The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation https://www.narf.org.uk/, with a mission to prevent and end allergic disease. The foundation aims to bring about positive change by focusing on law and policies, medical research, education and raising allergen awareness. They want to ensure the needs of allergy sufferers are met in a meaningful way and to offer real hope that will change the lives of all those living with this life threatening disease. Research undertaken by the foundation, found that the number of children admitted to hospital with severe allergic reactions over the past five years had risen by 72%.
Natasha's law will come into effect from October 2021. It will require every food business to provide full ingredient lists and allergen labelling on foods pre-packaged for direct sale on the premises. The legislation is being introduced to protect allergy sufferers and give them confidence in the food they buy. In my mind, this couldn't come soon enough.
Let's look at the facts. According to the latest research compiled by the British Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI), allergies tend to be more common in children compared to adults, with asthma, allergic rhinitis, eczema and food allergy cited as comprising this significant proportion. Compared to worldwide statistics on children with allergies, UK statistics come in worryingly higher, with 1 in 5 suffering from self-reported allergic rhinitis, 1 in 3 with asthma and 1 in 6 with eczema.
When we specifically look at the results for UK children with a food allergy, a study reported a prevalence for food allergies in 7.1% of breast-fed infants, with 1 in 40 developing a peanut allergy and 1 in 20 an allergy towards eggs. Additionally, children with early onset eczema are cited as having a higher risk of developing a food allergy, in particular a peanut allergy, with almost 1 in 5 developing this allergy by the age of 5. An allergy to cows' milk is also common amongst children, with approximately 1 in 6 children affected. Worryingly, the incidence of cows' milk allergy in the UK is known to be the highest in Europe. Scientists from Imperial College London would appear to be in agreement with the BSACI's findings on cow's milk, with their analysis adding that cows' milk is the commonest single cause of fatal food-induced allergic reactions in school-aged children.
I recently took a look at our own daily statistics, to see how many children required an allergen free meal. 38,888 children pre-order their meals on a daily basis. From that number, a staggering 7,556 - 19%, have an allergy/dietary preference, with 844 citing a severe nut/peanut allergy. Furthermore, 0.35% of the children we serve have a unique, individual menu especially created for them. Interestingly, what we have seen over recent years is a huge rise in children with an intolerance to gluten and dairy.
So, what can be done to protect our children in a school environment? The Department for Education states under the Food Information Regulations 2014, that it requires all food businesses including school caterers to show the allergen ingredients' information for the food they serve. We've implemented our own groundbreaking, market-leading technology called Relish-OPS (Operating & Procurement System) across all our schools to keep children with a food allergy intolerance safe. Not only does it deliver legislative compliance to the School Food Standards, it is also completely paperless - removing all the hassle from school lunch and office administration tasks for internal teams.
Here's how it works. When we create our bespoke menu for each and every individual school, our Relish-Ops technology automatically generates corresponding recipes for download. Each recipe lists the exact ingredients that must be used to make the dish. This ensures we can view allergens in the dish. The smart technology then automatically syncs with our meal pre-order system, to effortlessly manage pupil allergies at the point of meal choice.
To ensure we're always giving parents peace of mind, we've created a unique portal, exclusively for them. It has been specially created to relate to their children and school. On creation of a login, the technology recognises both the parent and the dishes available to their child(ren), together with any specific dietary requirements. Parents can then sit with their children to choose their preferred lunches up to a term in advance, whilst also viewing previous menu choices. The software also gives parents the option to view full recipes and study detailed allergen information. Only dishes compatible to the pupils dietary allergy profile are shown. Uniquely, the technology works to ensure the selections available to the parent are safe and compatible with the pupils profile. Additionally, for further peace of mind, the portal also provides a link to enable the parent to make direct contact with the Catering Manager.
Naturally, as parents we have every reason to be fearful, however, rest assured, every school caterer has legislative practices in place to ensure the safety of each and every pupil.