Well isn’t it ironic
Don’t ya think
A little too ironic
Yeah I really do think…
It’s like lurpak butter, on your gluten free bread
Cakes with nuts, next to ones that are nut free
It’s the dairy freeeeeeee, macaroni cheese
Next to the normal stuff, I mean, really? Please?
It’s the gluten free sauce with wheat pitta to dip
Plates of biscuits and cake with no allergen labelling
It’s the staff on the stands without an allergy between (them)
If you work at the Allergy Show – you should know what allergy means!
I know it doesn’t quite scan but that song has been ringing in my ears all weekend.
My visit to The Allergy Show 2012 didn’t quite go how I’d planned it. I had a very nasty experience and ended up having a serious anaphylactic reaction, but this still left me with my neck, scalp, shoulders, back and face covered in large, itchy hives and the afternoon spent with paramedics being monitored to ensure my reaction didn’t turn into full blown anaphylaxis, because believe me, I was well on the way.
Just because you’re at The Allergy Show you still need to keep your guard up, check, check and check again. Do not, under any circumstances, eat anything that you have not first asked about the ingredients, preferably also read the ingredients, and made yourself comfortable that hygiene and safety on the stand are sufficient that you’ll be OK.
The irony of having an allergic reaction at The Allergy Show is not lost on me. I’m annoyed at myself for letting it happen, but also a little annoyed that even now, with this amazing show growing and becoming so popular, buzzing and busy, that people working on the stands still do not quite grasp the seriousness of allergies.
Allergies can kill. They do kill. Thankfully only on rare occasions but they can kill. That threat lies on my shoulders every day. Some days heavier than others, and it’s a very frightening feeling.
Allergies are so serious and fast acting that even a tiny trace of an allergen can make someone very ill. Allergies are not to be sniffed at.
I was a little sad and disappointed that I saw a few dangerous things going on some stands:
Gluten free, nut free, dairy free products that people couldn’t try due to dairy-containing spreads
Stands with delicious looking gluten free bread with ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ or ‘Lurpak’ or other dairy containing butter or spreads, next to stands who had managed to purchase some Pure sunflower spread or similar safe dairy free margerine.
This is an allergy show after all.
By using butter you alienate many of your potential future customers. You also risk the chance that someone may pop a piece of lovely gluten free bread into their mouth not realising it has butter on it. What if that person has a dairy intolerance, an allergy or even gets anaphlaxis to dairy?
They’ve just tried some on the stand next door which had dairy free spread. Is it their fault that they haven’t checked? Are you making ALL customers aware they should NOT try your samples if they have a dairy allergy?
So you offer bread dry too, without the spread. Good? Not if you’re cutting the bread up in the same preparation area as you are buttering the other samples. Who is checking that no butter gets onto the plain bread samples? It’s just so scary to me. I asked on one stand, so what is this? Is it gluten, dairy and nut free? I’d already spotted the butter. “Yes” they smiled back, without a clue that it’s irrelvant for the bread to be dairy free if you then put butter on it. One man was quite rude to me, replying, “it’s not butter it’s margerine!” So I calmly replied, “Read the tub. Just because it’s called, ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ does NOT mean it’s freefrom dairy.” How many people made a mistake on these bakery stands?
This is not the stand helper’s fault. If you hire in staff and you care about your freefrom brand and standing in the allergy and gluten free community it’s vital that you understand the needs of your customers and give your staff and anyone helping on the stand some basic training.
At every stand where this was taking place the onus was on ME to ask and check. Perhaps that’s fair enough, and I did check, every time, but at an allergy show I think there should be far more effort put into large, prominent signs explaining what’s what. Who should try your stuff and who should steer clear? I saw kids grabbing at samples and just prayed they didn’t have allergies. I know if I was a parent with my child I would make sure they didn’t just grab stuff, but kids are kids, and if they’ve been told they are at an allergy show they might think, “Well I’ll be safe here.” Kids are smaller and it takes a smaller amount of allergen to cause anaphylaxis. If you had a stand at the Allergy Show please, please consider this if you take part again.
We all know butter tastes better but we can’t all eat it because we are allergic. There is no excuse in saying you didn’t have time to get some freefrom spread, there was a large supermarket just around the corner. I’m willing to put money on them stocking freefrom spread. This show should be about showing those with allergies and those without that freefrom food can and does taste really great. There were loads of people there with their friends and family. It’s just the place for educating them about the precautions that should be taken.
You can’t tell by looking at us what we are allergic to so please, please, please make your stand as safe as you can and never give a sample to anyone without asking what they can and cannot eat. Maybe we should all wear a big badge with a list of all our allergens? Why not also have a large print sign with the ingredients of each product so it’s easy and quick to check?
Free from products lined up next to allergen containing products with no labelling
Many stands had a great range on offer and I know not everyone is allergic to as many things as me, but far too many of us have more than one allergy. Multiple allergies are definitely on the rise and so I actually think it’s very careless and negligent to do this without also making your visitors aware.
I appreciate that not every product can be freefrom all major allergens, but it’s simple and easy to tell visitors, then they can make the choice of whether to take the risk and try something new. Most stands were doing this but not all.
Some people may be able to try things if they only have an intolerance or a mild allergy and think they’ll be OK. It’s a risk that some people might take if armed with all the facts. However, some us, like myself, have very serious allergies. People with coeliac disease would be very, very ill if they ate even a tiny crumb of wheat or gluten, just as someone with a serious allergy could have an anaphylactic reaction to a drop of milk or a tiny trace of peanut.
I wouldn’t try anything from a stand with any of the things I’m allergic to displayed on it if they were not in sealed packaging. Freshly prepared food made in a tiny exhibition stand kitchen could easily get cross contaminated, and when these samples are in small unlabelled pots even the servers on the stand could make a mistake. You can’t tell from looking at food what’s in it. I’d rather not take that risk.
So perhaps participants at the show might choose not to bring the products along that contain the top 13 allergens. Noone wants to get ill at the show and certainly no company would ever want to make a customer ill. It doesn’t matter where you think blame should be apportioned, mistakes do happen, so let’s learn from them and take precautions to stop them happening EVER AGAIN.
Which leads me onto my little mishap. Or should I say big catastrophe. It certainly ruined my day.
I tried something.
I checked the packaging.
Spoke to the staff at the stand.
Met the owner.
Smelt it. Checked again. I asked them, “Is this really gluten and dairy free?”
It seemed too good to be true, but it was one of the most amazing things I tried at the show.
Really tasty and I look forward to trying it again.
A few stands later I could still taste it. I wanted more! I thank God that I was with my friend Tanya, who also happened to be my specialist allergy dietician. I had just met Tanya minutes before, quite by chance, and I left her at a chocolate stand to go back for another taste.
My greed was my undoing. I had enjoyed the sample so much, but when I went back and asked if I could have some more of the sample I’d just had because it was so delicious and I hadn’t been able to eat it since I was a child… of course they were very obliging and handed me a pot of what looked like the same thing.
A little cardboard pot, tiny, with only a few mouthfulls in it.
I had one spoonfull and I knew. That tingling in my lips.
The throat getting itchy, but it was too late already, I’d swallowed it before I could spit it out.
The panic. The dizzyness. The fear.
Not here. I thought. Not now! I’d been so careful.
But unbeknown to me this company make a normal vegan and organic version of the product and another with rice milk and gluten free pasta. If I had been told this, alarm bells would have begun to ring. If I’d also known that these two samples were side by side in the display cabinet I would NOT have tried it, even though I still might have been OK, it’s a risk I would not take.
One pot containing milk and cheese right next to the one that was dairy and gluten free. The pots were not labelled and they were lined up not even a millimetre away from each other. But I hadn’t been told this. Assuming that the freefrom one I’d just tried was the only product of its kind on this stand I hadn’t known to check and ask for the particular freefrom sample. One bite was enough. I am thankful that my reactions are so swift. I knew instantly that something was up and stopped eating it. I rushed back to the stand and asked them what I’d just been given.
They confirmed, smiling all the time, that it was just normal pasta with milk and cheese.
I have no idea why a company would even bring a ready meal containing gluten and normal dairy milk and cheese. It’s not a vegan and organic food show, it’s The Allergy Show. It shouldn’t have even been on their stand and it certainly shouldn’t have been handled the way it was, disguised, hidden, next to the gluten free and rice milk alternative.
“WHAT?” I gasped. My throat by now tingling. The blood rushing to my head. My heart pounding. Dizzyness swirling around me. “I’m allergic to dairy…” I just left the pot on the stand and Tanya took control. I took two anti-histamines (the ones I take a really strong) immediately and used my inhaler as a precaution. I wasn’t feeling asthmatic but my previous experiences have seen very fast deterioration in my breathing. I was terrified and inside I was panicking. My heart was racing and I was very near to tears. I could feel that tingling feeling and the hot rush under my skin.
I am sure this swift thinking saved me from a worse reaction. My antihistamines are VERY strong and worked really well. It took about 45 minutes for me to feel like I was slowly getting control back and by then my neck, shoulders and back were covered in hives. My scalp felt like one huge itching blistery mass. Why do I never take a photograph when it’s at its worst? By the time I got home the swelling and hives were almost gone. I am still suffering today, three days after the show, with stomach pains since the gluten is blocking me up. My skin is still sore around my mouth and lips and I have bad eczema on my neck, back and arms where I couldn’t resist the urge to scratch the hives.
I would like to thank the paramedics at the show for looking after me so well. I was able to sleep it off, knowing that they were keeping an eye on me, and when I left the show a few hours later I was a bit swollen, feeling decidedly dodgey in the tummy department, but otherwise OK. I hadn’t had to use my EpiPen which I was very glad about.
I would also like to thank the organisers of the Allergy Show who I know spoke to every stand to alert them to possible issues with cross contamination and awareness of the seriousness of allergies.
A challenge to all exhibitors – do you accept?
I know there were other incidents at the show and I hope noone was seriously ill from theirs. None of these allergic reactions should have happened – not at an Allergy Show. They were all avoidable.
I have a challenge for the show organisers and exhibitors for next year and also to all visitors to remain vigilant, yes, even at an Allergy Show.
I would like to see much better understanding of allergies and the seriousness of them. I would like to also challenge you all to ensure that we have a totally safe show in Liverpool and next year.
That means no allergic reactions. None! No, not even one! One is too many.
This show should be a safe place for those with allergies who find it so hard to eat out.
I don’t want to see any of the perils we have discussed above happening next year.
So what if you have to say the same thing over and over again, and ask every visitor what their allergies are.
I don’t care.
If it saves a life or a horrible painful few days for an allergy sufferer or coeliac it’s worth the extra effort.
I also don’t care that visitors should have to do this too. It’s your safety at stake here. Don’t eat anything if you’re not 100% sure it’s safe for you. How will I avoid a similar incident? Sadly I’ve decided I won’t be trying out new stuff in future. Not unless the stand can really convice me they care enough about my safety.
I just want the next show to be completely allergic-reaction free. We have a way to go but it’s totally possible.
So, did you exhibit this year? Will you accept the challenge to guarantee that your stand will be totally safe, or as safe as it could be? Are you willing to accept that you may have made mistakes and to learn from them and improve the next time you exhibit?
What extra precautions will you be taking? Will you promise me and all the other visitors that your products and samples will be clearly labelled and that any staff you hire will know the basics about allergens and coeliac disease?
Did you attend the show and suffer an allergic reaction or a near miss? Did you get glutened? How many people only had a mild reaction and didn’t tell anyone on the stand? I’d love to hear from you, please all share your experiences so that we can feed everything back to the show organisers for next year. A simple Allergy Protocol for each stand to adhere to would really help.
On the whole it was another fantastic show. It was busy, packed with people and I discovered some totally amazing new products, which will be the subject of my next blog. After the lowlights of the allergic reaction let’s move on to the highlights…