Eating out with a food allergy is stressful enough – but with a rare one it’s a nightmare | Hanna Angst

MMy last brush with mortality occurred in April, at a Starbucks branch. Finding myself running early for a meeting, I took the opportunity to stop by for my usual: a latte and a ham-and-cheese croissant. While I waited for the barista to pour my coffee, I took a bite of the pastry. Within a minute my lower lip was swollen and blistering.

I checked the ingredients list. Even though I ordered the same item about once a month for years, I knew what was coming: this croissant now contained peas.

Does that sound strange to you? Take a look through your kitchen. Over the past five years, foods as varied as sausages, frozen chips, ice cream, sliced ​​ham and bread have started to contain a new ingredient: pea protein. Peas are everywhere now – and for people like me, with one allergy to legumesit is a hidden nightmare.

Peas and legumes used to be easy to avoid. If I stayed away from North African and Middle Eastern foods, I was usually fine. No longer. Who would have guessed that a bowl of pasta could have lentil flour hidden in it, or that sausages could be stuffed with pea powder? McDonald’s, once a safe option for many, has done just that recently added pea protein for every sandwich on the menu. What was a minor inconvenience for the first thirty years of my life is now a huge drain on my time, a limitation on my enjoyment of life and a constant source of risk: even the slightest touch of my lips can lead to lip problems. and swelling of the tongue, and if I eat a significant portion without realizing it, I get drooling and severe stomach pain.

As gluten-free diets have become commonplace, pea protein is starting to replace wheat flour as a filler in a range of products and is a key component of many vegan meat alternatives. It is both rich in vitamins and minerals and extremely cheap, making it attractive to food manufacturers looking to reduce profits, increase their environmental credentials and emphasize the health benefits of their products.

Because I have never suffered from anaphylaxis (yet), I was not prescribed an EpiPen. They need to be replaced every year and cost the NHS a lot of money, so you only get the chance to wear one if you’ve had a life-threatening attack.

According to figures published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) last week, one in twenty adults – 2.4 million of us, almost 6% – has a clinically confirmed food allergy. And while that figure includes well-understood allergies such as peanut, hazelnut and almond products, there is also a rising prevalence of allergies to other foods, including fresh fruits and plants. There are no definitive studies confirming the number of people with pea allergy in Britain, but pediatric allergists have warned that the prevalence rising rapidly among children in their clinics.

None of this comes as a surprise to the thousands of members of the legume allergy Facebook group I’m in, which supports adults and parents of children with these allergies. Almost every day someone posts an update about some other item that we can’t eat, or that we almost missed. The stories people share, about their lives constricted by a very real fear of making a mistake, are all too familiar. Many have multiple allergies – for example, there seems to be a huge cross between peanut and pea allergy – and thus the rise of pea fiber, gram flour and other legumes have ensured that old failsafes are now out of reach.

While it is true that restaurant staff are much better at asking customers about allergies, this makes no sense at all if the law only requires them to provide accurate information about the allergies. 14 legally notifiable allergens. That law is now outdated with the facts surrounding allergies and modern diets. The latest research shows that pea protein has the fastest rising allergen for both children and adults, and is actually more common than sesame allergy – which must be reported. And the FSA confirmed this week that milk and fish allergies, both on the list, are now on the decline among adults (cow’s milk is still the most common allergy in children).

The parents of Noah Awadalla, an allergy sufferer, who has seven allergies, including peas, say this is the most difficult for them to deal with as a family. They have set up a petition calling on the government to pass new legislation requiring restaurants to make full ingredient lists available to customers so allergy sufferers can make safe choices.

Unfortunately, in the current political turmoil, I see very little chance of this issue receiving the attention it deserves. Until then, patients like me are working together online to help protect each other.