Food Allergy Deaths, a Perspective

I felt compelled to write something of our experience with food allergy after reading recently of 2 tragic deaths due to food allergy. The first was the case of a little boy with a dairy allergy who was the victim of school bullying and the other was a young girl who died due to incorrect food labelling. Both deaths were completely avoidable, NOT because the parents or children involved could have been more careful, but because a basic awareness and care for people with food allergies would have ensured that they lived.

food allergy

What has led me to write this was the quality of commentary on social media. Many expressed sympathies for the families involved but a good number expressed varying sentiments of blame and this is what I have a huge issue with. Suggestions such as keeping allergic children at home – this is one I have seen many times. The notion that allergic children should not have the same rights as everyone else is a peculiar kind of discrimination. In the same way that wheelchair users should have the expectation that they will be able to use public transport and enter venues (and this is probably not adequate much of the time), so should children with food allergies be able to attend school, eat and live a ‘normal’ life. There has also been much ‘victim blaming’ commentary suggesting that people with allergies shouldn’t eat out or buy anything in a cafĂ© or shop. The reality is that anyone dealing with food allergy is completely aware of the dangers of eating out and will often forgo food rather than take a risk. However, we religiously check food labels, ask about cross contamination, discuss allergies with food providers and in the end try to make an informed decision about what is safe and what isn’t. There is never a spontaneous decision to pick a nice place to eat – any trip or journey involves military precision planning around food. Where might we be able to eat that is safe? We bring food of course but we also need to factor in non-perishables in case anything happens. A bag of crisps and a bar of chocolate might be the only option at times. Can we trust the waiter to listen and take our concerns seriously? Food labelling is both a friend and an enemy. Lists of ingredients are essential but so also is information about the context of where the food is packaged and any cross contamination issues.

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse is the young girl who died on a flight after consuming a Pret a Manger sandwich at the airport. Nothing on the labelling suggested that there was sesame in the sandwich, and a legal loophole (reduced food labelling for products made in stores) allowed Pret a Manger to omit this vital information. Natasha was highly allergic to sesame and in fact the sandwich that she ate had sesame baked into the bread so she inadvertently ingested a large dose. Two epipens were not enough to save her life. I have read many articles on this case and what really shocked me was that this food chain was fully aware of previous allergic reactions to their products and did absolutely nothing to amend labelling. They had a complete disregard for the consequences of their neglect.

The other case, which was just as upsetting, involved a young boy, Karan, who was the victim of allergy bullying. He had many allergies but what killed him was an incident involving another pupil who chased him and dropped a cheese slice down the back of his shirt. Bullying is horrendous, whatever form it takes, but this was a clearly a deliberate attempt to make Karan have an allergic reaction. It is impossible to know what the motivation of the bully was, evidently he was trying to be cruel but he may or may not have known what the potential results might be. In any case, what this highlights for me is that, if we continue to dismiss and mock food allergies, there will be more deaths.

Is this really acceptable? Living with food allergy is living with danger, ALL the time.  Like any source of anxiety, you try your best not to let it be the dominant feeling in your life. You take every precaution and never relax your vigilance. This becomes a normal part of existence when you have allergies or have a child with allergies. As a parent of a child with multiple allergies, I can only speak of my own fears and try to guess at how much it impacts my daughter. I can walk around the world in relative safety - obviously I cross roads carefully, make sure my car is safe, try to avoid danger like anyone would. I can't imagine having that danger multiplied by a million when every outing/social occasion/meal is a potentially life threatening situation. We need increased awareness and not just that, we also need some empathy for our fellow human beings. People with food allergies are not just being difficult, they are trying to stay alive.

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  • PatiRobins @style-squeeze
    PatiRobins @style-squeeze 1 October 2018 at 10:24

    Its a shocker than in this day and age the food isnt labeled properly ir it is and yet its still contaminated - it seems that companies are playing with people lives - and no compensation will bring the person , its honestly heart breaking

    • Cliona Kelliher
      Cliona Kelliher 1 October 2018 at 10:26

      It really is so sad :(

  • Unknown
    Unknown 1 October 2018 at 15:23

    Wow that can be so scary with food allergy, it should be for all clear what they are eating, to be noticed on the package. Thank you for your article on this.

    • Cliona Kelliher
      Cliona Kelliher 3 October 2018 at 19:45

      Yes, it is really scary and being informed is the best way to stay safe.

  • Beth
    Beth 2 October 2018 at 11:48

    Food allergies, in fact any allergy, can be terrifying. There's also a lot of misinformation to go with the discrimination too.

    • Cliona Kelliher
      Cliona Kelliher 3 October 2018 at 19:46

      Absolutely, there has been a lot of media misrepresentation of food allergy!

  • Treasure_E_M
    Treasure_E_M 3 October 2018 at 19:50

    It's so incredibly sad that these things happen these day. Awareness is key and something I certainly think should be addressed within the school education system x

    • Cliona Kelliher
      Cliona Kelliher 3 October 2018 at 20:05

      Definitely, I just feel so sad for the parents, these deaths should never have happened.

  • Scrapbook Adventures
    Scrapbook Adventures 3 October 2018 at 20:25

    So important to raise awareness of, such sad news and horrible that people have died due to their allergies. Great post.

    • Cliona Kelliher
      Cliona Kelliher 3 October 2018 at 20:26

      Thank you, I hope things will change and people will realise how serious allergies are.

  • Katiecakes
    Katiecakes 4 October 2018 at 07:28

    It's ridiculous that food isn't labeled correctly when it could be a matter of life and death. I have a non serious food allergy (I can't eat fermented foods or citrus fruits) and it's difficult enough trying to avoid those without taking in the repercussions of anaphylactic shock. It's such a minefield!

    Katie xoxo

  • Sonia
    Sonia 4 October 2018 at 10:38

    I really hate the blame culture that we live in, everyone is so quick to judge and place blame it is really scary! Terrible that these deaths happened and we need to make sure that it does not happen again!

  • Lisa
    Lisa 4 October 2018 at 11:53

    It must be awful living with such extreme allergies especially as children. Hopefully things will change and quick!

  • Mighty Mama Bear
    Mighty Mama Bear 5 October 2018 at 14:43

    The only people who should have any sort of blame are the companies not labelling their food correctly and putting people at risk. Those poor parents.

  • Mudpie Fridays
    Mudpie Fridays 7 October 2018 at 14:24

    Listening to the radio today it sounds like another death has occurred because of a sandwich. My eldest has a sesame allergy and although not significant it makes me worry what it may turn into in later life x

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