The Importance Of Food Packaging To Coeliacs

I am that woman you see at the supermarket who looks like she has all the time in the world, reading the backs of foodstuffs, with seemingly nothing better to do. And as I am the resident Fridge Fairy here at Bee HQ, 90% of the time it is me who does the food shopping for the family. They know me so well at my local Sainsbury’s most of the staff and I are on first name terms.

I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease (CD) about 12 years ago, and within the last 2 years, one of the Baby Bees has developed a lactose intolerance. Add to that the usual likes and dislikes of an average family, and you have quite a specialist job on your hands (~ where is my job spec? when is my next pay rise and what about my pension?).

As a coeliac, I have to avoid gluten in my diet; gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Some people also react to a similar protein found in oats (I do unfortunately ~ I miss you, flapjacks). So the most obvious list of things to avoid include

  • bread
  • pasta
  • breakfast cereals
  • flour
  • pastry
  • pizza bases
  • cakes
  • biscuits.

But gluten can be hidden in the most unlikely foods, such as ice-cream (where wheat is used as a thickener) and on frozen chips. My point is that reading labels (food and drink) and understanding what to look for, has been a bit of an education over the years, but I have now got it down to a fine art. I check just about every single thing that goes in the trolley, which is perhaps a bit over the top (although, maddeningly, ingredients do change every now and again on products which used to be GF) but rather that than be ill for days and risk bringing on symptoms which can include bloating, diarrhoea, nausea,  constipation, tiredness, mouth ulcers, sudden or unexpected weight loss (but not in all cases), hair loss and anaemia. (Yes, CD is a laugh a minute). I feel I should add that my family are also very good at checking labelling.

Thankfully the laws governing labelling in the UK are both clear and helpful. If a product contains any of the following allergens the manufacturer must say so clearly on the label, and list them in the ingredients:

  • celery
  • cereals containing gluten – including wheat, rye, barley and oats
  • crustaceans – including prawns, crab and lobster
  • eggs
  • fish
  • lupin
  • milk
  • molluscs – including squid, mussels, cockles, whelks and snails
  • mustard
  • nuts
  • peanuts
  • sesame seeds
  • soya beans
  • sulphur dioxide or sulphites at levels above 10mg per kilogram or per litre

So imagine my delight when I very occasionally come across a food label which makes me smile. This barcode is a current favourite, found on the lactose free milk I buy:

Arla Lactofree milk barcode

There are some other examples, though not enough. I think the more the merrier ~ we coeliacs need as much fun and entertainment as we can get, and we don’t care where it comes from, even the supermarket aisles.Barcode design barcode 2

Mic's Chilli Sauce

Have a look out for any eccentric barcodes or food labels and send them through.

Happy hunting

Annie Bee x

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Why My Heart Sinks When I Am Handed The Allergy Booklet

Hello again

I recently joined an incredibly interesting, friendly and helpful Facebook page entitled, “Coeliacs Eat Out Too …… They Also Live Everyday Lives”. If you suffer from Coeliac Disease, it is always nice to be able to share info, moan a bit and support others who have this auto-immune disease.

Recently, I have noticed a phrase which has started popping up, and not necessarily in a good way. One fellow coeliac called it “being given the folder treatment“. Here in the UK some new legislation came out a few months ago which requires all places where food is sold to provide allergen information on everything they offer. This is a good thing right? Yes, without a doubt. The problem arises when the restaurant hands you the dreaded folder which contains all the information, covering all allergies, from nuts to crustaceans and everything in between. It can run to about a hundred pages of closely-typed script. Here are some coeliac’s views on the subject:

~ I hate ‘the folder’. It’s poor customer service pretending to be good service.

~ The whole file was so confusing as ingredient listings were spread over lots of pages. The main part of the meal was listed in one section, then sauces in another, sides in another so I had to check lots of different pages for each item on the menu. I ended up choosing the first thing I found as I couldn’t be bothered to plough through the information.

~ It just annoys me. Vegetarians get a nice little green ‘v’ on the menu and are pretty well catered for, and we have to wade through this massive folder!

I have encountered the folder a couple of times – once it took me over 20 minutes in the pub to cross-reference everything in the folder against the 3 menus on offer that day (lunch, specials and pre-Christmas). I was stressed and harassed by the time I came to order, as was my fellow diner. I will not go back there again.

Allergen Booklet Confusion

Some coeliacs say that it is better to get the folder treatment than have the waiter say “what is gluten?” (if that happens, I walk out). I agree, but there has to be an easier way. What is wrong with the chef or the company marking all the menus for us?

If you are interested to know what the new rules are, have a look at this guidance from the UK’s Food Standards Agency:

The general advice being given to food businesses about allergies is this:

In the UK, it is estimated that 1-2% of adults and 5-8% of children have a food allergy. This equates to around 2 million people living in the UK with a food allergy, this figure does not include those with food intolerances. This means the actual number of affected people living with food allergy and/or food intolerance is considerably more. 12. An allergic reaction can be produced by a tiny amount of a food ingredient that a person is sensitive to (for example a teaspoon of milk powder, a fragment of peanut or just one or two sesame seeds). Symptoms of an allergic reaction can range from mild symptoms such as itching around the mouth and rashes; and can progress to more severe symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, wheezing and on occasion anaphylaxis (shock). Around ten people in the UK die from allergic reactions to food every year.

There is no cure for food allergy. The only way to manage the condition is to avoid food that makes the person ill. This can be achieved by checking ingredients details on labels of prepacked foods and being provided allergen ingredients information for non-prepacked foods. Therefore, it is very important that food businesses provide clear and accurate information about allergenic ingredients in their products.

allergen poster

I have written a few other posts about Coeliac Disease which you might like:

Let me know if you have been given the folder treatment – annoying or essential? Let me know.

allergy humour

Annie Bee x

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