Food — Friend or Foe?

Food — Friend or Foe?

NAVENIA WELLINGTON
Food Safety and Management System Practitioner

Thursday, August 06, 2020

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In a simplistic way, food can be defined as any substance eaten to provide nutrients, and maintain life and growth; in essence, food is necessary for survival. However, in our social construct food is more than survival. It is an expression of freedom, culture, ethnicity and love. In the normal scheme of things, food fosters care while nourishing our bodies. But what happens in the reverse, when the food we eat causes a negative reaction? These reactions may cause responses such as:

Rashes or welts on the skin or itchiness

Swelling of lips, tongue and throat

Wheezing or trouble breathing

Abdominal pain

Diarrhoea, nausea

Dizziness

Swollen, itchy, red or watery eyes

Headache or fever

Heart palpitations

These negative reactions can be classified as food allergy or food intolerance. Food allergy is the immune system's abnormal reaction to food, while food intolerance is the difficulty of the body digesting certain foods. The amount of people developing these allergies or intolerances is increasing. For example, more babies are being born with lactose intolerance; people who have enjoyed shellfish (crabs, shrimps etc) for years suddenly cannot eat it without an adverse reaction. Also, there are individuals who start itching after eating pineapple.

An allergen is considered a normally harmless substance that creates an immediate allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to it. This is one of the reasons why food labels and label declaration are so important to consumers and food safety. There are known, common foods that are classified as allergens; food business operators must be aware of these. It is also important to know what is considered a food allergen when exporting to other countries. Below is a combined list of allergens that are classified as such by the United States of America, Canada and European Union.

1. Milk

2. Egg

3. Fish

4. Crustacean

5. Molluscs

6. Tree nuts

7. Peanuts

8. Wheat and triticale

9. Soybeans

10. Mustard

11. Sesame seeds

12. Sulphites

13. Celery

14. Lupin

Allergen declaration is applicable to all food business operators at all stages of the food chain; it applies to all foods intended for final consumption. This includes foods delivered by bulk catering and foods intended for supply to caterers. Operators of restaurants and cook shops must have a declaration policy. One of the easiest ways to demonstrate this is by having a food allergen icon beside dishes on the menu with a known allergen. Another is a prominently posted food allergy notice which may simply say “Please be advised that foods prepared here may contain…” Restaurant workers and catering staff must be aware of allergens and ingredients in a menu item so as to answer questions customers may ask.

Additionally, as a consumer, you also have a responsibility. Your responsibility is to know your allergy triggers and to make safe choices. If you are sensitive and a declaration is not visible in the restaurant, you must state your allergy to the food service worker. If you are sensitive, not all foods are your friend. It is irresponsible to take a passive approach or to knowingly consume foods that you are sensitive to. Read labels, ask questions and make conscious choices to prevent food safety incidents which can have serious health consequences such as anaphylactic shock, or death.


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