Below is an article I wrote for Hwyl, the Arts supplement of the postgraduate newspaper The Cardiffian, which is associated with Cardiff University. It is about the problems of eating out for nut allergy sufferers and the considerations chefs must have when preparing meals in a kitchen environment with regard to allergens.
It features comments from Cardiff-based chef Dewi Reed and the Anaphylaxis Campaign, about this food production process.
Nut allergies are fascinating and frightening medical conditions, which present sufferers with more problems when eating out than you might think.
Each allergy is unique to an individual and can vary in form and severity, producing contrasting allergic reactions from one person to another. The same person can have varying degrees of tolerance to different types of nut, so they may not be allergic to peanuts but extremely allergic to walnuts, for example.
To confuse matters further,some people’s allergies are so severe they can have a reaction by touching a surface which previously had nuts on it. This indirect reaction from nut particles makes food preparation and kitchen management vital to keep nut allergy sufferers safe when they eat out.
Deri Reed, the Cardiff-based Ethical Chef who specialises in vegetarian cuisine, is renowned for using fresh ingredients to create locally-sourced Welsh recipes, and commented on allergens.He said: “As a chef you need to make sure all your staff are aware of changing and cleaning boards after preparation of nuts.
“But most restaurants will have nuts in the kitchen and are unlikely to take responsibility if there are traces of nuts found in foods, as a kitchen’s menu is usually ever-changing.”
Another consideration sufferers must bare in mind is nut oils used in the cooking process, but Deri insists this is a smaller threat.
The Ethical Chef, based in Whitchurch, added: “Food will hardly ever be cooked in nut oils, unless you are going to a fancy restaurant. However they might be used in dressings.”
The Anaphylaxis Campaign’s guidance for caterers in dealing with severe food allergies says: “Customers are still being ‘caught out’ by unexpected ingredients after receiving false assurances from staff that a particular food product is safe.”
The guidelines want restaurants to be honest about what is in food and state they should never guess about allergen presence. It also suggests a nominated person who knows this information should be on duty at all times.
So while eating out, a nut allergy sufferer has greater concerns than simply avoiding foods with nuts in. Rather scarily, nut-free food may have been accidentally contaminated in the kitchen.
While cities like Cardiff provide magnificent and varied choices for snacks, lunch and fine dining, it is still very difficult for nut allergy sufferers to feel safe while eating out.