Allergy is the most common chronic disease in Europe, according to AllergyUK, with the UK having some of the highest rates of allergic conditions in the world, with over 20% of the population affected by one or more allergic disorder. A crazy 44% of adults here in Britain suffer from at least on allergy, with the number of sufferers on the rise and growing by around 2 million per year.
Whilst Coeliac's Disease and Veganism aren't technically allergies, to most these are the most tangible examples of how little is out there in the way of inclusive food, as well as many allergies requiring the individual to follow either a gluten-free or vegan diet. Next time you're out and about, when looking over a menu or trying to pick up a sandwich, look out for two tiny little symbols: a 'GF' standing for gluten-free and a sunflower attached to the word Vegan. These two icons indicate the food item safe for the associated individual to consume, but when travelling by rail you'll very quickly notice just how little is available.
This leaves those with allergies having to play food bingo, trying to catch stewards to try and make them understand their requirements, before being told various answers that don't add up as to what can be provided. The general knowledge here in the UK is getting much better, nut allergies being possibly one of the most understood, but when compared with the likes of other EU countries, we're trailing far behind. Travel to countries such as Spain and the phrase 'sin gluten' will get you a long way, with clear answers and no need for food bingo.
Generating more awareness of the requirements for these allergies is vital to making a lot of lives a lot easier, and railway catering is as good a place as any to start. It begins with the basics, having a general understanding of what ingredients flag up as certain allergens. Here in the UK there are 14 major allergens that must be put in bold on the back of any food product:
- Cereals containing gluten
- Tree Nuts
- Sesame seeds
- Sulphur dioxide (sometimes known as sulphites)
Once these are fully recognised, it's super easy to be able to draw up a quick yes or no over packaged items for those with allergies. The next step, however, is cross contamination. This is much rarer when travelling by rail, as most foods are pre-packaged, but is a vital question when approaching anything prepared on the train. Gluten is the main area of concern here, with even a pack of flour being opened many meters away compromising the food. There has to be a basic knowledge of how food is prepared and the impact it can have on those with allergies.
Here's the good news. There is indeed an uprising of clearly packaged, healthier foods that are making a noise about allergens and wiping them from their ingredients list. Mr Lee's are an innovate food scale-up, changing the convenience market, starting with healthier, tastier, gluten-free noodles in a cup, with two vegan options available!