Caroline Benjamin, founder of Food Allergy Aware, runs allergy training for airline caterers and is shocked at the current lack of awareness in the sector
Travelling to the Middle East recently I was shocked at the lack of allergen details available for either standard or special meals and how uninformed the crew was.
I had pre-ordered with staff who clearly had minimal training. I’m both gluten and dairy free but the best they could offer was gluten free and non-lactose, but with no certainty it was milk free!
My meal options were confirmed but onboard I was served a chicken roll with butter and a milk yoghurt. Lunch was labelled gluten free but there was no clarity on if it was non-lactose or dairy-free on either the label or from the crew.
New labelling regulations come into force in October 2021 affecting’Pre-Packed for Direct Sale’ (PPDS) food. Known as Natasha’s Law, it is named after the girl who died on a flight from a sesame flour reaction. She’d bought her baguette pre-flight and her retailer relied on a sign telling concerned customers to ask about allergens, just as most airlines also do.
Transport entering or leaving the EU and UK should already be supplying information on all food served and the FSA currently has a consultation underway on technical guidance for PPDS. Main meals are NOT classed as PPDS but information relating to the 14 specified allergens should be available. My experience shows this is not always the case. Pre-packed foods on the meal tray, such as cookies, cakes and sandwiches, could be defined as PPDS and may require full ingredient labelling going forward.
An easy fix would be for special meals to be fully labelled, and a spec sheet to be available for all standard meals. I recommend airlines remove the term non-lactose from special meals and investigate a dairy (milk) free option instead as many lactose-free products are not suitable for allergies to milk or for vegans. Dairy-free passengers may not also be vegetarian or vegan, a common myth.
Encourage development chefs to create dishes which exclude the 14 major allergens.Soya is one of them’ and it is currently in over 60% of processed foods!
Ultimately your staff training is key. Allergies are serious and not a lifestyle choice. Support your crew with accurate information and be sure they know what to do when a passenger does have a reaction or goes into anaphylactic shock.