With the number of food allergy sufferers in the UK continuing to rise year on year, having appropriate labelling and allergy warnings on food is becoming increasingly important.
Recent figures estimate that 25,093 hospital admissions in England are linked to allergies every year, with half of those affected by allergies being children.
The UK is one of the top three countries in the world for the highest incidents of allergic reactions, highlighting the importance of correct allergy warnings on food products and in restaurants and takeaways.
Due to the serious nature of food allergy reactions, if you have suffered an allergic reaction from a poorly labelled food product, or because a restaurant or takeaway failed to provide adequate warnings on their menu, you could be eligible for a compensation claim.
Many sufferers do not realise that they can claim compensation for allergic reactions and many clients that we help ask some common questions, namely:
What Are Food Allergies?
Food allergies are caused by the body incorrectly identifying food as a threat and creating antibodies to fight off this perceived threat; these antibodies cause the symptoms usually associated with an allergic reaction, such as:
- Digestive problems, including sickness and diarrhoea;
- Irritated skin, presenting as a rash or swelling;
- Sneezing and coughing;
- A systemic reaction, such as anaphylactic shock
While it is impossible to anticipate which food types could potentially cause an allergic reaction, and it is still unknown why some people suffer from food allergies while others do not, some of the most common foods that can cause an allergic reaction in children and adults include:
- Milk and eggs
- Peanuts and tree nuts
- Fish and shellfish
- Fruits, namely apples and peaches
Normally symptoms caused by allergic reactions are mild and subside within a few hours; however some can be more serious and can lead to life threatening consequences, especially for those who suffer an anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal and should be treated as a medical emergency.
No matter how severe your reaction to an allergen, you could be eligible for compensation if the supplier of the food failed to correctly label their product with a warning that they could include potential allergens.
What Are The Symptoms Of An Allergic Reaction?
Symptoms usually present immediately after contact with the allergen, with the most common allergic reaction to food known as IgE-mediated food allergy.
Depending on the severity of the allergy, symptoms could present if a sufferer simply stands near someone eating their allergen; however in most cases sufferers actually have to consume the allergen before symptoms begin.
The most common symptoms of an IgE-mediated food allergy include:
- Tingling and itching in and around the mouth;
- An irritated, itchy red rash;
- Swelling – usually of the face and mouth, but can appear anywhere on the body;
- Difficulty swallowing;
- Shortness of breath;
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy;
- Abdominal pain and diarrhoea and;
- Sneezing and itchy, irritated eyes
In more serious instances of an allergic reaction, where the sufferer goes into anaphylactic shock, symptoms can appear suddenly and can worsen quickly. The initial symptoms of anaphylaxis are often similar to those listed above, however if they worsen they can lead to:
- Severe breathing difficulties;
- A feeling of intense fear or anxiety;
- A rapid heartbeat;
- A sudden drop in blood pressure, which can cause a feeling of confusion and increased light-headedness and
As anaphylaxis can be life threatening, it is vital that emergency services are called as soon symptoms present.
What Is The Law Regarding Food Allergies?
Currently, the Food Information Regulations 2014 – which allows local authorities to enforce the European Food Information to Consumers Regulation No 1169/2011 (FIC) – says that where a product contains common allergens, details of these allergens need to appear on packaging and be clearly labelled on all:
- Food which has been pre-packaged
- Food which is sold loose
- Food which is served to you outside of the home
Any of the 14 allergens that appear on the regulatory list are to be emphasised on the label and clearly displayed in one place. The 14 allergens are: eggs, milk, fish, crustaceans, molluscs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, cereals containing gluten, soya, celery and celeriac, mustard, lupus, sulphur dioxide, and sulphates.
The regulations replace the majority of provisions outlined in the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 and shifts punishment for offending manufacturers and food suppliers away from criminal offences to improvement notices. This means that manufacturers or restaurants who fail to inform consumers of known allergens will be required to improve their practices to avoid any potential harm in the future; however they could still face criminal offences if they do not comply with improvement notices.
Essentially, the law requires that food available in the supermarket includes information on allergens on the packaging, while restaurants and takeaways should display allergen information on menus or communicate this information to customers verbally.
Businesses that do not clearly inform consumers of allergens in their products are in violation of the Food Information Regulations and are liable to pay out compensation for any harm or loss of earnings caused by the subsequent allergic reaction.
What Should I Do If I Think I’ve Suffered From A Food Allergy?
If you suffer an allergic reaction and you believe that you were not properly informed of possible allergens in a product that you have consumed, you should:
- If necessary, seek urgent medical attention – while this is unlikely to be required in most cases of an allergic reaction, it is vital that urgent attention is sought for those suffering from anaphylaxis
- Make a list, as soon as possible after your reaction, of everything you have eaten in the previous 48 hours
- Keep receipts for the restaurant, take-away, or supermarket where you bought the food or product that caused the reaction
- If you still have the food, and are able to, keep it and any packaging
- Inform your local Environmental Health Department
- Contact the restaurant or shop to tell them you’ve become ill due to their failure to label their products
- Contact Simpson Millar, so that our personal injury team can begin assisting you with your claim
When Can I Claim For A Food Allergy Reaction?
The Food Information Regulations 2014 require any business supplying food to the public to share allergen information directly to consumers. Due to the potentially serious nature of an allergic reaction, claims can be made when a supplier has failed in this duty.
Ultimately, a claim can be made when:
- Product packaging does not list details of included allergens;
- Restaurant menus or staff not detailing allergen information prior to a diner ordering food and;
- Restaurants or takeaways using common allergens in food preparation, without informing diners – the most common instance of this is using fish or nut oil to prepare food; diners with an allergy to these products will order food from the menu that do not usually include their allergens without being aware of the unique preparation method at that particular restaurant
When attempting to establish liability in instances of food allergy claims, we will have to establish that food contained one of the 14 main allergens, the establishment that served or supplied the food did not provide a warning of the included allergens, and that an allergic reaction was suffered as a result.
The responsibility is squarely on the food supplier to warn customers about the presence of the 14 main allergens; as such claims can be made even if the customer did not actively inform staff of their allergies.
In instances of a customer's allergy falling outside of the 14 common allergens, they do have a responsibility to inform staff to try and ensure that they are not served their unique allergen.
Even in instances involving a unique allergen where a customer did not inform staff or their requirements, a claim could be made in the aftermath of an allergic reaction.
In these circumstances, a judge may say that some of the responsibility for the allergic reaction falls on the customer and could rule on split liability, which could reduce the compensation amount.
How Much Compensation Can I Expect To Receive?
A claim for compensation can be broken down into two parts:
- Damages for personal injury, pain, suffering and loss of amenity
- Damages for financial losses, for example, loss of earnings, travel expenses and medication
The amount you could receive in compensation for an allergic reaction depends entirely on the extent of the allergy and if it affected your ability to work or caused any long-term psychological effects, such as making you nervous about eating in restaurants again.
When ruling on personal injury cases, judges may refer to JC Guidelines, which outline damage amounts for various injuries. It is important to note that these guidelines should be treated as a reference point only and in no way ensures or guarantees a specific award after a claimant suffers an allergic reaction.
Chapter 6 of the 13th edition of the JC Guidelines relates to illnesses and damages from non-traumatic injury and features a section on food poisoning; this section would extend and apply to allergies and a table outlining award amounts can be found on our food poisoning page.
When bringing a claim for an allergic reaction, claimants usually have three years from the date that they ingested an allergen, or three years from the date they became aware that they ingested the allergen, to bring a claim. Due to the complexities involved in establishing liability for poorly labelled products that lead to an allergic reaction, it is advisable to move with a claim as soon as possible after the incident.
Once you have gathered all of the information following an allergic reaction, seeking legal advice from personal injury specialists – such as the team at Simpson Millar – will help you take your case forward and is the crucial first step in rectifying the damage done by the negligence of a food supplier or restaurant.
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