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Beth’s Allergy Blog Part 4: Beth on Food Shopping

Every month peanut allergy sufferer Beth Newton gives us insight into life with a severe allergy. This month she’s covering the problems and pitfalls of shopping for food and cosmetics…

I think shopping is the aspect of having an allergy that I’ve gotten the most used to – it’s become very natural to check the packets of everything I eat.

My rules for eating in restaurants also often apply to food in supermarkets. A bar of chocolate that is safe one week could easily be life-threatening the next – you always have to check the label before eating it no matter how many times you’ve had it before. Often manufacturers will change their ingredients with no warning, which means I’m responsible for remembering to check the packet for any changes.

Another thing you find is that manufacturers will produce products of the same type where some are safe to eat and some aren’t. Cadburys is a good example of this – with my nut allergy I can’t eat a plain bar of Dairy Milk but I can eat Cadbury’s Buttons or a Twirl. And though this means I’m always checking Cadbury labels and sometimes have to put the snack back on the shelf, disappointed, I do feel safe eating their products. They’re so strict about labelling my allergen (peanuts) that when one of their chocolate bars doesn’t list it as ‘May Contain’ I can be confident it doesn’t.

I can eat Cadbury’s Buttons
I can’t eat a plain bar of Dairy Milk

I don’t stop at checking labels –  I also use Erudus Allergy Alerts on Twitter to stay informed with the food recalls by the Food Standards Agency. It’s quite scary how often products are recalled for having incorrect labelling. When a manufacturer fails – or forgets to declare an allergen in a product, they are putting my life and so many other lives at risk. A small mistake with potentially catastrophic consequences.

It’s quite scary how often products are recalled for having incorrect labelling

Facebook is a fantastic resource to help with shopping – I’m part of a few groups where people share the ‘safe’ treats that they have found from different supermarkets. If it weren’t for these groups I’d never have discovered many food items I now buy on a regular basis. Occasionally there are regional differences in a product – I’ve particularly found this with stuff from Aldi for example, so you do always have to double check yourself but I still swear by these groups for giving me more choice and for making me feel a little bit less crazy when I batch buy and stock up on certain products.

Why do I batch buy? Sometimes brands bring out limited edition products that are nut-free for specific seasons – I’ve got a few boxes of After Eights saved from Christmas, when they released boxes in a special metal tin. These After Eights had no nut warning on, whereas the regular After Eights have a ‘May Contain’ warning. So I’m currently rationing 3 boxes of After Eights until next Christmas!

Buying cosmetics and toiletries can be an absolute minefield for someone with an allergy. There aren’t any regulations that I am aware of when it comes to labelling allergies on cosmetics and toiletries, and the major allergens don’t have to be labelled in the same way as they would on food products. The language used in cosmetic ingredients is almost impossible to understand – very often it’s in Latin and I worry I have misunderstood an ingredient. Sometimes I’ll ask a pharmacist to read the label for me but even they might draw a blank.

Almonds and shea are commonly used in toiletries so I tend to stick to the products I know, and patch test them first. I also have very sensitive skin and mild eczema – eczema is common within allergy sufferers and can be triggered by allergens. So if you’re an eczema sufferer who’s never been diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance, it’s worth getting tested.“