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Understanding the food choice reasoning of nut allergic consumers
Project Code: T07058;
- Barnett, J., Leftwich, J., Muncer, K., Grimshaw, K., Shepherd, R., Raats, M. M., Gowland, M. H. and Lucas, J. S. (2011), How do peanut and nut-allergic consumers use information on the packaging to avoid allergens? Allergy, 66: no. doi: 10.1111/j.1398-9995.2011.02563.x
- Leftwich, J., Barnett, J., Muncer, K., Shepherd, R., Raats, M. M., Hazel Gowland, M. and Lucas, J. S. (2011), The challenges for nut-allergic consumers of eating out. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 41: 243–249. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2010.03649.x
Barnett, J ;
Food, Consumer Behaviour and Health Research Centre; University of Surrey
Shepherd, R; Raats, M;
Allergy and Inflammation Sciences, University of Southampton.
Lucas, J; Grimshaw, K;
University of Surrey
Leftwich, J; Muncer, K; Ogden, J
Peanuts and other nuts are an increasingly common cause of food allergy and are the most frequent cause of severe and fatal food allergic reactions. Avoidance of these trigger foods is therefore essential for those affected by nut allergies. This requires constant vigilance and can be difficult to achieve as the presence of nut allergens may not always be obvious and information about them may potentially be confusing to consumers.
This study investigated how people with peanut and tree nut allergies use food labels and the types of strategies they adopt when selecting foods to minimise the risk of triggering an allergic reaction.
The researchers found participants used a wide range of strategies to make choices about what foods to eat and buy when food shopping and eating out:-
Strategies used when food shopping
• Food labels were used along with other non-packet based strategies such as previous experience of eating a product. The brand name and supermarket were important rules of thumb for participants when they considered whether to eat a product or not. They trusted the labelling of certain food companies over others often because of assumptions about a company’s policies or the quality of their products.
• The ingredients list was used by many as a reliable source of information about allergen content. However, most people said they relied on the allergy advice box over and above the ingredients list. Most participants did not understand the voluntary nature of allergen advice boxes and some incorrectly assumed the absence of an advice box indicated the product did not contain the main allergens and was therefore safe for them to eat.
• Precautionary nut (‘may contain’) warnings are used by food manufacturers to indicate possible cross-contamination with a food allergen. Many participants thought that this labelling was not credible or desirable, some ignored it, whilst a few claimed they avoided eating these products. However, the majority of participants felt that it was almost impossible to avoid eating all products with ‘may contain’ type labelling as doing so would result in a very limited diet.
Strategies used when eating out
• Nut allergic individuals tended to adopt an avoidance and communication strategy to manage the risk of triggering an allergic reaction when eating outside the home. They often avoided certain types of restaurants (particularly Thai, Chinese and Indian restaurants), main courses or particular foods.
• Participants generally asked restaurant staff whether a dish contained nuts or not or asked them to inform the chef they had a nut allergy. However, the need to check whether the food on offer may contain nuts was a source of social embarrassment for some which led to increased risk taking. They often chose not to mention they had a nut allergy as they feared it would further limit their food choices.
This research has helped the Agency to better understand the patterns of food consumption by food allergic consumers. This information is being used to inform Agency dietary advice to consumers with nut allergies, feed into ongoing European discussions on general food labelling legislation (including allergen labelling) and will help steer the development of food allergy labelling policy.
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