In New Zealand, restaurants and cafes are being encouraged to improve their food allergen policies, in the wake of studies showing that food allergy rates are skyrocketing. According to New Zealand’s3 News,experts say that not enough is being done by the food service industry to serve people with food allergies in New Zealand.
As with elsewhere in the world, there have been a number of high-profile deaths caused by allergic reactions in restaurants. One victim of anaphylactic shock caused by a food allergy is Grant Freeman. Five years ago, he was exposed to traces of oyster or nuts while dining in an Auckland restaurant. He died just two days later, recounts his sister, Donna Whittle.
She believes that her brother could have survived had the restaurant understood the potential severity of food allergies. Whittle also notes that her brother himself did not know the seriousness of his condition; she explains that “The problem with him was he didn’t realise how bad his allergies were, he’d never been tested.”
Allergy New Zealand, a food allergy awareness organization, says that cafes and restaurants have a responsibility to let customers know what’s in their food, especially considering that as many as one in ten children in New Zealand have a food allergy. But, they say, many restaurants are failing at this task. Penny Jorgensen, the organization’s chief executive, says “We do know of restaurants and cafes who’ve refused to give information.” Although the country’s food code requires restaurants to make food allergen information available for diners, this regulation is not enforced.
As a result, says Jorgensen, “I think a lot of people actually avoid eating out because they find it very difficult. It requires a lot of planning in advance,” says Ms Jorgensen. She stresses that her organization isn’t asking the food service industry to guarantee that all meals are safe from an allergy standpoint, but to provide diners with accurate information about allergens so they can make an informed decision.