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‘Allergy sufferers’ lives put at risk by restaurants and takeaways’

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Some 58% of those with allergies have had their conditions triggered by contaminated food, according to a poll for law firm Slater and Gordon.

Megan Lee

More than half of allergy sufferers have had their lives put at risk by contaminated restaurant or takeaway food, a survey suggests.

Some 58% of those with allergies say their potentially life-threatening conditions had been triggered by food that staff had assured them was safe to eat, the poll for law firm Slater and Gordon found.

A third (30%) managed their symptoms with medication, one in 10 needed a doctor and one in 15 (7%) needed emergency hospital treatment.

Almost six in 10 (58%) reported experiencing negative treatment, including being ignored, not taken seriously or even being accused of being “fussy”.

Slater and Gordon represents the parents of 15-year-old nut allergy sufferer Megan Lee, who died on New Year’s Day 2017 from an anaphylactic reaction after she unknowingly ate peanuts in a meal sold by the Royal Spice takeaway in her home town of Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire.

The teenager and her friend ordered online via the Just Eat website two days earlier and wrote “prawns, nuts” in the comments and notes section.

However, the delivered meal, which included an onion bhaji, a seekh kebab and a peshwari naan, was later found to have the “widespread presence” of peanut protein.

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In October, a jury at Manchester Crown Court found takeaway owner Mohammed Abdul Kuddus, 40, and manager Harun Rashid, 38, guilty of unlawfully killing Megan by reason of gross negligence.

Shane Smith, a lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “These results are astonishing. Most of us have a friend or loved one with a potentially fatal allergy, yet so many restaurants and takeaways still seem to regard it as being of little importance.

“For those with an allergy it is not a choice but a serious condition which could kill them if ignored.”

Three in 10 allergy sufferers said they had experienced a reaction more than once after eating food from a restaurant, takeaway or other outlet which they had deemed safe.

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This was often despite “routine” precautions including asking staff (48%), sticking to familiar dishes (44%), researching menus online (42%), checking the ingredients (40%) and only using places they knew (31%).

Some 42% admitted they no longer eat out or order takeaways to avoid risk, while 6% said they take their own food to restaurants.

Some 59% said people had confused their allergy with an intolerance.

Megan Lee court case
Harun Rashid (left), and Mohammed Kuddus were found guilty at Manchester Crown Court of unlawfully killing Megan Lee by reason of gross negligence (Danny Lawson/PA)

Mr Smith added: “One change we would like to see is for public liability insurance to be made mandatory for all establishments preparing and serving food to the public, with strict conditions to encourage them to take allergen control seriously.

“In recent years we have seen a number of high-profile cases in which people have died due to ignorance around this topic. Protecting the public must be the top priority before any more lives are lost.”

Megan’s parents, Gemma and Adam Lee, said raising awareness and improving standards to help others was “the last thing we can do for our daughter”.

They said: “We feel that businesses should be inspected annually with more random spot checks and that staff should be better trained.

”Online platforms such as Just Eat are also in a very strong position to influence. They could set the standard and say ‘If you have not got an up-to-date hygiene rating then we are not letting you on.’

“Something as simple as labelling could save lives. We know that if Megan’s food had arrived and it had stated on the box that it contained nuts then she would never have eaten it.

“It was a catalogue of failings that let her down and, although I do think things are improving slightly, it’s nowhere near where it needs to be.”

Censuswide surveyed 1,000 food allergy sufferers between April 4 and 9.

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