Helen Martin: Learn lessons from Natasha’s allergy tragedy

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse's allergic reaction to sesame seeds in a Pret A Manger baguette proved fatal. Picture: PA
Natasha Ednan-Laperouse's allergic reaction to sesame seeds in a Pret A Manger baguette proved fatal. Picture: PA
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SOARING allergy levels over the years regularly hit the headlines, but rarely involving such a tragedy as the death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse.

The teenager bought a Pret A Manger baguette at Heathrow to consume on her flight from London to Nice, unaware that it contained sesame seeds. Her reaction led to cardiac arrest and she died on the same day.

Back in the 50s and 60s, food allergies were rare, or at least unusual. Perhaps that was partly because we had a much narrower range of foods on offer before globalisation and “exotics” added to our shopping lists. Yet even traditional grub makes up the most common allergies of the 21st century so far.

Milk and dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, gluten, fish and shellfish account for 90 per cent of allergies. So, it’s hardly surprising that these ingredients are generally (though not always) listed in bold type on packaging.

READ MORE: Helen Martin: What price a load of cobblers for the city?

Not all reactions can be deadly. And not all claims of allergy have been medically confirmed. But any disturbing sensitivity increases the demand to have all contents or potential contamination made clear.

Any of us could be allergic – to anything. I’m allergic to bananas and surprisingly I know others who are too. In my youth I couldn’t even touch the skin without developing a rash. That calmed down over the years but eating banana or even banana extract still causes my throat to swell and constrict, making breathing difficult.

Once, in the office canteen, chicken curry was on the menu but with no mention of the bananas in it. Fortunately, I saw a piece in the first forkful.

I have one other food allergy – artificial sweeteners, though I can’t specify precisely which ones. That’s becoming a greater risk now that sugar content is being reduced and sweeteners are far more widespread.

Recently, I asked for fruit juice in a sports club bar and the only option was a branded bottle of apple and mango. Gradually I became hotter and hotter, I needed fresh air, felt nauseous and dizzy then panic kicked in. I knew I needed a couple of pints of water, after which I recovered. That was when I read the ingredients on the bottle – including sweeteners.

It’s a reaction my son inherited so even as a baby and toddler he would spit out Calpol if it was the prescription version with sweeteners rather than sugar. How today, especially with sugar tax, can anyone avoid sweeteners?

Ensuring ingredients are listed on packaged food in shops, and demanding the same even of small sandwich bars, and major fast food chains is inevitable. Serving staff won’t necessarily know the contents.

In restaurants and independent takeaways, where dishes and recipes can change from day to day, lists are impossible. But chefs must be knowledgeable and responsible for being accurate on ingredients if customers flag up their allergies.

At least four in ten people have allergies at some point in their lives. About ten in the UK die every year from food-induced anaphylaxis, and of the 1500 annual asthma deaths, some are triggered by food allergy.

Yet only 14 allergens must legally be declared and that list doesn’t include bananas, strawberries and other known, but less common, causes of reaction

Including all ingredients could save lives.

Tourism tax opposition is inconvenient

ONE of the latest horror cuts suggested by council officials is the closure of public toilets which could save the city £250,000. We can only hope councillors won’t agree to it.

As they seem devoted to tourism, public toilets are surely a necessity and a “convenience” for visitors. Nor does it seem a brainwave to encourage those cross-legged and bursting to leave our closes and side streets awash with pee and excrement.

READ MORE: Revealed: Edinburgh Council’s secret plans to axe public toilets

I totally support the council’s plans for a tourism tax which they’re voting on tomorrow despite the Government’s ridiculous opposition.

Apparently, it could raise £11 million which not only eliminates toilet shutdown but means instead of finding £28m in cuts for Capital survival, they only need £16.75m!

Over-60s need online scam lessons

BANK account scammers are building up success to allegedly £1 million a day.

For months I’ve had callers claiming to be from BT dealing with my “failing” broadband. If I’m in a pleasant mood, I tell them I don’t have broadband. In a bad mood I tell them to “something off”.

Their aim is to get control of my PC and try to access my bank account. I block the calls but they keep changing the numbers.

The most successful scammers are the ones who phone, text or e-mail purporting to be bank employees. One Yorkshire woman fell for it, losing more than £160,000. Banks recovered £70k for her but she’s still £90k short.

In today’s culture of digital communication and online banking, too many people are naïve enough to think banks contact them that way. Even I (always critical of banks) am beginning to feel customer gullibility is to blame.

Embarrassingly, the conned victims are all round about my age. It really would help if banks spent more time educating us over-60s about scams before pushing us to online banking.

In truth, Ruth’s a minor figure

HOW mystifying that Ruth Davidson, the leader of such a minority party in Scotland, is being hailed as a political celebrity by the English media?