Australia has one of the highest allergy rates in the world, according to a recent study, which has only been increasing every year. For this reason Food Allergy Awareness Week was introduced to educate the public about food allergies.
Food Allergy Awareness Week began in 1998, created by Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia and helps to promote, educate and provide research for the cause. Food allergies occur in 1 in 20 children and 1 in 100 adults which in NSW alone is 65,000 children and 96,000 adults. In fact, hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions have doubled over the past decade in Australia and for children under four, it has increased by 500% over the past 10 years.
Due to the increase in allergies, many brands are catering to the changing diets of the public and avoiding allergen ingredients within their products. Narelle Plapp, Naturopath and owner of muesli brand, Food for Health believes that it is vital to satisfy the needs of the consumers especially regarding allergies.
'I have always been a strong ambassador of Food Allergy Awareness Week. My niece had anaphylaxis and tragically, due to a lack of knowledge in the community about the issue, she lost her life. This happens more often than people think. I want to bring attention to these issues and make sure that people are made more aware so that tragedies are prevented in the future," says Narelle.
Narelle has made sure her brand, Food for Health, not only focuses on health and functionality but more importantly allergy friendly products. With food allergies on the rise, Food for Health supports not only people with specific dietary requirements, but also people who simply like to eat healthier options.
'Food allergies are a growing concern in today's society and people both with and without allergies need to be aware of the outcomes if mistreated. The diagnosis of food allergies has increased in my opinion because the technology and education around food allergies has improved. Having a food allergy can be a very difficult thing to navigate in our everyday lives. Food options can be limited hence why I am proud through my company Food for Health, to provide some great heathy solutions for people with coeliac disease, fructose malabsorption, wheat & lactose intolerance. I know how hard it is having someone in my life with a serious allergy, the day to day measures that are needed to ensure safety, and unfortunately years ago, the awareness was not high enough and taken seriously enough. This is why I am extremely passionate about food allergy awareness and I believe that all people need to be educated," says Narelle.
Approximately 10 people die each year in Australia from allergies and with allergies rising, people are beginning to question why. Narelle believes it is because of modern food processes and also the diagnosis of allergies has improved.
'For years people were suffering, without the correct treatment. The processes that the food we eat today also play a role in the increase of food allergies. We consume a diet high in processed foods which are at risk of cross contamination. If we were to eat diets like our grandparents, fresh whole foods, protein and foods in their natural state, the prevalence of food allergies would be less," says Narelle.
Food Allergy Awareness Week will be held on the 17th – 23rd May, 2015.
For more information, please visit www.foodforhealth.com.au
Question: Why do you believe Australia has one of the highest allergy rates in the world?
Narelle Plapp: Food allergy now affects 1 in 10 infants and about 2 in 100 adults. The risk of severe food allergic reactions can sometimes be unpredictable. Some children do outgrow their food allergy. The most common triggers in childhood are eggs, milk, peanuts and tree nuts. Other common triggers include fish, shellfish, sesame, soy, gluten and wheat. Peanuts, tree nuts, seeds and seafood are the major triggers for lifelong allergies. Some food allergies can be severe, causing potentially life threatening reactions known as anaphylaxis. Fructose is not as common; however is definitely a growing concern.
Question: Why did you decide to get involved with Food Allergy Awareness Week?
Narelle Plapp: Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia are a fabulous organisation that continues to invest in the education around food allergies. Food allergy awareness week was created to increase the awareness of food allergies through the media, schools, and the general public. Food for Health as a company not only creates products to support people with food allergies, but is also extremely passionate about the continued education.
I lost my niece, Brianna to anaphylaxis over 10 years ago now, so this cause is very close to my heart. Education is integral for everyone, with or without allergies as was the case for Brianna. It was the lack of understanding in the community that caused her to have a fatal anaphylaxis reaction.
Getting involved is something we have done over the last few years and will continue to do so, as I believe that awareness is the key to both decreasing fatalities and improving diagnosis.
Question: What do you hope to promote during Food Allergy Awareness Week?
Narelle Plapp: We hope to increase awareness and further educate society, throughout social media channels, sponsorship and schools. If we only tap into a few people that did not understand it's a step in the right direction. Every little bit counts, so we hope by telling our story people understand the importance of food allergies.
Question: What advice do you have for Australians regarding food allergies?
Narelle Plapp: Don't be ignorant because your child does not suffer from a food allergy.
I'm sure that if your child shared the food in the school playground that caused the death of another child through an anaphylaxis reaction you would never forgive yourself. It would stay with you forever and I'm sure it would impact your own child's life dramatically.
Respect school rules and other members of your community. Food allergies are not to be taken light hearted, so educate yourself and your family on supporting those with allergies and also understanding symptoms.
Question: How important is it for Australian families to understand anaphylaxis especially regarding school lunchboxes?
Narelle Plapp: It can be the difference between life and death. Don't disrespect school rules or people in your community that suffer from food allergies. You may think it's not fair that you can't give your child a particular product because a class mate has a food allergy, but just be mindful as to how difficult it is for the family of the child that does. Take the time to understand the possible outcomes and show support.
Question: How can we ensure we are treating our ingredients in the correct way when around those with allergies?
Narelle Plapp: Education and Communication are key to this. Cross contamination is generally the cause of a reaction, as people assume by just rinsing a knife is a sufficient enough clean before giving it to someone with anaphylaxis. This is not the case. The smallest spec of residual food can trigger an allergic reaction, so CLEAR communication is integral. Even the less serious allergens can flare up with cross contamination, so food preparation areas need to be separate when preparing food for someone with allergies.
Question: Can you tell us about your brand, Food for Health?
Narelle Plapp: We are a proud small Australian company that creates a range of healthy muesli, muesli bars and snack foods for people that suffer from food allergies and also for people that simply care about their health.
I am extremely passionate about 'health" food and the education of allergy friendly products, which is represented in our product range.
Question: What was the main motivation behind creating Food for Health?
Narelle Plapp: I started Food for Health from the outcome of treating my patients. I am a Naturopath by trade and back before Food for Health was launched I would design food plans for my patients, including muesli recipes that I had created. My patients both enjoyed the muesli's and attained the results they needed. So off the back of years on internal market research I launched Food for Health onto the commercial market.
My passion for food allergies has also been a driving force, as I lost my niece to an fatal anaphylaxis reaction.
Fast forward 9 years and from humble handmade beginnings, we now supply to Coles, Woolworths, Costco, Virgin Airlines, IGA and export to 13 countries.
Interview by Brooke Hunter