Fish and chips: a nut safe takeaway meal?

As soon as we discovered that our son had a life threatening peanut allergy, mine and Ian’s takeaway habit ground to a sudden halt. The allergy doctors at the hospital had warned us of the risks of eating, for example, Indian and Chinese foods and we had been given a leaflet which advised that:

“Curries, Indian, Chinese and Thai dishes and Pesto sauce can all contain peanuts. The spices in some of these foods may hide the warning signs of an allergic reaction. This makes them particularly risky as a significant quantity of peanut may have been eaten before the problem is recognised.”

In order to maintain a nut free home, it therefore felt safer to impose a blanket ban on Indian, Chinese and Thai takeaways going forward.

Nut free fish and chips?

What about fish and chips? Were they now off the menu too? We’ll be moving house soon and, on previous house moves, it’s become a bit of a tradition to celebrate move in day with fish, chips and champagne, eaten whilst perched on a packing crate.

Was that going to be possible now that we’ve joined the nut allergy world?

As I understand it, the key ingredients for “fish and chips” are fish, flour, potatoes and oil. So at first glance, not something that is necessarily automatically risky for someone with a peanut or tree nut allergy  (provided we followed our doctors’ and the Anaphylaxis Campaign’s advice on eating out). However, a passing comment by another allergy mum at the Manchester Allergy Support Group has stuck with me: she had just discovered that her local chippy (that she had previously regarded as safe) had started frying their food in peanut oil. So, it seemed it might be safer for us to simply avoid fish and chip shops too…

Fish and chip shops: the nut allergy danger areas

All the same considerations apply to ordering food from a takeaway as for any other food outlet. For example, are there nuts in the ingredients? Will the outlet take steps to minimise cross contamination, including, for example, using separate, clean utensils, cleaning down the preparation surfaces etc. (I recently spotted “chef cards” on the FARE website, which look to be very helpful to hand over, to reinforce the message to the kitchen staff when dining out.)

As regards fish and chip shops specifically, the Anaphylaxis Campaign note:

“Some fish and chip shops choose refined peanut oil because it performs well at high temperatures and lasts well. Peanut oil has unique properties. Its stability and long life can make it a preferred choice for frying.”

They also note that there is a cross contamination risk, if the chip shop uses the same oil to fry peanut or nut containing products.

If you have a peanut allergy do you need to avoid peanut oil?

Should we be worried about peanut oil?

Our allergy doctors’ advice is that “Refined peanut oil is safe and does not need to be avoided” (see leaflet).

The Anaphylaxis Campaign website has detailed information on this issue. They note that although research has found that refined peanut oil:

“is highly unlikely to trigger allergic reactions… Nevertheless we always advise people to consult their allergist and to err on the side of caution”.

Despite the fact that the researchers believe “refined peanut oil is highly unlikely to be allergenic to people with peanut allergy, even if their reactions to peanut solids have been anaphylactic”, for me, personally, we will avoid anything with the dreaded P-word on the label, even refined oil.

For more information on this, see the following documents by the Anaphylaxis Campaign: Peanut oil – questions and answers and Vegetable oils.

Allergy aware fish and chip shops

On the train home from the Allergy Show North, I was playing spot the allergy show attendees (a game made easy by the amount of people holding Udi’s goodie bags). The two ladies opposite me were chatting to the ladies across the aisle about living with coeliac disease.

It turned out my table mates ran Fletchers Fish and Chip Shop (5 Compstall Rd, Romiley, Stockport SK6 4BT – 0161 430 3036) and that they served fish with gluten free batter, every day except Fridays.

We got talking and they were confident that their fish and chips would be nut free too. I promised to telephone if we were ever in the area to run through the ingredients, so they could double check everything would be safe for D.

So I’m hoping we’ll still be able to celebrate moving house with a chippie tea. However, I’d be very interested to know how other nut allergic families handle the issue of takeaway food. And if you know of an allergy aware fish and chip shop, do post a recommendation below!

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