Tips for visiting the UK with a nut allergy

Planning a holiday in the UK? Does someone in your party have a peanut or nut allergy? If so, I’ve compiled the information below (with links to useful resources), which I hope might assist a nut allergic visitor to Britain.

Medical help

  • Dial 999 in an emergency
  • Contact NHS Direct (“if you need medical help fast, but it’s not a 999 emergency”). The telephone number varies by area (it is either 111 or 0845 4647) – to find the correct number for your area, see this list.
  • The NHS Choices website also has search tools to find your local hospitaldoctor (search for “GP”) and pharmacy.

Other sources of advice

The following charities have allergy helplines:

If English isn’t your first language, the Allergy Action website has free translation cards.

For details of Embassies in the UK, see the London Diplomatic List.

Grocery shopping

Understanding UK food labelling

The ingredients list on prepacked food must be accurate. So if even a tiny amount of peanut (for example) has been intentionally added to a food, “peanut” must appear in the ingredients list.

“Peanuts” and “nuts” are two of the top 14 allergens listed in the legislation. If a prepacked food or alcoholic drink contains peanuts or nuts (or an ingredient made from them), this must be either specified in the name of the food or clearly marked elsewhere on the label.

Although the law is due to change in December 2014, for now the allergen labelling requirement does not apply to, for example:

  • Foods sold loose.
  • Cake or pastries baked and sold in a cake shop.
  • Bread rolls baked in-store at a supermarket.
  • Ice cream sold by the scoop in an ice cream shop or ice cream van.
  • Meat sold from a delicatessen counter.
  • Meals served in a restaurant, cafe, take away etc.

Some manufacturers may also use:

  • Allergen warning boxes (for example “Contains: nuts”).

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  • “May contain” wording (for example “May contain nut traces” or “Produced in a facility that also processes nuts”), to cover allergens that have got into the product by accident via cross-contamination.

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Both allergen warning boxes and “may contain” labelling are voluntary. So if there is no:

  • Allergen warning box, this does not necessarily mean the product is free from nuts: you must read the ingredients list.
  • “May contain” label, this does not necessarily mean that the product has not been accidentally contaminated with nuts or nut traces. You could contact the manufacturer to check their policy on using “may contain” labels and enquire whether the product is made in a nut free facility.

For more detail on UK allergen labelling law (both now and when the law changes in December 2014), see Deciphering UK food allergen labelling law.

One final point to note is that some companies are already introducing the new look labelling (compulsory from December 2014). So you might see the (voluntary) “Contains” boxes on some products, and the allergens highlighted (in bold, italics, underlined or in a different colour) on others. For an example of the “new look” labelling, see page 5 of Advice on food allergen labelling by the Food Standards Agency.

  • A quick note on “Ingredients: Cannot guarantee nut free”

A reader from the US recently contacted me about the Tesco advisory labelling:

“Recipe: No nuts. Ingredients: Cannot guarantee nut free. Factory: No nuts”.

What does the ingredients statement mean, if the factory was nut free?

I wondered the exact same thing when my son’s peanut allergy was first diagnosed (see Mission: create a nut free home). My understanding is that “Recipe: No nuts” is confirming there are no nuts listed in the product’s ingredients (i.e. which have been intentionally added to the recipe). Then “Ingredients: Cannot guarantee nut free” is used if they cannot vouch that all of those raw ingredients have not been near nuts at some point during the production process (before coming to the final “no nuts” factory).

Where to shop and finding safe brands

If you are going to be staying somewhere where you can have your food delivered, then I personally find the Ocado site really handy for grocery shopping, as you can filter by allergen and they also have very detailed product descriptions. As a family, we tend to stick to Ocado or Sainsbury’s, however the FreeFrom Foods Matter website has a detailed list of those UK Supermarkets, retailers and on-line stores which sell free from foods.

See also the Nut free food page, which has links to the allergy information pages for various food brands.

Eating out

Advice

For advice on eating out safely with food allergies in the UK, please see:

Restaurant recommendations

For national chains, our local branches of Pizza Express have always looked after us well (see Let’s hear it for Pizza Express!). I also understand that McDonald’s tends to be a safe bet, although my son hasn’t yet visited. Otherwise, local pubs who cook their food from scratch have tended to be the most helpful/willing when it comes to preparing a nut free meal. Here’s a list of the restaurants, pubs and cafés we have so far visited in:

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