Eating at the Commons could kill me

Jane Merrick has to steer clear of nuts, and so should food firms

Share

I love food. I could eat for a living – in fact, I do, in that my job involves lunching with politicians. But I know that my next meal could kill me. It is truly an occupational hazard. Like Jo Swinson, the Employment minister who was last week admitted to hospital with anaphylactic shock after inadvertently eating peanuts, I have a nut allergy.

Going into anaphylactic shock is horrifying. You bite into something you think is going to be delicious. Yet it doesn't taste like food. There is no taste. Like eating a really hot curry, you can feel only burning in your mouth, then your throat, and then you feel you can't breathe. You cannot spit it out, because the anaphylaxis has been triggered already. Only antihistamine, or, if severe, adrenaline, will help.

For as long as I can remember I've had a nut allergy. In the Seventies, when I was a child, I would tell my parents I had an itchy mouth whenever I ate walnuts or hazelnuts, although people hadn't really heard of nut allergies then, so my teachers thought I was just being fussy. I largely managed to avoid eating nuts until 26 March 2006, when I was served a nut and herb-encrusted rack of lamb, even though I'd specifically told the restaurant that I had an allergy. It was a lunch with Charles Clarke and other women political journalists, and as the then home secretary launched into his speech, I was carted off to hospital, partly embarrassed, partly terrified. I was given adrenaline and steroids, and I was fine.

I now carry an Epipen with a life-saving adrenaline shot, but I am anxious about my young daughter. I will only know if she has inherited my condition once she has eaten a nut, a prospect which fills me with terror: the way antibodies work, she cannot be tested before then.

Restaurants are now much more aware of nut allergies – the ones in Westminster are excellent, probably due to my nagging the waiters every time I sit down. Other people's home cooking is a no-no – as Ms Swinson found out when she ate a chocolate crispy cake at a charity bake sale in her constituency. Supermarkets and food manufacturers are aware, but there are varying degrees of sensible labelling. Some chains and producers are apparently so fearful of being sued that they slap "may contain nuts" on nearly all of their food. This would be fine if it were just cakes and biscuits – nut-free ones produced on the same factory lines as the peanut varieties. But there are some ludicrous examples: both Asda and Morrison's own-brand ketchup is labelled "may contain nuts and seeds", while Tesco warns that its organic salted butter – it can verify that it's organic but can't rule out contamination – and all of its tinned vegetables might contain nuts. Most absurdly, Tesco's own brand Indian tonic water reads "Cannot guarantee nut free".

If I followed every warning on supermarket food, I would never eat. Contamination can happen, and the excellent Anaphylaxis Campaign runs product alerts. The horsemeat scandal underlined how lax some suppliers are. Rather than issuing blanket "may contain" or, even vaguer, "made in a factory that contains nuts" disclaimers, supermarkets and food producers should be stricter in their monitoring, and more specific in their labelling.

Ms Swinson survived, and although retailers were not to blame for her scare, I am sure she is as aware as I am of bad labelling. As a minister in the Department for Business, she can now use her influence and profile to argue for better, more accurate labels, and no more that are completely nuts.

Jane Merrick is Political Editor of The Independent on Sunday

twitter.com/@janemerrick23; anaphylaxis.org.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in August  

Ferguson: The sad truth is that Michael Brown was killed because he was a black man

Bonnie Greer
A protestor poses for a  

Ferguson verdict: This isn't a 'tragedy'. This is part of a long-running genocide of black men in America

Otamere Guobadia
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital