Nut allergies kill – and that's why you could be imprisoned for treating me like a fussy eater

Now that Mohammed Zaman has been convicted, perhaps the world will sit up and listen when allergy sufferers question the content of restaurant meals

Fiona Leckerman
Tuesday 24 May 2016 17:40
Mohammed Zaman, the owner of a curry house, was jailed for six years following the death of a customer who consumed a curry containing nuts at his restaurant
Mohammed Zaman, the owner of a curry house, was jailed for six years following the death of a customer who consumed a curry containing nuts at his restaurant

It sounds horrific to admit that you felt elated after discovering that an unfortunate person had died from a peanut allergy. But when I heard the news that a restaurant owner had been jailed for the manslaughter of a man who suffered anaphylaxis after eating a curry from his establishment, I let out an internal cheer.

Finally, justice has been served.

The severity of nut allergies is at last being taken seriously. The man in question, Paul Wilson, died after eating food that contained peanuts despite having explicitly stated “no nuts” when placing his order. It is terrifying, because it could very easily have happened to me.

I have probably been allergic to nuts all my life but it wasn’t until I was eight years old that I was rushed to hospital after suffering my first anaphylactic shock, after an incident involving a rice krispie cake that contained walnuts.

I remember returning to school and the teacher turning her nose up at my absence, as if food allergies weren’t serious. It’s a reaction I have encountered ever since. Whether it’s when I specify no nuts in a restaurant, to the point where the waiter assumes I’m a weirdo for insisting he personally checks with the chef, or when I walk into a friend’s house and have to ask them to remove a bowl of nuts from the coffee table, or even when I refuse to kiss a friend goodbye on the check because I noticed earlier that they had been eating nuts, for fear I’ll spend the rest of evening with a swollen, itchy cheek and high on antihistamine, the response is always one of scepticism.

Perhaps now the restauranteur, Mohammed Zaman, has been convicted the world will sit up and listen when nut allergy sufferers question the content of the meals they order when eating out.

Allergies are very real, very dangerous and very scary. Although I often joke with friends, family and waiters “please check there’s no nuts, you don’t want me dying on you?” the practicalities are no laughing matter. Paul Wilson was not joking when he asked for his order to not contain any nuts – he was trying to protect his life.

That’s why almost every food label says somewhere “may contain traces of nuts”, just in case. That’s why restaurants are legally obliged to provide their customers with food labelling, by printing easy to understand menus or having that life-saving conversation with their customers. Because allergic reactions are mostly avoidable; Paul Wilson’s death was avoidable.

I myself have had some very near misses: the time I was on work experience in a TV studio at age 14 and didn’t realise that pesto was in fact pine nuts; the time I’d ordered a salad at a pick n’ mix salad restaurant and an errant nut had hidden itself among the lettuce leaves – despite my asking the server to change their gloves when preparing my order. It wasn’t until I was struggling to breath and my head was so swollen that my glasses wouldn’t sit behind my ears that I was taken to hospital.

My most recent incident was at a restaurant where not only did I ask the waitress for clarification, I saw the food book and insisted on asking the chef for more details. Despite all my caution, I still had a reaction. While I was lying on the bathroom floor I vowed to make a complaint. Something snapped within me, and it wasn’t the needle of my Epipen.

It’s not right that, even when I told the manager I had eaten a nut, as my mouth was swelling and I was dribbling down my chin and begged him to tell me what nut I had inadvertently eaten, he looked at me with confusion.

Knowing what nut I have eaten determines the severity of the reaction. After many emails the restaurant finally offered me £10 off my next meal, by way of compensation – which I didn’t accept, because I don’t trust the restaurant anymore and a mere £10 off a meal really doesn’t cut it as an apology for putting my life at risk.

Hearing that Paul Wilson’s death was due to negligence makes me more angry than I can express, but the conviction of his manslaughter is a step forward for nut allergy sufferers like me. It’s a reminder to everyone that saying “no nuts” it is not nutty at all.

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