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New book addresses 'ticking timebomb' of food allergy-related incidents

MEDIA RELEASE                                                                  Monday, 10 May, 2021


Food industry must act now to address the potential ‘ticking timebomb’ of food allergy-related incidents, argues new book by food safety expert.


·      “I texted my husband a final goodbye and ‘I love you’.” Heather Landex describes her own near-death allergy experience which prompted her to put pen to paper.

·      Food industry needs to stop ‘passing the buck’ with blanket disclaimers, and provide consumers with the information they need to protect themselves

·      ‘Significant and growing minorities’ of vegans, vegetarians, people with serious food allergies or intolerances and other dietary preferences are currently ‘excluded by the food service industry’

·      Caterers face an unprecedented opportunity to target untapped customer base as they rebuild post-COVID – IF they rise to the challenge. Heather, herself a vegan, describes how they can increase their revenue by 10-15% by becoming more inclusive

·      Vegan restaurants face particular opportunity, if they can guarantee their food is free of milk – one of the most dangerous of all allergens.


An anaphylactic shock-like experience sparked by something in her food has prompted Heather Landex to write her first book – Inclusive: The New Exclusive.


And she hopes it will serve as both a rallying cry and an inspiration to an industry in need of change.


In her book, Heather, an international food safety expert originally from East Yorkshire and now living in Denmark, focuses her attention on the commercial potential behind greater inclusivity for hospitality businesses. She looks at the growing number of people with everything from life-threatening allergies to ethically-driven food preferences and highlights the best and worst practices, demonstrating how better communication, customer service and food safety standards are needed to help protect businesses and consumers alike. 


Serving people with dietary preferences, food allergies and intolerances (which she estimates to be 20-40 per cent of the worldwide population) better could also help food outlets unlock increased market share, potentially increasing their income by 10-to-15 per cent.


Heather said: “Many people in the food service industry believe that less than one in 1,000 people has a serious food allergy, which is possibly true of the more dangerous anaphylactic cases. However, closer to one in 10 people has a food allergy or intolerance. Food businesses are afraid of providing for this larger segment because they are afraid of also attracting more people with potentially anaphylactic allergies and the increase in risk and liability they could bring.


“Unfortunately, though, this means they could be turning away 10 per cent of their potential customers, plus whoever would have dined with them, when there are ways of providing for them in a risk-free way, with a little more understanding and effort.


And addressing the issue is becoming more and more urgent, given the increasing number of people suffering from food intolerances. 


Not only that, but what Heather dubs ‘the plant-based revolution’, which is seeing around 40 per cent of people – including the estimated three per cent of the population who call themselves vegans – choose plant-based options when they eat out of the home, also means businesses need to re-think the diversity of their menu options and adapt ‘if they want to remain in business over the next five years, or they face losing their customers to the competition’.


The most significant risk to consumers and the industry is ambiguity around the labelling of vegan and plant-based foods. They are usually not safe for people with allergies, or those trying to avoid animal products such as milk, egg, shellfish and fish, often because they become contaminated within the production process. Ironically, despite clever marketing, the small print surrounding plant-based options served by some of the world’s biggest fast food chains, often states they are not suitable for vegetarians. 


“And it is such hidden ingredients that harbour significant dangers, as highlighted by Heather’s experience.


“Contamination thresholds are not regulated yet,” explained Heather, “and therefore the terms ‘may contain’ or ‘traces’ are disclaimers used to pass liability about food allergies and contamination along the food supply chain, eventually to the consumer. 


“The chef or consumer often has no idea what these disclaimers actually mean for them in terms of risk, just as the lack of a ‘may contain’ disclaimer does not mean ‘free-from’. Food businesses have absolute liability for the safety of their customers and risk can never be reduced to zero, whether food be marked with ‘free from’ labels or not, but it can be minimised and carefully considered.”


But, Heather adds, this needn’t be all pain and no gain for food service businesses. In fact, she believes the growing population of people opting for vegan or plant-based lifestyles, means it makes good commercial sense, too. “Food businesses should be willing to go the extra mile, ensuring they are allergy-friendly when it comes to use of animal-derived ingredients, because it future-proofs their businesses,” she explained.


“Those willing to rise to the challenge will gain a vital competitive edge as they seek to rebuild from the impacts of COVID-19 lockdown closures. Guaranteeing safety for minority eaters will gain their confidence and create a very loyal following of repeat customers, plus whoever they bring along with them. Hence the title of my book – which helps them become more exclusive and sought-after, by being more inclusive.


According to Heather, who has been vegan for over two years, the answer is training and a change in mindset. “Regulations are already changing, but the law cannot make the industry be inclusive nor force them to care,” she said.


“A total shift in thinking is needed around food allergies, from damage limitation to enabling customers of all types to eat out with enjoyment and confidence.


“Why would anyone eat at a restaurant where a member of their group isn’t welcomed? A huge part of business success is understanding customer needs and wants, but people without food allergies, intolerances or preferences, simply don’t get it or consider them an inconvenience, whereas catering for all needs should be the norm.”


The launch of Heather’s book precedes the new ‘Natasha’s Law’, which is due to be introduced this October and will require all food service businesses to be more clued up about food allergies, and transparent about their menu ingredients. 


Currently, because it’s challenging for chefs to guarantee the ingredients of every dish they make, and then prepare it in a way that effectively segregates the food preparation to avoid cross-contamination between vegetarian or vegan and meat options, and foods containing various allergens, some food businesses opt for what Heather calls the ‘cop out’ of sticking a blanket ‘may contain’ disclaimer on everything, or simply refusing to cater for people with preferences or allergies at all. 


She said: “It is, undoubtedly, complicated to get to grips with allergies, food safety and allergy management. Businesses are left questioning whether it’s worth the effort required to educate their staff properly. 


“My message is that it absolutely is, because the proportion of consumers with specific dietary needs is increasing and caterers are missing a huge opportunity by not providing for them.


‘It’s also a matter of safety and protecting their brand reputation.”


Allergies – the hidden threat


Despite her food industry expertise and her knowledge of safe hygiene practices in particular, Heather had no idea she was severely allergic to anything.  Lifelong hayfever was the only indicator. Her personal experience of just how serious this can be, came in August 2019, when the food safety consultant was on a work trip undertaking a compliance review of a major international restaurant chain.


“I was in an ambulance on my way to hospital, wondering if I was about to die from suspected anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction,” she recounted.


“I had woken up feeling tingly, my lips and eyes were puffy and a severe rash had appeared on my chest. I called the emergency medical hotline and was surprised when they advised me to get to hospital. 


“Suddenly, my lips, hands and feet felt numb, I became wheezy and my hands and nails had gone bone white. The hotel receptionist called for an ambulance and, once in it, knowing from my training the symptoms of anaphylactic shock, I texted my husband a final goodbye and ‘I love you’. 


“He was a plane flight away with two small kids, no childcare and no ability to get to me – I was terrified.”


Fortunately, immunosuppressants and antihistamines brought Heather back from utter despair and panic relatively swiftly. However, she didn’t feel safe to eat for a while and had to learn how to shop, cook and calm her anxiety around food. It wasn’t until she was able to see an allergy specialist, after four months on a waiting list, that milk was identified as the culprit.


Similar to many people who avoid milk for a period of time, Heather realised going vegan has renewed her natural human intolerance to lactose, and so she has to be doubly careful to avoid any risk of milk traces in her food.


“This experience has helped me understand the plight of long-term allergy sufferers. I understood how it felt to live in fear, scared to eat, and especially to eat out. Thinking I had a severe food allergy affected every part of my life,” she said.


“Again, confusion over the labelling of non-dairy, milk-free and lactose-free items, increases the day-to-day uncertainty.”


In fact, research Heather conducted for her book showed that milk is the lead cause of fatal anaphylactic allergic reactions in the UK each year, and the British Diabetic Association found that 20 per cent of people believe they have a food allergy.


“My eyes have been opened to the challenges – and dangers – that exist in the food service industry for food allergies and intolerances. First and foremost is a lack of awareness, both among food service professionals and sufferers themselves. Some food service staff may label them as picky eaters, misunderstanding or dismissing the best practices needed to keep them safe,” she added.


Showing the way


Heather’s book sets out how catering businesses can achieve best practice, in terms of food safety and customer service, and so stand out among their peers and attract new customers.


What does Heather believe are the most urgent steps?


“Firstly, they need to adopt complete clarity and transparency regarding food ingredients and risk of contamination,” she said.


“Food businesses need to manage allergens as a critical aspect of food safety. Businesses can’t afford to ‘wing it’ and only respond when they have a problem – the time to get more knowledgeable and inclusive is now.”


At the same time, she’s keen for catering businesses to recognise the market opportunity and out-compete the less-inclusive competition. 


“Inclusive businesses actively welcome and serve diners of all kinds, communicate with them exceptionally well and offer a variety of choices that take dietary preferences into account, whether they are a result of allergy or choice.”


“They can then reap the rewards of rave reviews and very strong organic marketing.”


Inclusive: The New Exclusive is now available, worldwide, via Amazon Kindle Books, at a low introductory price for the first week (£1.97 in the UK and local currency equivalents in other geographies). The paperback version is due for release in June, 2021.


For more information, and to arrange interviews, please contact Tracy Fletcher of By Tracy Fletcher Limited PR, via 07983 633385 or


Notes for editors: 


Statistics for increasing prevalence of allergies


Sixty per cent of allergy sufferers and people with intolerances avoid eating out, according to the Food Standards Agency. 


The common food allergens mandated by the European Union are milk, egg, crustaceans, molluscs, fish, nuts, peanuts, cereals containing gluten, soya, lupin, celery, sulphites, mustard and sesame. Food intolerances are thought to affect between 15 and 20 per cent of the UK population, and Heather estimates that between 20 and 40 per cent of the population have some form of dietary preference. In terms of the most common allergies. 23 per cent of people in the UK are unable to consume milk, according to Statista. Meanwhile, according to Beyond Celiac, six per cent of the population have a gluten intolerance.



Estimates place vegans at between one and three per cent of the population, and vegetarians at five-to-30 per cent worldwide. The UK Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board estimated, in November 2020, that around 55 per cent of UK people are reducing their meat consumption.


About Heather Landex, BSc Intl Biol, MSc Env Health, MCIEH, EHRB

Heather began working in the food service industry in 2000 and has worked in eight countries, in over 1,000 food service businesses. Since training as an environmental health practitioner, she has specialised in food safety and worked with the world’s largest food safety and safety compliance companies, with involvement in everything from the Olympic Games, the world’s largest chain restaurant brands and Michelin-starred eateries. She specialises, increasingly, in allergy and dietary preferences, including compliance, customer service and marketing around them.

Heather has worked as an advisor for the development of the restaurant section of the BeVegTrademark, the first and only ISO-accredited vegan certification standard in the world. 


She interviewed over 50 experts to inform her book, from fields including finance, law, operations, marketing and safety, as well as chefs, people with allergies and intolerances, vegan experts and those with diets relating to religion, from all over the world.