The allergy journey
by FoodMaestro | 2 February 2017
The Allergy Journey - by Jacqui McPeake Head of catering for Manchester Metropolitan University
As a parent dealing with food allergies at home and at work Jacqui McPeake shares her allergy journey of raising awareness, receiving a FreeFrom Food award & fundraising for Allergy UK.
Just over 2 years ago, my then 15-year-old daughter came home from a trip into Manchester complaining of swollen lips with a “tingly feeling”. I checked what she had eaten and I blame the start of her problems on Gregg’s cookies!! She had eaten cookies with her friends- an innocent enough activity for a 15-year-old girl but this was the start of 2 years of reactions to a wide variety of foods at a crucial time of education and subsequently the start of her A levels at college.
The initial tingly swollen lips over a number of months became significantly worse – acute fatigue, puffy face, swollen lips, griping stomach cramps, rashes- the list of her ailments goes on. She was a perfectly healthy, highly intelligent girl and suddenly we had to keep food diaries, endless hospital appointments, keeping up with GCSE exams and starting a new college. Fortunately, she is able to keep up with her coursework when she feels well and collapses in her bed on the days she felt poorly. She is very determined, ambitious and a very intellectual young lady.
2 years on and she is better on a wheat free, lactose free and potato free diet with noticeable changes if she strays from this regime. Unfortunately, she is preparing for another endoscopy in 3 weeks and is back on a diet with wheat- with immediate physical results. I am convinced she suffers with coeliac disease but we need confirmation of this.
In my role as Head of Catering at Manchester Metropolitan University we had noticed a significant number of our customers requesting “Free From Products” I also attended a conference where the speaker at a seminar about allergies stated that “the most dangerous time for young people with allergies is when they start University” this sentence really struck home. I came back to work and challenged my team to take out one of the 14 Allergens from their diet to understand the difficulties the students face when on a restricted diet. We raised money for AllergyUK, but also the team understood how frustrating and difficult it is to try to manage a restricted diet. “Look before you Cook” became a motto of one team member.
I was familiar with the FoodMaestro App as we had used it regularly when shopping to build up a list of favourites, check ingredients etc. I shared the information about the app with my team who found it invaluable. I also talked to students in the Halls who are away from home and encouraged them to use the FoodMaestro App.
We now highlight on our daily menus the Free From options available – we don’t add thickening agents to our dishes and therefore are able to offer a gluten free range. We often include a vegan dish to cater for dairy free options and we worked closely with our suppliers to encourage them to offer a wider range of “Free From” products for our customers. We were delighted when we received the “Free From Eating Out Silver Award” in November 2016.
We still have more work to do but I think we have raised awareness within our teams and also for our customers. We have received positive comments from students who have noticed the improvements we have made. Colleagues from our Nutrition teaching faculty are also very interested in our work, which is very encouraging. I am also talking to colleagues at other Universities to share between us our experiences and best practice.