More adults are having allergic reactions to food because adventurous middle class diners are eating more exotic items with foreign packaging, food safety watchdogs have warned.
According to a new report by the Food Standards Agency foods including fruit, vegetables and seafood are causing a higher instance of adverse reactions in adults.
Among the adult population teenagers and 20-somethings are most at risk, the FSA warned.
This is because they are more likely to experience peer pressure to try different foods, take risks with foods they are unsure about, and are more embarrassed about their condition which makes them less likely to ask questions.
The report said: “Reports from experts and consumers indicate that more adults are becoming allergic to foods and that the types of foods which adults are experiencing issues with are more diverse.”
It also warned that a sharp rise in the number of allergy alerts it had issued to consumers was largely down to product labels being written in a foreign language, making them difficult or impossible for consumers to understand.
The watchdog is so concerned about allergies in young adults that it will use a board meeting later this month to propose a shift away from its current focus on food allergy in infants and children. Instead it will recommend to its board of directors that it directs more resources to researching adult allergies.
So far very little data has been collected on adult allergies, but experts agreed that middle class lifestyles where eating world cuisine is commonplace was likely to be behind the increase.
Holly Shaw, a nurse adviser at Allergy UK, said: “Modern lifestyles will be responsible for more people trying different foods as people have more diversity of choice now than they did fifty years ago.
“A lot of work has been done to address the problem of allergies in infants but there are big parts of the jigsaw that we don’t understand. Particularly worrying group in terms of eating away from home and not fully understanding the food.”
There is no cure for food allergy or intolerance and the only way to manage the condition is to observe a strict avoidance diet.
However the FSA said that the number of alerts it issued to consumers to let them know there may be an undisclosed allergen in food increased from 73 in 2014 to 92 in 2015. The main reasons for this, it said, were due to the wrong product being placed in the wrong packaging, or the labeling not being in English.
The FSA is also concerned that “may contain” allergy labels are used so widely that people with allergies “indulging in risk-taking behaviour” and choosing to ignore the claim, risking an allergic reaction.
The NHS does not hold data on specific food allergies but figures show that overall allergies, which include food allergies, are rising sharply.
According to NHS Digital data there were 25,093 hospital admissions for allergies in England in 2015/16, up by 36pc from 2011/12 when there were 18,471 admissions.
Over the period there was also a rise in hospital admissions for anaphylactic shocks, a serious type of allergic reaction which can cause swelling of the tongue, heart failure, and death. In 2011/12 there were 3735 hospital admissions, rising by 19pc to 4451 in 2015/16.