British parents of children with food allergies are intensely aware of the tragic case of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, the 15-year-old who suffered a fatal allergic reaction to a baguette (with undisclosed sesame in the bread dough) from Pret a Manger.
While Natasha’s Law - which came into effect in October 2021 - enforces registered food businesses to list all the ingredients on the packaging of products pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS), this doesn’t apply to home bakers - the people who typically send their kid to school with a birthday cake to share with their friends.
However, research commissioned by Just Love among 1,000 parents of children with food allergies reveals that 29% have an offspring who has had an allergic reaction while at school. The research also brought to light that kids with food allergies are missing out on ‘normal’ childhood experiences while at school, such as tucking into a slice of that birthday cake.
Allergies can have a huge impact on quality of life and can - in rare cases such as that of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse - be fatal.
Food allergies in children on the rise
There’s been an uptick in childhood food allergies (often life-threatening) in recent years, estimated to be greater in toddlers (5-8%) than in adults (1-2%), according to Allergy UK.
A 2016 UK study reported a prevalence for food allergy of 7.1% in breast-fed infants, with one in 40 developing a peanut allergy and one in 20 an egg allergy, while the incidence of cow’s milk allergy in the UK is the highest in Europe.
These are the ingredients typically found in a birthday cake, underscoring the need for increased education on the topic of food allergies within schools, especially as 20% of cases of serious allergic reactions at school occur, without warning, in children with no prior history of a food allergy.
While on average, most UK school classes will have at least one child with a food allergy (Allergy UK), only a third of the parents interviewed in Just Love’s research believe their school runs education sessions for students or pupils on the importance of understanding food allergies.
In fact, the London-based bakery’s research found 42% of parents worry about their child starting school because of food-related allergies; 30% are worried for their children on school trips; 18% actually forbid the activity; and 42% of children are told to avoid school-prepared meals and bring packed lunches in from home instead.
“As a parent with children who have severe food allergies, I understand how it feels to worry and watch your child miss out on what other children can so easily enjoy, especially in school,” said Mike Woods, CEO and founder of Just Love Food Company.
“While we can’t eliminate all risk, we want to work with schools and those catering for schools to minimise it as much as possible, through allergen awareness and education, campaigning for clear and informative labelling, and by creating products, such as birthday cakes, which enable inclusivity.”
Bringing people together through cake
Woods said he initially founded Just Love (in 2010) to “create allergen-free celebration cakes that my children, and other children who suffer from food allergies, could freely enjoy alongside their classmates at parties. No compromise on deliciousness or decoration was the aim.
“But it is not just birthday parties at home that are the issue. Bringing cakes into school to celebrate a birthday or other occasion is an important part of growing up, but we know it is being restricted by fear of food allergies with many schools having nut free policies and not allowing birthday cakes to be brought to school. Which is why, following numerous letters from and conversations with other parents, I knew we had to create a range of celebration cakes that are nut free, egg free, milk free and vegan.”
Just Love’s hand finished, allergen-safe vegan and gluten-free cakes are clearly labelled and even include a cut-out allergen label to stand next to the cake when it is served so older children can make safe and informed choices. There’s a cake for all occasions, available in a range of sizes.
“Our mission is to bring people together with cake, creating inclusive celebrations, where people with food allergies and other dietary needs are not made to feel different and left out as my children were at a young age,” said Woods.
“Now, we want to make sure people are aware of the importance of understanding different food allergies and that settings such as schools, have the tools at their disposal to be able to cater for all children and create shared experiences that are so important to early-years development.
“Ahead of the Back-to-School period, Just Love want to advocate for - and raise awareness of - the importance of education around food allergies by bringing people of all ages together through cake.
Just Love is stocked nationwide and is seeing rising demand in line with the UK’s increase in allergies, dietary needs and choices.
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