Allergic reactions to food are becoming more common and can cause severe and sometimes life-threatening symptoms. In the UK, food allergies affect around 1-2% of the population, some of which are responsible for hospital admissions with anaphylaxis.
Every business that produces, sells or delivers food is legally bound to warn consumers about any allergens present as ingredients. If they fail in their duty of care, they may be liable for compensation in a food allergy claim.
If you or a loved one suffered an allergic reaction to a food item you purchased, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible to find out if you can make a claim. To arrange a free consultation, call 0800 678 1410 today or enter your details to receive a call back.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is the body’s atypical immune response to various proteins found in some foods. When someone with a food allergy consumes even a small amount of the allergenic food, their immune system overreacts and releases chemicals like histamine. These trigger a range of symptoms, varying in severity from mild to life-threatening.
There are two main types of allergic reactions to food:
- IgE Mediated. This is the most common type of allergic reaction. In this type, your immune system produces IgE antibodies that react to specific foods. Symptoms show within minutes to hours and may include anaphylaxis.
- Non-IgE Mediated. This type does not involve IgE antibodies but activates other parts of the immune system. It can lead to skin or digestive reactions, such as nausea and diarrhoea. It may occur up to three days after consuming the food.
If you have a food allergy, you cannot eat the food you are allergic to without suffering a potential reaction. Your doctor may also give you medicines to help manage your symptoms in case of ingestion of the allergen. Treatment includes:
- Antihistamines for mild allergic reactions such as nasal congestion or hives
- Emergency medicine, such as an epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen) for severe allergic reactions
Common food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soy and shellfish. Symptoms of an allergy can show within minutes to a couple of days after consuming the food product. The most common signs and symptoms are detailed in the section below. You might be entitled to food allergy compensation if you had an allergic reaction due to someone else’s negligence.
Do food suppliers have to provide allergen information?
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is a government department that is responsible for food safety and hygiene. By law, any business that supplies food must inform consumers about their products. The Food Information Regulations 2014 (FIR) apply to all industries involved in the production, sale, and distribution of food, such as restaurants, caterers, retailers and manufacturers. These regulations aim to ensure that consumers have clear, accurate, and reliable information about the food they purchase and consume.
One of the significant provisions of FIR is the requirement for food businesses to provide allergen information for prepacked and non-prepacked foods. They must ensure the clear labelling of the most common 14 allergens:
- Celery, a vegetable that is common in various dishes, including salads, soups, and certain meat products;
- Cereals containing gluten, such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats, are found in products like bread, cakes, and pasta;
- Crustaceans like crabs, lobsters, prawns, and scampi;
- Eggs are frequently used in cakes, mayonnaise, pasta, and certain meat products;
- Fish or fish sauce can be an ingredient in a wide range of dishes;
- Lupin is a plant that may be present in some types of flour;
- Milk is a common component in butter, cheese, cream, and yoghurt;
- Molluscs like mussels, land snails, squid, and whelks can also cause allergies;
- Mustard can be found in liquid, powder, and seed forms;
- Peanuts, also known as groundnuts, are legumes that grow underground;
- Sesame seeds can be present in certain types of bread, especially hamburger buns. They can also be found in hummus, tahini, and salads;
- Soybeans or soya beans are a popular ingredient in Oriental cuisine;
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites are often used in dried fruits and alcoholic beverages;
- Tree nuts are distinct from peanuts. They grow on trees and include varieties like almonds, hazelnuts, and cashew nuts.
If a restaurant, food delivery service or another business has failed to warn you about the presence of any of these allergens, they may be liable for food allergy compensation.
Can I make a food allergy claim?
A free consultation with a legal adviser is the most straightforward way to find out whether you can make a food allergy compensation claim. Before taking on your case, they will verify whether:
- The defendant in your case owed you a legal duty of care
- They breached this duty through an act of negligence
- You suffered an allergic reaction as a result within the past three years
As food businesses are legally required to tell you about any allergens in their products, a duty of care is easy to ascertain. If they can establish liability, your solicitor will contact the defendant and negotiate the maximum amount of compensation possible on your behalf.
It is essential to keep in mind that you can also start a food allergy claim for your child or an adult who is incapable of making a claim themselves. In this case, your solicitor will help you apply to the court to be appointed as their litigation friend. Once this is done, you can conduct legal proceedings on their behalf, just like in any other personal injury claim.
Furthermore, you can still make an allergy claim even if you did not inform anybody about your dietary restrictions. It is your right to make an informed decision about the food you consume without having to advertise your allergy to certain types of food.
Signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction to food
Allergic reactions to food can vary, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. Any symptoms can be scary and distressing and may lead to a food allergy claim. Common signs of an allergic reaction include:
- Raised, itchy, and red welts or bumps on the skin (hives)
- Itchy, inflamed skin, often with redness and rash (eczema)
- Swelling, particularly around the face, lips, tongue, or throat (angioedema)
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Coughing or wheezing
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Itchy or tingling sensation in the mouth, lips, or throat
- Swollen tongue
- A drop in blood pressure
- Weak or rapid pulse
- Dizziness or fainting (rare but severe)
Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that can affect multiple body parts simultaneously. Symptoms may include a combination of severe swelling, difficulty breathing, a drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention.
Between 1998 and 2018, 30,700 people were admitted to hospital for food anaphylaxis in the UK according to the BMJ. Although hospital admission has increased from 1.23 to 4.04 per 100,000 population per year during this period, cases causing fatality have decreased. Most fatal food anaphylaxis cases were due to peanuts, tree nuts and cow milk.
Food allergies can be diagnosed and managed by allergists and immunologists. If you suspect a food allergy, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional for proper testing, diagnosis, and guidance on food avoidance and emergency response plans.
How do you prove a food allergy claim?
To make a successful food allergy compensation claim, you must prove why you suffered the allergic reaction and the extent of your suffering. Some steps you can take to support your claim include:
- If you consumed pre-packaged food, keep its packaging as proof that the allergen was not clearly labelled;
- Take a photo of the menu and the whole restaurant to show the absence of any allergen information signs;
- Take photographs of any visible symptoms of your allergic reaction, such as hives or swollen tongue;
- Talk to the restaurant manager and report the incident to them. Make sure they record it in the accident logbook and ask for a signed copy as evidence;
- Seek medical attention immediately after you have suffered a food allergy or food poisoning. Medical records documenting the reaction and its severity are essential in your claim;
- If dining at a restaurant, keep any receipts to prove you ate there and the food you consumed;
- Keep detailed records of the incident, including where and when it occurred, what you ate, and the symptoms you experienced;
- If there were witnesses to the incident, ask for their names and contact details. Your solicitor may contact them later for a statement about what they saw happen;
- If possible, keep a sample of the food for an allergen test later on.
If you have suffered an allergic reaction, contact a personal injury solicitor as soon as possible. They can offer you support and advice and will help you gather everything you need to start an allergy claim.
Can I claim compensation if I lost a loved one due to an allergic reaction?
In rare cases, the body’s reaction to a food allergen can lead to anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal. If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, you may be eligible for compensation. Under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, your solicitor could help you claim for:
- The income and other financial benefits expected from your loved one
- The services they provided, such as childcare and property maintenance
- Funeral expenses, such as the headstone, wreaths and the cost of a memorial
In case of wrongful death, several dependants are also entitled to a bereavement award of £15,120 for the grief and suffering caused by the loss of their loved one.
Frequently asked questions
If you or a loved one has experienced a food allergy reaction due to someone else’s negligence and want to start a claim, you may want to know more about the claims process. Below, we have answered some of the most common questions we receive from claimants. You can learn more by calling free on 0800 678 1410 to speak to a legal adviser.
What is the time limit to make an allergy claim?
According to the Limitation Act 1980, you have three years to claim food allergy compensation, starting from the date of your allergic reaction. If you miss this deadline, your claim will be statute-barred and no longer valid. Several exceptions might apply to your case:
- Children are not subject to a claim limitation date. A parent could represent them at any time before they turn 18. Afterwards, they have until their 21st birthday to claim themselves.
- The time limit is suspended if the claimant cannot start legal proceedings due to a condition such as a mental health disorder or intellectual disability. In this case, a litigation friend could represent them.
How much food allergy compensation could I receive?
The compensation award for a food allergy claim is broken down into two types of damages:
- General damages aim to compensate you for the pain, suffering and loss of amenity caused by the allergic reaction.
- Special damages are for quantifiable financial losses and expenses incurred as a result. These could be lost wages, the cost of private medical treatments, prescriptions, or travel expenses. These must be supported by evidence, such as receipts and invoices.
The payment you receive for general damages is based on the Judicial College guidelines and could be anywhere from a few hundred pounds to £2,450, based on recovery time.
Will I be offered a No Win No Fee service?
If the solicitors we work with believe you have a valid allergic reaction compensation claim, they will offer their services on a no win no fee basis. This arrangement aims to give everyone the chance to claim compensation for a personal injury, regardless of their financial situation.
Under no win no fee, there are no upfront charges or hidden costs. You only pay your solicitor a success fee if they win your case. Otherwise, you do not owe them anything. Furthermore, if you lose, you will be covered against legal charges and disbursements (including the defendant’s) by the After the Event (ATE) insurance policy that is part of your agreement, so you will not be left out of pocket.
To start a food allergy compensation claim, call 0800 678 1410 and speak to a legal adviser. Alternatively, arrange a call back to discuss your case and ask any questions you might have about the claims process.