Curry tests show danger in dishes
Sep 22 2008 by Andrew Hirst, Huddersfield Daily Examiner
DANGER is lurking in some takeaway curries – and in extreme cases it could cause death.
Some can spark a severe allergic reaction after it was revealed busy chefs in Huddersfield are accidentally putting traces of nuts in dishes.
The Examiner can reveal today that traces of nuts are being served in curries even after customers have specifically asked for nut-free meals.
This means people with nut allergies are potentially being put at risk by takeaways flouting food regulations.
If people suffer a very severe reaction to nuts it could even kill them.
The Public Analyst’s laboratory for West Yorkshire tested takeaways and found traces of nuts in one in 10.
Between last December and March this year, analysts bought 57 portions of the nation’s favourite curry, chicken tikka masala, from takeaways across West Yorkshire.
When the food was ordered the analysts made it clear it must be nut-free, but traces were found in six out of the 57 bought.
Thousands of people in West Yorkshire are thought to suffer from nut allergies ranging from mild to severe. As many as one in 50 children could be allergic.
Duncan Campbell, head public analyst for West Yorkshire Joint Services, said: “People who have a serious nut allergy can suffer severe shocks and die if they don’t get prompt treatment.
“If people know they have an allergy, it’s advisable not to buy food from places that find it very difficult to rule out the possibility of cross-contamination.
“These are busy cooking environments where several cooks are working quickly to produce a range of dishes.’’
He urged takeaway owners to stress to their staff the importance of keeping nuts totally separate from other foods and to always thoroughly clean chopping boards, work surfaces and utensils such as knives which have been used to make dishes that include nuts.
Mr Campbell added: “A tiny piece of chopped peanut or almond showed up in our results – but that’s all it takes to spark an allergic reaction in some people.’’
Samples were tested for the presence of peanut and almond and in the six samples that gave positive results, five had almonds while one had traces of both peanut and almond.
Chefs in some busy kitchens are thought to be swapping from dish to dish without properly cleaning worktops and utensils, which means traces of nuts used in a dish such as chicken korma were being transferred into other dishes including chicken tikka masala.
Mr Campbell said: “There is no requirement for ingredient or allergy labelling on food sold at catering establishments such as takeaways, which can present a problem to allergy sufferers.’’
But pre-packed food in shops and supermarkets has to be clearly labelled if they contain ingredients that can cause an allergy and that list includes nuts, milk, fish, soya and gluten.
The takeaway study also showed that some are putting high levels of artificial food colouring in their dishes to make them stand out – but it can lead to curry guzzlers getting hyperactive.
Mr Campbell said the artificial colouring panders to a peculiarly English perception of Asian food.
“Some think that the brighter the colour, the hotter the taste,’’ said Mr Campbell. “We have one we are testing at the moment that’s bright orange.’’
The Food Standards Agency has set up online allergy training which gives tips on good practice to avoid the risk of cross contamination.
To find out more go to http://allergytraining.food.gov.uk