Parents call for urgent change as boy could have died eating burger

The parents of a boy who is severely allergic to peas and several other foods are calling on the Government to make restaurants disclose all their ingredients after their son’s face started swelling moments after he bit into a burger they were told was safe to eat. Caitlin Awadalla, 35, a doctor from Swansea, and her husband Widaa, 35, have to carefully check every ingredient their son Noah, seven, eats as he is allergic to eight different foods – including peas, lentils, chick peas, cannellini beans, peanuts, pistachios, tuna fish and pollock.

This has made eating out difficult for Noah given food businesses in the UK are only required to provide information about 14 allergens listed by the Food Standards Agency – which does not include peas, lentils, chick peas or cannellini beans. While some restaurants have been accommodating, others are not able to provide a complete list of ingredients which means he cannot eat there, and in some cases they have even refused to serve him altogether.

He recently had an allergic reaction after ordering a burger and chips at a restaurant despite Caitlin being repeatedly told that it did not contain any pea-based products such as pea flower or protein, which is often used in processed foods such as chicken nuggets and ice cream. The episode, which caused Noah’s lips and face to swell rapidly, could have proved fatal had his parents not been prepared and given him antihistamine tablets.

They have since launched a petition on demanding restaurants and other food establishments be required to provide a complete list of the ingredients used in their dishes, which they said is effectively an extension of Natasha’s Law. The UK Food Information Amendment, which came into effect on October 1 2021 and requires companies selling pre-packaged foods to list all of its ingredients, was dubbed Natasha’s Law after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse – who died after eating a sandwich from Pret A Manger and suffering an allergic reaction while on a British Airways flight.

“He’s so severely allergic to peas that even if he touches one, he reacts,” said Caitlin. “Straight away, they always ask ‘Have you got allergies?’ and then bring out the allergy folder.

“But it usually only contains the top 14 allergens and while some of them are in there, like fish and nuts, peas are not on the list. So for us, the allergy folder is actually useless.”

The Food Information Regulation, which came into force in December 2014, requires “food businesses” to disclose information about 14 ingredients which are known to cause allergies, according to the Food Standards Agency. The list includes celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans such as crab, lobster and prawns, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya and sulphur dioxide, also known as sulphites, which is commonly found in dried fruits and drinks such as wine and beer.

While this has helped countless people with allergies navigate food shops and restaurant menus, for those like Caitlin’s son Noah, who are allergic to ingredients that are not on the list, eating out remains tricky. “We carry two epi-pens with us at all times along with antihistamine tablets and an inhaler,” said Caitlin.

“When Noah has a reaction, he knows instantly and it usually starts with swelling in his lips which spreads across his face. On a couple of occasions he’s had breathing difficulties and we’ve had a number of quick dashes to hospital but fortunately he has always responded to the antihistamine.”

Noah started to develop allergies at 10 months old, which made his skin break out in hives and caused facial swelling – while his five-year-old sister Rosie however does not have any allergies. At first, his parents did not know what foods were causing the allergic reaction, but assumed it was one of the usual suspects such as nuts or dairy.

Then one day, during messy play at nursery school, an activity that encourages children to explore different materials, Noah handled a bunch of frozen peas. “It took us a little while to work out what was triggering it,” said Caitlin.

“We started avoiding the classic top 14 allergens but it was still happening and we couldn’t figure it out. It was only when he was exposed to peas on their own that we realised what it was.”

Noah underwent a series of prick tests at the Singleton Hospital allergy clinic in Swansea, which over time have helped his parents pin point what foods he cannot eat. The test involves placing a small amount of the suspect substance on the skin and pricking it to see whether it triggers a reaction.

Several visits over the next few years confirmed Noah was in fact allergic to eight different ingredients, including peas, lentils, chick peas, cannellini beans, peanuts, pistachios, tuna fish and pollock. This can make meal times difficult, in particular because pea-based ingredients including pea flower and pea protein are often used in processed foods like meatballs, sausages, chicken nuggets, ice cream, gummy sweets and much more.

“Pea protein is basically in everything,” said Caitlin. “Anything that is processed we have to check. Obviously if he goes to a friend’s house we speak to the parents so that they are fully aware.

“Fortunately he’s got a really supportive network of friends who liaise with us and send us pictures so we can check the ingredients.”

But one of the biggest challenges for Noah is eating out, as restaurants are not legally required to provide a full list of ingredients for each dish. “When he was little it wasn’t too much of a problem because you don’t tend to take little kids out to restaurants very much,” she said.

“But as he’s got older, Noah’s become more adventurous and likes to try different foods within his limits. Some restaurants are very, very accommodating and happy to bring the packaging out for us to look at or take photos on their phone.

“Unfortunately what we need is a full breakdown of the ingredients in every component of Noah’s meal.”

On several occasions however, restaurants, which Caitlin does not wish to name, have even refused to serve Noah for fear he will have an allergic reaction. She said: “We’ve been to a number of restaurants who just say no, we’re not able to accommodate this, we can only accommodate the top 14 allergens in which case we can’t let Noah eat there.

“We have had a restaurant refuse to serve him which unfortunately was at a birthday party a couple of years ago – we weren’t very happy as you can imagine.”

A few weeks ago on April 19, the family were eating out at a restaurant and were told the “burger and chips” did not contain any pea-based ingredients and was safe for Noah to eat. Unfortunately this was not the case.

“They said if we provided a list of ingredients the manager would liaise directly with the chef to make sure Noah’s food was safe,” said Caitlin. I asked them multiple times.

“He took one bite of the burger and said mum I’m having a reaction, because he knows straight away, and very quickly the facial swelling started. His lip started swelling and then it spread across his face, luckily we gave him the antihistamine very quickly.

“If we hadn’t done that it could have been life threatening – all of his allergies are life threatening.”

The restaurant initially denied making a mistake but later admitted they had not checked the list of ingredients thoroughly. After this close call, Caitlin decided to launch a petition on demanding that food businesses be required to provide a complete list of ingredients.

“From our point of view as parents, what we want to see happen is a bit like Natasha’s law,” said Caitlin. “She was a young girl who died following an allergic reaction in Pret A Manger a few years ago.

“Her parents campaigned for Natasha’s Law, which means pre-packaged food now has to show the full list of ingredients. That had a real positive impact for Noah and what we are looking for is an extension of that into places like restaurants and cafes.”

Some businesses are already doing this as Caitlin discovered when the family visited Disneyland, Florida, in November 2022 where they were provided with an iPad with a breakdown of the ingredients used in every dish. Out there if you tell them you’ve got allergies you get given a binder or an iPad and it’s like a menu but each item is broken down into ingredients,” said Caitlin.

“For us, in an ideal world, that’s what we would like to see. That way it puts the onus on us rather than a waiter or somebody from the restaurant having to check.”

To support Caitlin’s campaign visit: