THE tragedy of baby Thomas Egan, who died after a nursery nurse gave him cereal containing milk, despite being told he was allergic to it, is that his death could so easily have been avoided.

The only glimmer of hope to emerge from this sorry case is that, following publicity surrounding an inquest this week that ruled Thomas's nursery had been neglectful, more people will take such allergies seriously.

As someone with a son and two nephews who suffer life-threatening food allergies, I am aware of just how poorly informed some people are, including staff in restaurants and even food manufacturers.

We are not talking about faddy eating. With these allergies, people can suffer a fatal reaction from just a trace of food. The condition, which causes about 15 deaths every year, is on the increase, particularly among young children.

Apart from when they come into contact with the foods they are allergic to, such children are perfectly healthy and normal, and should be treated as such. The condition is manageable, as long as everyone around them is aware of it.

Yet in restaurants, when I explain just how important it is that my son's food must not come into contact with even a trace of various seafoods, I too often recognise that look in the waiter's eyes which says: "Just what I need, another fussy parent". I'm never quite sure if he has taken in what I've said, and, even if he has, has he explained it to the chef?

Ever since my nephew, allergic to eggs, was rushed to hospital after eating a sausage in a caf that had been fried in the same oil as an egg, my sister takes no chances when eating out. She insists on talking to the chef and checks the ingredients in his fridge if necessary.

When a child, allergic to milk, from our village school took just one bite of a "vegan" Easter egg, labelled as containing no dairy products, he suffered a severe reaction and ended up in hospital on the point of cardiac arrest, where an injection of adrenaline saved his life.

The egg was found to contain traces of milk product picked up during packaging. If that food manufacturer had been aware of just how serious the consequences could be, wouldn't it have been more careful?

If only the nursery nurse caring for baby Thomas had been educated about food allergies, perhaps she would have scrutinised the ingredients list on the packet of cereal she fed him more closely.

Baby Thomas's death was a needless tragedy. It was also a wake-up call to all those people responsible for the food our children eat: food allergy must be taken seriously.

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