Egg-free: all about eggs

Now I come to an allergen that I do know a bit more about: eggs.

Interestingly, some people are only allergic to egg white, some people only egg yolk, and some people both… For Jerry it’s both and his most severe allergy, so here I’ve tracked some of the perils, but also some of the comforts, we’ve found while coping with an egg allergy.

Issue 1: Cocktails

“the particulars referred to in points (b) and (l) of Article 9(1) [which includes the listing of allergens] shall not be mandatory for beverages containing more than 1,2 % by volume of alcohol.” says the EU, article 16.

So this makes alcoholic drinks pretty dangerous all round from an allergen point of view. Nuts, eggs, gluten – throw it all in and don’t tell anyone. Argh.  As for egg, cocktails are the most risky: with frothy cocktails apparently all the rage.  Most of the large cocktail bars I’ve researched do have an allergen list on their website, but only a few listed the ingredients in the main menu. (Be at One is already one of my favourite cocktail bars, and look at the way they list their menu!)

What’s more, unless a bar takes action to use different shakers, the risk of egg white contamination in a non-egg cocktail is pretty high. Following an A&E trip, I don’t think we’ll go out for cocktails again, but cocktail bars could do a lot to make people with dietary requirements more welcome. Vegans, don’t you also have a problem with the proliferation of egg in drinks?

Issue 2: Gluten-free bread

The prevalence of gluten-related health issues has meant that restaurants are now pretty good at whipping out a gluten-free alternative – from dough balls and rolls to pizza and pasta. And many of them are good. Sadly the majority of gluten-free dough, to have the right consistency, contains egg, which can be super deadly. As far as I know, this is all own-brand supermarket breads and some highly recommended brands (like Genius and Warburtons –  even their wraps which may contain egg gave Jerry a reaction).

As regular bread doesn’t contain egg, non-allergenous people often don’t realise. We’ve double checked before when the gluten-free “egg-free” bread was just too soft (and it was too good to be true). There are alternatives (BFree, Pizza Express) but it’s a minefield out there.

Issue 3: Egg lysozyme

Big panic the day we noticed egg listed as an ingredient in hard cheese. Was this new? Jerry had always eaten cheese with no problem. So what was going on? One research paper showed that people with egg allergies didn’t appear to react to Grana Padano (an Italian hard cheese). This is consistent with our personal experience. Of course, all dishes containing hard cheese are now labelled on allergen menus as containing egg. Although technically correct, this adds another layer of obscurity for egg-allergy sufferers, who need to dig further to find out whether a dish contains only egg lysozyme or other egg.

Issue 4: Vaccinations

“Two vaccines in the UK routine schedule contain small amounts of egg protein – the MMR vaccine and the flu vaccine.

Flu vaccine is grown on hens’ eggs and is capable of triggering an allergic reaction. Children and adults with an egg allergy are therefore advised to have an alternative, such as an egg-free inactivated flu vaccine.

MMR vaccine is grown on cells from chick embryos, which isn’t the same as hens’ eggs and therefore doesn’t trigger an allergic reaction. Children and adults with a severe egg allergy can safely receive the MMR vaccine.” states the NHS. 

As an asthma sufferer, Jerry is routinely offered the flu jab. He’s generally been turned away due to his egg allergy, but finds that clinicians’ approaches vary greatly, with some more risk averse than others.

In 2012, when he needed a Yellow Fever vaccination before travelling abroad, the nurse was reluctant to administer the vaccination. After consultation with the duty doctor, and with an adrenaline auto-injector to hand, they agreed to go ahead. Following the vaccination, he was asked to wait at the practice for 30-40 minutes to mitigate the risk. He suffered a mild localised reaction – a rash and swelling – which calmed down within an hour or two without any further treatment. In th end, a small price to pay for Yellow Fever immunity!

Thanks for reading this part of my series on the top 14 allergens. To find out what I’ve learnt about the other 13 please head to the blog series home.

Gluten-free: all about gluten

ear of wheat


I’m starting with gluten, and what it means to be gluten-free, because there’s so much info on it but it’s a bit new to me. Jerry has tested negative for coeliac disease (blood tests), but does react adversely to wheat*, so we’ve found the gluten-free movement incredibly helpful in bringing wheat-free products to the foreground. Nonetheless I’ve had to learn a lot about gluten-free, specifically for this project.

As an aside, we have recently been experimenting with adding gluten back into wheat-free flour. With Jerry avoiding both wheat and eggs, this has made baking so much easier. However, the jury’s out on whether this truly provides a healthy alternative for him. Back to gluten-free…

What the legislation say about labelling:

Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut or their hybridised strains, and products thereof, except:

(a) wheat based glucose syrups including dextrose;

(b) wheat based maltodextrins;

(c) glucose syrups based on barley;

(d) cereals used for making alcoholic distillates including ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin.

Issue 1: Oats

The ironic thing is, oats don’t contain gluten – they contain a similar protein but one which, according to coeliac uk, most sufferers can eat (but of course it’s perfectly possible that you’ve also got issues with eating avenin – I am not a doctor recommending that you try).

The reason most oats aren’t gluten-free is because they’ve a high risk of cross-contamination. So should we be consistent in the way we treat oats, and use ‘may contain’ warnings much like we do with nuts, milk, soya etc?

However, because the legislation calls out oats as a gluten-containing cereal, they have to be labelled. Hence we have the unusual situation of products labelled as containing ‘gluten-free oats‘, where the oats are listed as a top 14 allergen (because it’s a cereal containing gluten… even though it’s not). Time for a legislation update?!

Issue 2: Beer

Next we head onto gluten-free beer. Again we have a bolded ingredient on the back of every single bottle in our local supermarket – this time it’s barley.  Now here I’ve found it much harder to unpick than oats:  most of the rest of the world also seems confused.

It appears that brewers have two choices:

  • make ‘beer’ from something other than ingredients containing naturally-occurring gluten (and risk not being able to call it beer) or
  • make normal beer and try to remove the gluten afterwards.

    In the USA they seem to not allow this removal of gluten malarkey, but we seem to think it’s alright in Europe, and this seems to be the popular choice for gluten-free beer available in our shops. But barley malt extract, which appears to be any barley gone through the brewing process, has to be at less than 20ppm if in a gluten-free product, and to be considered safe for coeliac sufferers, again according to coeliac uk.

All this seems to mean that gluten-free beer on the whole isn’t gluten-free but has levels low enough not to affect most people. I think?

Issue 3: Wheat

OK I’m cheating a bit here, because I’m going to write a bit that’s not all about gluten. But hey. Despite wheat not being in the top 14 allergens per se, lots of products are labelled ‘gluten and wheat free‘, which makes me think there must be other people who are specifically avoiding wheat, rather than gluten. I used to think this was because you could remove gluten from wheat, although I haven’t seen it (let me know if you have). I read that 30% of bakery staff develop an allergy to wheat, which seems pretty incredible. So it’s dangerous (but yummy) stuff. If you want to add to my knowledge about what people are really allergic too, head over to my data collection blog.

Thanks for reading this part of my series on the top 14 allergens. To find out what I’ve learnt about the other 13 please head back to the blog series home.

Introducing the top 14 blog series

Hi all,

So the project to create menus free from the top 14 allergens has been a learning curve for me. I’ve learnt loads, although I still have lots of questions, and I wanted to pull together an intro to each of the top 14, and some of the challenges of living a free-from lifestyle.

I need to be able to track everything I’ve learnt, but I hope the info is useful to you too, and I would love for to share your knowledge, resources or experiences too.

I hope to finish writing up a couple a week, and then keep editing them as I keep learning, so please check back on progress.