The wrong food could kill my son but coronavirus stockpilers make it impossible to feed him – he's a ticking time bomb
A MUM whose son has been hospitalised 40 times because of his allergies has begged Brits to stop stockpiling food – warning eating the wrong food could kill her son.
Supermarkets were forced to limit the number of basic items people could buy following a wave of coronavirus panic buying this month, but those with restrictive diets are still struggling to feed their families.
Mum-of-two Natalie Newman's eight-year-old son Callum has 28 allergies – including dairy, nuts, eggs and citrus fruits – eight of which are potentially fatal.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous, the 38-year-old, from Bucks, begged people to stop being so selfish – after being left horrified by bare supermarket shelves.
She said: "Callum’s been hospitalised quite a few times by his allergies and eczema – in the 30s or 40s.
"There were three occasions when we thought we wouldn’t be able to get him back. We were very close to losing him at one point.
"It is scary, it’s like living with a ticking time bomb because you never know when the next reaction’s going to hit."
Because of Callum's allergies, Natalie and husband Jonathan, 38, who also have a daughter called Chloe, 12, rely on staples like gluten-free pasta, unprocessed meat and oat milk to feed him.
For many of us, food shopping during the coronavirus outbreak has become an unusually stressful experience – but Nathalie says it's pushed people in her community to breaking point.
She said: "Buying normal food, or Muggle food as we call it, at the moment is bad enough. This is people who can eat anything they like.
"We've been struggling to get Callum's oat milk and gluten-free pasta. There were days when there wasn't even any meat. The shelves were just empty. Meat is a staple go-to for almost all allergies.
This is not a dietary choice. In Callum's case, it is the difference between life and death. I can't get something with dairy in, because it will kill him
"It breaks my heart every time I have to see Callum's face when I tell him we've run out, because I'm already having to tell him 'no' all the time.
"It's really frustrating, a large proportion of people who buy free-from food aren't doing it because they want to, but because they have to.
"The food situation concerns me, absolutely.
"This is not a dietary choice. In Callum's case, it is the difference between life and death. I can't get something with dairy in, because it will kill him.
"This selfish behaviour is really sad to see, at a time when we should be pulling together."
Because Callum also has asthma, he was one of 1.5 million Brits warned to stay home for the next 12 weeks, as part of a 'shielding' programme.
Nathalie said: "Callum and I are now on complete lockdown for 12 weeks.
This selfish behaviour is really sad to see, at a time when we should be pulling together
"My husband, who's a Formula 1 mechanic, isn't working at the moment and he's the only one leaving the house – going to get supplies when we need them.
"When he comes in, he washes his hands, changes his clothes and we clean everything that's come into the house.
"Everyone's being so careful at the moment, but for allergy mum that's our everyday reality. Now we're having to take it to another level."
As well as being a mum, Nathalie is a freelance consultant for free-from food companies and allergy advocate, who runs a support group for other families.
She said: "I’ve had hundreds of followers texting me in panic recently.
"They’ve heard people in the aisles saying ‘well there’s none of our pasta left, we’ll just have some of that gluten-free stuff’.
"They’ve stopped people and said ‘but we desperately need that because we’ve got medical issues’. But they're told ‘tough, that doesn’t matter’.
"That really puts the fear into the community, because it’s difficult enough coping with allergies in both a medical and mental capacity, but then when you can't buy what you know as safe foods, that becomes a bigger issue.
"With allergies, you're always told 'don't try new foods unless you've got a medical back-up'. We all know with the current situation, there are no hospital beds left.
"To have the safe food taken away from you, lots of people are having to try new things and hope for the best. Which is scary, you know you could be putting your child in a dangerous situation."
Food allergies: the facts
Here in Britain, around two million people have a diagnosed food allergy – and a further 600,000 have coeliac disease (meaning they can't eat gluten).
There is no cure, meaning the only way to avoid an allergic reaction is to cut out certain foods.
The most common allergies are peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish.
In kids, cows' milk allergy is also common, while adults are more likely to be allergic to certain fruits (such as apples) and vegetables.
And for families of kids with allergies, it's not as simple as just buying an alternative on your weekly shop.
Nathalie added: "Families are really struggling. Food aversion is a big problem for kids with allergies.
"They'll refuse to eat anything they don't recognise because they don't trust food, it makes them feel sick.
"With Callum, I got him to cook with me, using a child-safe peeler and child-safe knife, so he trusts the food he's eating is safe.
"It's impossible to get gluten-free flour at the moment, which is having a knock-on effect because parents can't make cookies, cake, pizza, chicken nuggets…"
Lots of people are having to try new things and hope for the best. Which is scary, you know you could be putting your child in a dangerous situation
Nathalie thinks there's two main reasons for the depletion of free-from food supplies – with people choosing to stockpile them because they're long-life, or because stocks of 'normal' foods are so low.
Sue said: "People are thinking 'if I stockpile, I'll be OK'. They literally just grab and go.
"There's a really clear divide at the moment between people who want to help and people who think 'it doesn't matter if I need it or not, if it's there I'll take it'.
"Please don't stockpile what you don't need, leave the specialist food for people that really need it.
"And to the allergy families, I want to say keep strong, you know what you're doing, there's a light at the end of the tunnel."
You can join Nathalie's Facebook support group here and her website Intolerant Gourmand here.
Carla Jones, CEO of Allergy UK said: "Of course we understand how anxious people are in the current circumstances.
"We are all living through unprecedented times with a high degree of uncertainty, but we are asking people to please consider the needs of a large group of people who do not have the luxury of choice.
"They need these food products and we are simply asking shoppers to be aware of these needs when they reach for a ‘free-from’ product when mainstream products are temporarily sold out.
“We will be asking supermarkets to take the needs of people living with food allergy into account in order to avoid the potential of our community being further disadvantaged in their ability to buy the food products they need.”
Allergy UK has put together a list of FAQs on coronavirus for people living with allergies, which can be found here. You can call Allergy UK's helpline from 9am-7pm, Monday to Thursday, on 01322 619898.
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