OVER 35 per cent of food samples tested by Wiltshire Council contained hidden and potentially fatal allergens, a national survey has revealed.

The council says the figures are so high because it is being pro-active in checking samples and so finding problem meals, protecting the public from harm.

John Carter, head of public protection, said: “We conduct testing on foods from food businesses throughout the county to ensure they are compliant and that customers aren’t at risk of eating food with potential allergens.

“Unfortunately, some foods have contained allergens which customers may not have expected.

“The high numbers of potential allergens found in samples from across the county have occurred because we are pro-actively looking for such instances, rather than solely relying on customer feedback and tip-offs.

“We regularly carry out awareness-raising exercises with the takeaway food sector and our message to businesses is clear – customers should be able to rely on the business to supply food free from an allergen when requested, to ensure the safety of Wiltshire residents.”

In 2017 two Wiltshire women, both of whom had severe dairy allergies, died after eating food they had bought in Bath, not knowing it contained allergens.

In March 2017 15-year-old Chloe Gilbert, of Martinslade, Seend, collapsed and died in the street after eating a takeaway kebab bought on a day out with friends.

In December 42-year-old mother-of-five Celia Marsh, of Littlejohn Avenue, Melksham, died after buying a sandwich she thought was allergen-free at Pret-a-Manger in the city.

Research by Unchecked.uk and the Times has found that of 64 samples taken by Wiltshire Council, 23 contained substances that could prove harmful or fatal to those suffering from food allergies.

The samples, taken from premises including schools, hospitals and care homes, had no indication of the allergens presence in the food.

Leading expert in food allergy, Dr Hazel Gowland, said: “Sampling by local authority food officers and testing by public analysts are essential to ensure food is safe and labelling is correct.

“These results are a major concern, indicating the urgent need for additional local authority resources to protect consumers.”

According to the government around 10 people die every year due to food allergies, with those in their 20s most at risk of severe reactions.

In September 2019 parliament introduced tougher laws requiring more foods to be labelled with allergen information, however, this law does not come into full effect until October 2021.

Emma Rose, director of Unchecked.uk said: “Regulation is only as good as the enforcement that underpins it. It’s clear that in the case of UK food law, the enforcement gap is looming large. Cuts in staff and funding have stretched regulators to breaking point. “The fall in enforcement activities is putting lives at risk.”