What Are Food Allergy, Intolerance, and Poisoning?

What Are Food Allergy, Intolerance, and Poisoning?

So you went on a great weekend out with friends (within the rule of six, plenty of social distancing, and with masks on because you and your friends are decent people…). You guys went to a fancy restaurant, and had an awesome dining experience. The dishes were not only pretty and instagramable, but also very very tasty…

But on your way home you felt a bit sick. Something is not right. And you suspected that it was something on your food… Was it the cheese sauce that set it off? Was it the gluten? Or… maybe the calamari you nicked from Amanda’s plate was off. What was it?

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Well… Working in the hospitality industry, we have to be very careful with these thing. In some restaurants I even had to go on a special course about food safety like this. Which… I think should be the norm anyway because… frankly, I don’t really fancy accidentally kill someone with my food.

However, I also think that it is imperative that customers are well advised about their own condition. I mean, I have numerous order with ‘allergy‘ tag, but when confronted the customer will dismiss it as: ‘oh… I just don’t like cheese’ or ‘it’s okay to have a bit of cream…’. Mam… if you are allergic, we really… really… really don’t want to serve you this.


The first time I encountered about food allergy was when I saw my mum’s lips swollen after eating prawn. She doesn’t always react to prawn, but when she did she’s got this extra plumpy itchy lips. I thought it was funny… but it was only funny because my mum only had incredibly mild symptoms. I have never met anyone in Indonesia with severe food allergy… I am not sure why.

BUT, I also learned that there are people with severe food allergy. Usually peanut. So severe that even the sniffing a jar of peanut butter which is not properly closed can trigger an anaphylaxis reaction.

So what is food allergy?

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You have a food allergy if your immune system mistakenly think that a certain component of food (peanut for example) as an evil intruder. So, your hyper-vigilant immune system started to get your body to react to it — it can be mild and annoying like hives, or itch, or like in my mum’s case swollen lips… or deadly like swollen airways which makes you can’t breathe.

With my mum, any antihistamine tablets can take care of the symptoms, but some people would need a faster method like a epi-pen injection.


Food intolerance is not the reaction of immune system, but of the digestion system.

It means there are material inside the food that your digestion system cannot handle. Like allergies, people react with different severity with their food intolerance. Some just feel a bit gassy and bloated, the other actually felt sick for a couple of days.

Some people are more sensitive to chemicals in the food too, which makes them intolerance to some substances in the food like food colouring (all the E numbers), or flavour enhancer. My mum (oh yes she has a love-hate relationship with food), for example, is very sensitive to aspartame, and her digestion system cannot handle overly spicy and creamy food.

stainless steel spoon on black ceramic bowl
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While food intolerance is not normally deadly, it can be life changing. I learned that in the UK, the free-from aisle in the supermarket is always more expensive than the other aisle for people without these specific food requirements.


With allergy and intolerance, the food is fine, but your body is not okay with those food. With food poisoning… the food is BAD, and your body is doing the right thing by identifying the harmful substances entering your body and trying to fight it off.

In the food industry this is one of the most crucial things. You can get food poisoning from a lot of things: incorrect food storage, cross contamination, expiration date, food not cooked properly… There’s a whole handbook about this in every commercial kitchen in the UK. Or at least those I worked with/for.

Symptoms ranges from feeling a bit sick and queasy, to totally incapacitated with fever. Depends on how BAD the food was, you can still go to work feeling slightly uncomfortable, or actually dead.

apartment bed carpet chair
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Some people’s digestion system are more robust than others. In Indonesia a lot of people can eat ‘street food‘ without any safety standard and be okay, but there are a lot of cases of hospitalisation of tourists who tried to do the same thing.

Right… now you know the differences of food allergy, intolerances and poisoning. I hope this is helpful, and please let me know if there is any information I missed in here.


Mel x

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