A royal pain in the backside…introducing the founder of The Safer Eating Company


I’ve had problems (you know… the ones no one wants to discuss) for more than 20 years. They started when I was 11, when I developed crippling stomach pains that would make me physically sick. I saw GP after GP and was referred to gastroenterology specialists – but I was always sent away with reassurances that it was all due to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

After the birth of my first child, my symptoms grew even worse. Urgent, embarrassing and painful toilet visits became the norm. My tummy would bloat to the point that my clothes would not fit. It was taking over my life.

Luckily, my job as a speech and language therapist put me in contact with more specialists. After confessing all to a dietitian friend, I was sent for a tTG test (tissue transglutaminase – the blood test they use to check for coeliac disease). The results were positive – I finally had an answer. But my problems were far from over.

A month or so later, I noticed milk and yogurt were triggering severe stomach problems. A visit to a dietitian confirmed I was lactose intolerant (a large percentage of coeliacs also have problems with lactose). So it was bye-bye bread AND bye-bye butter.

It all led to some massive changes in my diet – and lifestyle. I was able to adapt at home – cooking from scratch, ordering gluten-free pasta and bread on prescription and buying free-from foods online and at big supermarkets. (I often say ”I was diagnosed with coeliac disease at the right time” as it has become so common there is a growing range of pre-packaged products available.)

But eating out was a different matter entirely. It was an embarrassing and stressful experience.

Even in restaurants and cafes in the city, mentioning “coeliac” and “lactose free” would draw blank looks. Or, worse still, promises of safe dishes, only to be presented with a plate with a Yorkshire pudding slap-bang in the middle or risotto made with cream.

It got to the point where I no longer ate out with friends and family. I had lost faith in catering staff.

And takeaways were a waste of money with the choice on offer for someone as “awkward” as me.

The turning point came after an especially difficult time trying to plan a meal for a hen party of 20 (including myself, another coeliac and someone with a nut allergy). It was an utter minefield. I ended up educating the staff there about what was safe for us.

I’d also had problems tracking down safe places to eat, whether it was locally or further afield – there was no definitive answer online. The “free-from” community have been fending for themselves for the majority of the time.

That’s when I had my light-bulb moment – if you can’t eat with them – join them! Why not create a website that lists food venues that take dietary requirements seriously. This would mean the “free-from” community (and of course myself) could quickly and easily find a place that could cope with their requirements. I could also provide information for catering establishments on how to deal with people like me and help to make eating out fun again. It would be a win-win situation as it would also mean bringing in grateful customers to people who register to be on the site.

The Safer Eating Company was born….

Karen Woodford

Managing Director of The Safer Eating Company

Coeliac disease, lactose intolerance and fructose intolerance