Allergen Labelling and Food Safety
Recently, there have been many issues highlighted about allergen labelling in the food industry.
Earlier this year on the 25th January, a proposal was announced by environment secretary Michael Gove to toughen allergen labelling laws and give consumers clearer information on the food they buy. These new rules are set to cover labelling requirements for foods made and packaged on the same premises where they are sold, such as food to go retailers. ⁶
This followed consultations with the food industry, allergen support groups and the parents of 15 year old Natasha Ednan- Laperouse, who died tragically from an allergic reaction to sesame seeds after eating a Pret A Manger sandwich that did not carry allergen labelling back in 2016. ³
The current allergen labelling rules, unlike pre-packed food, does not require foodservice businesses to display allergen information on- pack but information can be given in person by the food business if asked. ⁶
But is this enough to prevent what happened to Natasha from happening again? Many believe not, and Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is calling for four potential options for legislation to improve the way allergy information is required. ⁶
How many people suffer from allergies?
The UK has some of the highest prevalence rates of allergic conditions in the world. A huge 44% of British adults suffer from at least one allergy, and this number is on the rise, growing around 2 million between 2008 and 2009. Almost half of these sufferers have more than one allergy. ¹
Most food allergies affect younger children under the age of three, around one in 14 have at least one allergy. Most children who have food allergies to milk, eggs, soya and wheat in early life will grow out of it by the time they reach school, however with nut allergies four out of 5 children will remain allergic for the rest of their lives. ⁵
So what is actually being proposed?
A nine week long consultation explores a number of options, from mandating a full ingredients list labelling to allergen- only labelling on food packaging- with other topics being consulted on in terms of communicating allergen information to consumers too. ³
Have there been any results so far?
A food industry expert has welcomed these Government plans to improve allergen labelling. Dominic Watkins, DWF partner and head of its food group has said “of the consulted-on options, creating a mandatory, consistent scheme directing customers to ask staff for further information would be a quick, effective and proportionate solution… coupled with the campaign to raise awareness, this is the right way forward”. ⁴
Pret A Manger also plans to introduce full lists of ingredients on its products by the end of summer as it fulfils its pledge to improve labelling after Natasha died from an allergic reaction to sesame seeds on one of the baguettes. Many other chains have already put up precautionary signs warning that their food may contain allergens.²
Clearly there has already been a huge improvement on the attitudes of allergen labelling in foodservice businesses, however, there's still a long way to go to make this a mandatory rule. Hopefully the future will see all Foodservices giving clearer information on what ingredients are in their goods.
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¹ Allergyuk.org. (2010). Allergy Statistics & Facts | Allergy Information | Allergy UK. [online] Available at: https://www.allergyuk.org/information-and-advice/statistics [Accessed 26 Feb. 2019].
² Butler, S. (2019). Pret a Manger to add full ingredients list to product labels. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/feb/15/pret-a-manger-plans-to-add-full-ingredients-list-to-product-labels [Accessed 26 Feb. 2019].
³ Elliott, C. (2019). How can the food industry help solve the allergen problem?. [online] The Grocer. Available at: https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/buying-and-supplying/food-safety/how-can-the-food-industry-help-solve-the-allergen-problem/576062.article [Accessed 26 Feb. 2019].
⁴ Fortune, A. (2019). Government’s food label plan praised. [online] foodmanufacture.co.uk. Available at: https://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk/Article/2019/02/12/Food-allergen-labelling-plans-praised [Accessed 26 Feb. 2019].
⁵ nhs.uk. (2016). Food allergy. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/food-allergy/ [Accessed 26 Feb. 2019].
⁶ White, K. (2019). Defra unveils plans to tighten allergen labelling laws. [online] The Grocer. Available at: https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/buying-and-supplying/food-safety/defra-unveils-plans-to-tighten-allergen-labelling-laws/575922.article [Accessed 26 Feb. 2019].