Referring to the present situation he wrote “Current food labelling law is set out in the EU’s Food Information to Consumers legislation. This legislation, as you mentioned in your email, includes a list of 14 allergens, which are legally considered to be mandatory information which must be available to consumers.
“The Regulations currently allow for flexibility as to how this information is provided on food which is “pre-packed for direct sale”, a category which includes products like freshly prepared sandwiches made on site, compared to packaged food like a chocolate bar or ready-meal that you might find in a supermarket.
“Information must be made available to the consumer in all cases, but whereas packaged food must include all allergens in bold in the ingredients list, information about pre-packed food for direct sale like a freshly made sandwich can be made available by various means, including by clear signs indicating that the customer should speak to a member of staff who will provide the information orally.”
There is no doubt recent events have catapulted the needs of allergy sufferers into the public eye more stridently than ever before, and unlike the short life of many news worthy happenings, the story still has legs. Long may this continue, since perhaps public interest and demand is the key to getting action for a situation which has been present and escalating for some considerable time.
It is, after all, within relatively recent memory that the need to label the inclusion of peanuts became the first food recognised for its risk to life for a growing number of people. We now recognise a list of 14 allergens presenting a similar risk and the steps taken by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have undoubtedly gone a long way towards saving lives.
However, labelling laws as they stand are proving inadequate. An important loophole must be removed by requiring foods prepacked for direct sale on the same premises to include on the label any and all of the allergens they contain. In common with other charities representing food allergy sufferers we have been urging the FSA to review the regulations and bring this into effect.
This still leaves the difficult area of sales of loose foods. Although FSA regulations require specific actions by the food supplier, caterer or restauranteur, these appear to be adhered to with varying degrees of efficiency. The procedure may also be affected by the huge number of foreign employees in the catering trade whose language capability is minimal. We suggest some attention be given to monitoring such outlets, to educational help with staff briefing and, for those not up to standard, imposing meaningful fines.
But labelling alone will not solve the problem of how to reduce the risks. There are other elements involved. Some of these are discussed in extracts from a recent blog from our trustee Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, who posted:
“While the ongoing focus on food allergy resulting from the inquest into Natasha Ednan-Laperouse’s death has been good, other aspects of the tragedy have been somewhat overshadowed by the condemnation showered, rightly, on Pret a Manger for failing to ingredientslabel that fatal baguette.
“Apart from what appeared to be a somewhat jobsworth approach of the cabin staff on the flight who failed to even locate, let alone activate, the on-board defibrillator, there is the whole question of the length of the needles in the Epipens which failed to work on Natasha.
“Hazel Gowland outlines the MHRA research she has been involved in since 2014, looking at needle length, at the most efficacious place on the thigh into which to inject and whether the position at the moment of injection (standing, sitting, lying) makes a difference. It is excellent that this research is being done but they do not expect the results through until the end of 2019 – five years after the research was initiated. Which means that no change to the ‘guidance’ Will be made before 2020 and no doubt further time will be given to implement a change assuming that they decide a change needs to be made.
“Yes, changes in guidance and good practice should be research-based but…. In this case:
- There appears to be good anecdotal evidence that 15-16mm needles may be too short to deliver lifesaving adrenaline to girls and women suffering anaphylactic shock
- Increasing the length of the delivery needle for auto-injectors prescribed for women by would appear to have no harmful side effects.
- Delivering sufficient adrenaline to the person in shock can save a life which may otherwise be lost.
“Would the precautionary principle not suggest that, pending the results of the MHRA research, the length of the needles on auto-injectors prescribed for woman should all be increased by 10mm anyhow – just in case that the research proves this to be a necessary measure?
The law of unintended consequences
“It is good that Pret and no doubt other similar operators may now include ingredients on their ‘food to got items making it much easier for allergic customers to identify both safe and ‘dangerous’ foods.
“But… Look at the issue from the producer’s, and especially the food service producer’s point of view. With the honourable exception of the few dedicated freefrom-ers who enter and win gongs in the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards the vast majority of the food service industry is still very nervous about ‘freefrom’. They see it as a great marketing opportunity but they are not really quite sure what is involved and what they might need to do, And even a brief investigation into the subject will have shown them that food allergy and intolerance is a pretty complicated subject – which it is!
“And now they see the opprobrium that has been heaped on Pret as a result of failing to be sufficiently allergy aware and sensitive, albeit that they kept within the law. OK, Pret will no doubt survive as it has very deep pockets and meets a large enough need in the general population. None the less, according to City AM in the immediate aftermath of the inquest hearing going public, Pret’s ‘impression score’ (whether someone has a positive or negative impression a brand) halved from 18 to 9 points. Pret may survive this, but could a smaller operator?
“And that is quite apart from the horrendous possibility that, as a result of some relatively minor slip or failure on your part, someone could actually die as a result of eating your food. In fact, thank goodness, the actual number of deaths from food allergy remains extremely small (while Il people in a million across Europe each year are at risk of being murdered only 3.5 are at risk of dying of anaphylaxis.) But that is not how the risk is perceived and it is the perception that matters.
“So how many food service operators who had been toying with the idea of offering freefrom’ items on their menus may now just decide to play safe and not bother? And how many more may take the other route to ‘staying safe’ and just plaster their menus with ‘precautionary warnings’ that they cannot guarantee that any of their food will be truly safe for someone with an allergy?
“It is not that difficult to run ‘freefrom’ kitchen and to offer safe, allergen free foods — but it does take effort, attention indeed dedication, There will always be some who will make that effort but also many who won’t.”