Call to review food labelling laws following tragic allergic reaction

19 October, 2018

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, died after eating a Pret a Manger baguette in July 2016 which she bought at Heathrow Airport before flying to Nice.

She fell ill during the flight and an inquest into her death last month concluded that an allergen that she was allergic to was not listed as an ingredient on the label.

In the wake of her inquest, news emerged of the death of a 42-year-old mother-of-eight from a suspected allergic reaction after eating a ‘super veg rainbow flatbread’ from a Pret a Manger outlet in Bath. An inquest into her death is due to take place next year.

The sandwich chain claimed it was mis-sold a ‘guaranteed dairy-free yoghurt’ which actually contained a dairy protein.

Natasha’s grieving family have called for a change in food labelling laws which they said had “played Russian roulette” with the teenager’s life – a call supported by the Regency Group.

The law currently requires food businesses to inform customers if their products contain any of 14 specified allergens, including nuts, eggs and dairy.

However, the law differentiates between prepacked and non-prepacked foods. The former must carry a label which clearly indicates where products contain any of the specified allergens.

But non-prepacked food is treated differently. While consumers must be offered information about allergens, it does not have to be provided on a label on the food.

The law says the information can be provided by any means the retailer chooses, including verbally, provided it tells customers that they can speak to a member of staff to find out which products contain allergens. This is designed mainly for restaurants, where you traditionally have a server and an open dialogue.

The problem is where food appears to be pre-packaged, because it is displayed on shelves in packaging, but has actually been prepared on the premises for direct sale to the customer.

In these circumstances the law says the products can be treated as non-prepacked food and therefore doesn’t require labelling.

The law is flawed as it does not differentiate between a shop where sandwiches are made to order in front of the customer, and a shop where sandwiches are made on the premises, but behind the scenes, packaged up and put on shelves for the customer to pick up and take away.

Many customers do not understand this subtle difference in the law and many may not be aware that the food they are buying was actually prepared on the premises, because it appears pre-packaged.

They then believe that the food would be labelled if allergens were present, so they assume that the product is safe to eat when it may not be.

If any good can come from the two tragic deaths which have been making recent headlines, it should be a revision of the law to ensure clear and concise allergen information is provided in all circumstances.

Pret announced it would list all ingredients on its freshly-made products following Natasha’s death, a move welcomed by the Regency Group.

The food and beverage sector should be fully committed to clearly labelling all allergens, removing any doubt.

When we undertake procurement audits, we often see people occasionally or, more worryingly, regularly, buying from supermarkets when they have run out of something.

All the while, when substituting a product, the allergen information is not always updated.

We, through our supply chain, ensure that all allergen data is available, and we are in the process of developing systems to ensure all this information is available via electronic tablet, so that it is instantly available.

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