Food Standards Agency (FSA) advice that full ingredients labelling should appear on all pre-packed foods for direct sale has been branded “complete madness” by the head of the British Sandwich and Food to Go Association (BSA).

The food safety watchdog announced yesterday that it would formally advise government ministers – who will make the final decision on labelling – that increased allergen information on all pre-packed direct sale food would give consumers greater confidence in the food they eat.

But BSA director Jim Winship has said the decision could put more lives at risk, adding that making recipe sheets available to consumers was a better option.

“In a foodservice environment, it is impossible to avoid traces of allergens crossing from one product to another,” he warned. “Putting a full ingredients list on a pack and highlighting the allergens it contains will give false assurances to consumers in environments where there is such a risk of cross-contamination.”

Prepacked foods for direct sale are those packed on the same premises from which they are sold, such as a packaged sandwich or salad made by staff earlier in the day and placed on a shelf for purchase. Under current laws, these are not required to carry labels and information on allergens, as it is expected that the customer can speak with the person who made or packed the product for this information.

Full ingredients labelling would deliver a significant improvement and greater consistency by following the same labelling system consumers are familiar with on packaged food, the FSA has decided.

Allergens have been in spotlight since last year’s inquest into the death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after eating a Pret A Manger baguette that contained sesame, to which she was allergic.

Pret has since removed allergens from more than 70 products as part of a five-point allergy plan that also includes full ingredient labels in every UK shop.

“Food allergies and intolerance affects millions of people and its impact can be as big or bigger than almost all other foodborne diseases,” said FSA chair Heather Hancock

“That is why we have concluded that more extensive food labelling is the right outcome to provide greater protection for consumers, but introduced in a way that we can be confident it will work.”

The BSA’s Winship added that his association fully supported making full ingredient lists available to customers, but believed this should be done in the form of recipe sheets that also stated all the allergens used in the business and the risks of cross-contamination.   

“It is complete madness that a government agency responsible for food safety can blindly ignore the risks involved,” he declared.

The FSA board has also agreed work should be undertaken to promote and accelerate sharing of best practice across the industry and improve awareness in businesses and with the public.

“While it is impossible to eliminate the risks entirely, we consider that this change, along with other measures we are prioritising, will deliver more effective protection for allergic consumers,” added Hancock.

Writing in British Baker last year, British Sandwich & Food to Go Association director Jim Winship said the association did not believe full labelling of products was the answer to the allergen problem as it ignored the risks of cross-contamination.