Allergy labelling

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Food industry chiefs are supporting calls for changes to labelling and reporting around food allergens.

The bosses of 11 major businesses including Pret, Greggs, Tesco and Bakkavor have signed a letter issued by the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, which was founded by the parents of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died from anaphylaxis after eating a baguette containing sesame.

The letter has been sent to officials including government ministers, the Food Standards Agency and trade organisations such as the FDF, and highlights two particular issues flagged up by the Prevention of Future Deaths report. This report was published following the death of Celia Marsh from anaphylaxis in 2017 after she ate a wrap that was labelled dairy free but had been cross-contaminated with milk protein.

At Celia’s inquest the coroner described precautionary allergy labelling as potentially misleading, and the letter points out that a joint UN Food and Agricultural Organization and World Health Organization consultation has recommended the use of allergen threshold reference doses.

“This would provide sellers of food with an absolute definition of how much of a specific allergen prepacked food could safely contain before being labelled as free of that allergen,” the letter states. “Implementation would enable food producers to bring in consistent industry-standard testing and help keep the most allergic consumers safe and increase the choice of foods they can consume.”

The letter also urges the government and public health bodies to develop a robust system for the rapid reporting of fatal and near fatal severe allergic reactions.

It explained that Celia’s death in 2017, like many other serious anaphylaxis incidents, had not immediately been reported to relevant authorities or businesses.

The signatories said they would welcome mandatory notification of food-related anaphylaxis, stating this would ensure a more rapid and accurate investigation of cases and allow more rapid action to be taken by food businesses.

Nadim Ednan-Laperouse OBE, co-founder of Natasha’s Foundation, said he welcomed that many of the country’s biggest food businesses had supported the call for change.

“It demonstrates that the industry shares our belief, and that of Celia’s family, that keeping their food-allergic customers safe should be an absolute priority.

“It’s now over to ministers, health chiefs and the FSA to do the right thing by the three million people in this country living with food allergies and implement the coroner’s recommendations.”

Celia’s family said it also welcomed the support of leading food businesses for robust precautionary allergen labelling and a national register of mandatory reporting of fatal and near fatal anaphylactic reactions.

“These measures would make the world a safer place for allergy sufferers like our beloved mum and wife.”