Jim Winship, director of the British Sandwich & Food to Go Association, on the association’s concerns over the recently announced consultation on allergen labelling.
As food suppliers we have a duty of care towards our customers and the last thing we want is people becoming ill, or worse.
Unfortunately, it took the death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse from eating sesame in a sandwich to highlight that allergen intolerances are increasing. Businesses have a responsibility to make sure consumers have the information they need to make correct choices for themselves.
However, we do not believe that the proposals for full labelling of products, being suggested by Secretary of State Michael Gove MP, is the answer.
Four options are proposed under the FSA consultation – maintaining the current position, but promoting best practice; mandatory ‘ask the staff’ labelling on food prepacked for direct sale; mandatory name of food and allergen labelling on prepacked foods; or full ingredients labelling.
Quite apart from the costs and logistical issues around labelling in foodservice environments, making a statement on a label about allergens a product may or may not contain ignores the risks of cross-contamination.
In small sandwich bars or bakery shops, where preparation areas are often cramped, there will always be a risk of cross-contamination. Ingredients such as sesame seeds are tiny and light, and can easily be transferred from one product to another.
Also, there are more than the 14 allergens prescribed in law and many people have other ingredient issues that would not be answered by simple allergen labelling. And full labelling would be impossible for most of these businesses as they do not have the knowledge or capability to do it.
Our much-preferred solution is for people to ask, and for businesses to have, written recipe information that can be handed to a customer (or displayed in the shop) so they can make their own reasoned choices. Such information should also include a statement about any allergens used in the shop that could get into products.
We also believe businesses should not rely on staff providing this information as there is too much risk of mistakes being made. We have a responsibility to make sure our customers have all the right information, but equally, those customers have a responsibility to themselves.
We have issued Assured Advice to our members, setting out how they should signpost allergen information. We believe this will provide consumers with sufficient clarity on allergens to make their own choices.