A consultation - which includes a proposal of making full ingredient listing mandatory on food prepared in shops – has been launched by the government.
The Defra consultation follows the death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died in 2016 after eating a baguette bought at Pret A Manger. The dough in the baguette contained sesame, to which she was allergic. The coroner at her inquest said he would write to environment secretary Michael Gove, questioning allergen food labelling regulations.
Under current regulations, there is no obligation for businesses to label allergens on foods prepared on the same premises as they are being sold. Companies are required to warn customers about allergy risks on signs and packaging or orally, usually meaning they are told to enquire themselves.
The consultation proposes amendments to England’s Food Information Regulations 2014, and parallel regulations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales relating to allergen information for foods that are prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) to the consumer on the same premises from which they are sold. The proposed options are:
- Promote best practice: There would be no change to the law, but businesses and consumers would be encouraged to review their knowledge, skills and actions to ensure a safer environment for consumers.
- Mandatory ‘ask the staff’ labels on packaging, with supporting information in writing: This option would require ‘ask the staff about allergens’ labels on all PPDS products. When asked about allergenic ingredients, staff would have to provide supporting information in writing before the food was purchased.
- Mandatory name of food and allergen labelling on packaging: This would require PPDS foods to have a label on the packaging to tell the consumer the name of the food and which of the 14 allergenic ingredients specified in law the product intentionally contains.
- Mandatory name of food and full ingredient list labelling, with allergens emphasised: This would require PPDS foods to have a label naming the food and listing the full ingredients with allergens emphasised on the packaging.
- Labelling will include:
- the name of the food
- the list of ingredients
- any of the 14 allergenic ingredients specified in law or processing aids derived from them used in the manufacture or preparation of a food and still present in the finished product, even if in an altered form, would be emphasised to stand out from the other ingredients in the list, for example in a bold typeface.
Following the inquest into the death of Ednan-Laperouse, Pret pledged to list all ingredients, including allergens, on products that are freshly made in its kitchens. It has been trialling this in recent months.
In response to news of the consultation, British Sandwich Association (BSA) director Jim Winship said labelling had downsides, as they tend to be inflexible and difficult to change if an ingredient runs out and another is substituted.
“We much prefer that customers ask, which encourages interaction with staff and means we can give them a comprehensive written list of the ingredients in each product so that they can make the right decisions to suit them.”
Winship added that the cost of the equipment needed to label every sandwich, and the time needed to write the labelling programs, print and attach each label, would put small businesses under enormous pressure.
“Indeed, some have already told us that it would be likely to put them out of business,” he said.
Charity Allergy UK welcomed announcement of the consultation, pointing out that about ten people die every year from food-induced anaphylaxis, and that some of the 1,500 asthma deaths a year might be triggered by food allergy.
“At Allergy UK we believe that, whilst those living with allergies must be vigilant on their own behalf, the broader food industry needs to do more than just the bare minimum when it comes to catering for the allergic community,” said Allergy UK CEO Carla Jones.
“We encourage all those living with allergies to engage with this consultation to ensure their views on this important issue are heard.”
The consultation ends on 29 March.