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In the UK, it has been estimated that around 2 million people live with a food allergy and that, on average, 10 people die from allergic reactions a year. Cases of food allergies are on the rise, with 1 in 4 sufferers reporting an adverse reaction when eating out and 1 in 5 requiring hospital treatment.

All too often we read articles relating to severe food allergen reactions and deaths. The latest to be reported was that of a 15-year-old girl, Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who tragically died after eating a baguette from Pret A Manger. It was later discovered that the sandwich contained sesame seeds, which had not been labelled.

Current food safety legislation in England and Wales, as based on the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulations, does not require food that is prepared and sold on the same premises to be labelled with allergenic ingredient information. As such, the sandwich bought in this case was legally compliant even though it was not labelled to show sesame was included. The onus is placed on the consumer to ask about allergenic ingredients or make the retailer aware of the allergy they suffer from.  

The inquest into Natasha’s death has led to calls by her family for an urgent review of this legislation, with inadequate labelling laws being strongly criticised. However, the fact that the laws are based on EU Regulations will not allow a quick change and this has recently been highlighted by Michael Gove, with any change being unlikely until after Brexit. Pret A Manger has since agreed to list all ingredients including allergens, on its freshly made products – whether other fast food businesses will follow remains to seen.

This case has emphasised the importance of managing the allergenic content of food and highlighted the devastating human consequences. If allergen information is not correct and readily available, whether on labels or at point of sale, then lives can be lost, brands tarnished and reputations severely damaged.

Food safety legislation

Restaurants, caterers and food service outlets must be exceptionally vigilant and provide clear and accurate information about allergenic ingredients in their products.

Under UK and EU legislation, all businesses must be able to provide information about 14 food allergens, if used as an ingredient. You can do this on a menu, chalkboard, information file and/or website, and you must point out to your customers that this is available.

Food allergen management should be a key element of your food safety management system. Every food business needs to be aware of which allergenic ingredients are contained in every food item, and this information must be provided to customers clearly and concisely if and when they ask. Most importantly, allergen information must be kept up to date – remember that you may not change a recipe but your suppliers may have done so, therefore a regular review of ingredients should be undertaken.

Staff training

Training your staff in allergen management is crucial. If staff are not trained, then there is a strong chance that something will go wrong. Many businesses will include allergen training within their induction programmes. During training, it is vital to emphasise the serious nature of allergic reactions and the health problems that allergen sufferers may encounter. Our advice is to make the training personal – use the experiences of others to get the message across. A good exercise is to ask your team to try to live without an allergen in their diet for a couple of days to help them understand how much of a challenge it can be to be an allergen sufferer.

Food Alert helps businesses by providing expert advice on allergen management, comprehensive food allergen training and safety compliance software that enables businesses to maintain records of the allergens in their food and provide clear information for staff to follow.

For further information and expert advice on allergen management - click here