Our Food Allergens Briefing brought together industry experts from Anaphylaxis Campaign, Keogh LLP and UKHospitality to present their thoughts on food allergens management within the food service industry. The audience, which was made up of professionals from across the hospitality sector, were given the opportunity to question the speakers on this emotive subject.
We have summarised the key points from each of the presentations and provided links to video footage taken at the event.
Food Allergens Labelling and Awareness – a Legal Perspective
Presenter by Ivor Long, Partner – Corporate & Sector Risks, Keogh LLP
Ivor Long told the audience that he believes, as a consequence of the Natasha Ednan-Laperouse case, that new food allergy legalisation would be released and that it could come into effect as early as next year. He thinks the new legislation will be designed to close the legal loophole, through which shops selling food prepared on the premises, including large sandwich chains, do not have to label allergens on individual food items. He expects the law to apply to all sized businesses, excluding manufacturers, relating merely to their responsibilities on what is labeled and how.
Ivor said: ‘No matter how good your systems and information are, including online, at the end of the day you are going to have hundreds of products and ingredients. You’re always going to be at risk of cross-contamination.You can’t avoid it.’ He explained that supply chains in the catering industry are often long and complex, meaning that auditing where food has come from and its exact ingredients can be very difficult. This makes it hard to quantify the threshold at which allergens become dangerous, meaning that many manufacturers resort to over-labeling or alibi labeling. He continued by stating that the only way for caterers to prevent this would be to insist that their suppliers risk assess their ingredients – or dispense with their services – a brave step. The audience were asked whether they had taken action and at least one catering business in attendance had banned a supplier that used ‘may contain allergens’ labeling.
Ivor also highlighted another issue – the unannounced substitution of an ingredient by a supplier with another potentially dangerous one. He explained that if the new ingredient is not on the list of 14 allergens in the regulations, there is no legal requirement to declare it. However, it may still be an allergen and the food business serving it needs to be able to demonstrate due diligence.
To view Ivor Long’s full presentation:
Anaphylaxis Campaign Views – Challengers for Food Allergen Sufferers
Presented by Lynne Regent, CEO, Anaphylaxis Campaign
Lynne Regent started by explaining some of the challenges faced by food allergic consumers when eating out and the vigilance that is required by them to avoid exposure to allergens. She pointed out that recent high profile food allergen related deaths had created huge anxiety for allergic consumers and that this has led to an increasing mistrust of the food industry.
Lynne told the briefing that in every primary school in Britain, there is now at least one child with a severe peanut allergy. Schools must have stringent policies and procedures to prevent potential fatalities and thanks to their campaign they are now equipped with injectable adrenaline pens. She wanted to see this rolled out across all food service businesses.
Lynne explained Anaphylaxis Campaign’s involvement with the current DEFRA and Food Standards Agency ‘Preventing Future Deaths’ consultation and that discussions had been positive in relation to the definition of future guidelines.
She highlighted how ineffective the Food Standards Agency’s ‘Easy to Ask’ campaign, created in response to Natasha’s death, has been. Pointing out that it was even difficult to find on the FSA’s website.
Lynne told the briefing that folders and checklists of allergens in restaurants will rarely be read – real communication is far better than rules and procedures. She said: ‘a customer suffering from an allergy must always ask questions. If they have any doubts, they should walk out of the door… We don’t expect every member of staff to be an allergy expert but there should be someone on the premises who they can talk to.’
She explained that in a world of pop-up restaurants, street food and food apps, with consumer knowledge and expectations rising, life is going to become more complicated. Lynne said: ‘Labels that say “may contain” are the bane of sufferers’ lives. It can be said in 40 different ways and it’s not based on science. Our advice to consumers is “don’t take the risk”.’
To view Lynne Regent’s full presentation:
Food Allergens: Challenges Facing the Food Industry
Presented by Dr Lisa Ackerley, Food Safety Advisor, UKHospitality
Dr Lisa Ackerley had a simple message for the briefing: ‘I don’t want full allergy labeling on products because it will stop people from having dialogue on their sandwiches. It couldn’t possibly include everything that is in the food, or deal with contamination issues.’
Emphasising communication, she said: ‘It might be a pain to ask someone if they have an allergy when they make a reservation and order their food, but you have to – and keep asking. Isn’t it better to do that than for someone to die?’
Instead of detailed labels, she called for a standardised stickers on takeaway food saying: ‘If you are suffering from a food allergy please ask our staff’. She added all staff should receive up-to-date training and that managers should: ‘regularly review systems, learn from cases and tragedies and take action accordingly.’
She suggested a stark way of looking at allergy danger for food professionals: ‘Just imagine what you would say in court if you had killed someone. Think about how you would explain why your signage wasn’t clear.’
Dr Ackerley informed delegates that UKHospitality were working with the Food Standards Agency and other stakeholders to produce detailed updated guidance on allergen management for the catering industry. UKHospitality is also calling, like the Anaphylaxis Campaign, for allergen-related risk management data to be included within the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme.
To view Dr Lisa Ackerley’s full presentation: