by Sterling Crew FIFST, FCIEH, FRSPH, CSi, strategic advisor to Shield Safety Group
Remarkably, on-premise food labelling on non-pre-packed or pre-packed are not currently required. This could change following a government consultation announced last week. The UK has over two million food allergy sufferers, and with around 7% of the UK’s children also having food allergies, it is an issue that is not going to go away.
To assess the potential impact of this and to provide a summary of the proposal we canvassed immediate thoughts from our strategic advisor, Sterling Crew FIFST, FCIEH, FRSPH, CSi.
“It’s all about giving the confidence back to the consumer in the safety of their food. The government launched this consultation to strengthen allergen labelling laws. Following on from the tragic death in 2016 of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, where this young girl died from a severe allergic reaction to a baguette, that was bought at a Pret A Manger airport outlet. The ingredients, or more importantly, the allergens were not listed on the baguettes packaging.”
UK food law permits no allergen labelling on products that are not pre-packed or which are pre-packed on the premises where they are sold. In fact, these foods are not required to carry any labels on ingredients at all and information on allergens is often given in person by the food business, only when asked by the consumer.
Sandwiches sold in supermarkets that are prepared off-site in manufacturing operations are fully labelled – their products outline the 14 allergens that consumers must be made aware of when they are used as an ingredient in food.
Individual product labelling is the most effective way of communicating vital information for people with food allergies and may well have prevented previous incidents and tragedies.
Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, said: “We want to ensure that labels are clearer and that the rules for businesses are more consistent – so that allergy sufferers in this country can have confidence in the safety of their food.”
What are the key changes being put forward?
Food businesses selling pre-packaged food directly for sale could be required to follow new rules. The options put forward in the consultation to improve the way allergy information is labelled on these foods include:
- Mandating full ingredient list labelling
- Mandating allergen-only labelling on food packaging
- Mandating ‘ask the staff’ labels on all products, with supporting information for consumers available in writing
- Promoting best practice around communicating allergen information to consumers
What does this mean to the those in the food industry?
It will present some undoubted new challenges, especially for the smaller food companies. What is clear no matter how big or how small, all food businesses will have to the raise the allergen awareness of their staff.
For any new labelling requirements to work, it’s vital that staff are trained in allergen management to ensure the labels are accurate. It’s also critical to have an approach which opens up a dialogue with consumers. Some food allergens are not on the prescribed list of 14, such as Kiwi fruit and tomatoes. So, the best option is to ensure full labelling of all ingredients. This also helps consumers make a more informed choice, quickly and without feeling the need to ask, just in case.
In light of recent tragedies, it is integral for food retailers and those in hospitality to be proactive and review the robustness of their approach to the management and labelling of allergens. Everyone with a food allergy should have the information they need to stay safe. For customers to make informed decisions, businesses need to stay more informed.
We want to help you and your customers stay safe.
To get help with your food safety management, contact us via the website or simply call us on 020 3740 3744.
If you need any Allergen Awareness training, we have both in-house and open courses available.