The Food Standards Agency has proposed the strengthening of food labelling laws to protect the country’s two million food allergy sufferers. The move follows the death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a unlabelled Pret A Manger baguette.
The recommendation would reform the labelling requirements for foods that are packed on the same premises from which they are being sold, such as a sandwich or salad made by staff earlier on the day and then placed on the shelf for later sale.
This does not affect over-the-counter sandwiches made in front of customers. They do not currently require a label and this will not change under the new proposals. At the moment prepared sandwiches made on the premises do not need a label, because it is assumed a conversation will have taken place between staff and customers. To facilitate these conversations premises require a sign nearby to prompt customers to ask about allergens. Under the new proposals if sandwiches are wrapped and packed for the shelf, they will need to carry a label. The label will have to list ALL ingredients and highlight the 14 major allergens.
At first sight this appears reasonable and proportional, but in practice this might not necessarily make things safer for the allergic consumer. It could reduce the dialogue between the customer and caterer which plays such a critical part in keeping allergic suffers safe. It could also introduce a new risk of human error where by the right label is put on the wrong pack, or the wrong label the right pack. Should they get it wrong the potential consequences could be disastrous consequences.
As we have seen form the regular numerous allergen product recalls from manufactures, allergen management and labelling is a difficult process to control. These are often large well resourced businesses. It will be even more challenging for smaller independent shops.
The proposal by the FSA will be the basis for formal advice provided to Ministers who will take the final decision.
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