The Government has begun consulting on an overhaul of food allergen information laws that will ensure “labels are clearer and that the rules for businesses are more consistent”.
In a consultation launched this week and running until March 29th, Defra outlined four possible options: 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; and promoting best practice around communicating allergen information to consumers (which would require no change to the current law).
Under current rules, food prepared on the premise in which it is sold is not required to display allergen information on the package. “Accurate and reliable labelling is vital, and this consultation is firmly aimed at improving the confidence we have in it,” said Food Standards Agency chairman Heather Hancock.
The move follows the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, the teenager who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette containing sesame.
Leon’s co-founder John Vincent recently advised diners with severe allergies to think carefully before eating at his chain. “Despite the huge focus we put on processes and training and checks therefore, there is no guarantee that dishes are free from allergens,” he wrote in a blog. “This is not because we take a lax approach to allergens. It is because we cannot guarantee – 100% – that mistakes will not be made.”
UKHospitality said it has been working with food suppliers and its members to strengthen allergen information and develop consistent industry-wide definitions that “go above and beyond legislation”. The organisation’s chief executive Kate Nicholls said mandatory labelling of all ingredients, or allergen-only ingredients would not be the most effective way to keep people safe.
“There is too great a risk of incorrect labelling and the system would not safeguard against accidental contamination,” she said. “Additionally, smaller businesses would likely be overwhelmed by any mandatory requirements to label all their food, increasing the possibility of an error.”
There are thought to be two million allergy sufferers in the UK.