Full ingredient lists offer greatest protection, FSA concludes

Full ingredient labelling should be mandatory for pre-packed food, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA). UKHospitality said this was “not the way forward” and could prove “less safe” given the possibility of mislabelling.

The government has been consulting on how to change allergen information laws. This followed the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, the teenager who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette containing sesame.

Under current rules, food prepared on the premise in which it is sold is not required to display allergen information on the package. 

The consultation, which has now closed, covers only the provision of allergen information for intentional ingredients and not precautionary statements due to cross-contamination. Four options were set out, ranging from the promotion of best practice within the current framework (option 1) and the provision of “ask the staff” labels on packaging of food prepacked for direct sale (option 2), to full allergen labelling on pack (option 3) and full ingredient labelling (option 4).

At a board meeting this week, the FSA agreed that its advice to ministers would be to go for option four, which would deliver “a significant improvement, and greater consistency by following the same labelling system that consumers are familiar with, as found on packaged food”. The majority of individuals (73%) responding to the consultation also backed this approach.

The FSA said it was keen for businesses to move forward where they are able to, and to “share their progress, their learnings and their experiences including what goes wrong”. Footprint recently reported on the actions being taken by some businesses to stay one step ahead of any changes to the regulations.

Speaking at the meeting, FSA chair Heather Hancock, noted that the mislabelling risk “may be greater” with this solution. Higher costs to local authorities were also noted. However, option four “would in time offer the greatest additional public health protection” she said.

Hancock added: “While it is impossible to eliminate the risks entirely, we consider that this change along with other measures we are prioritising will deliver more effective protection for allergic consumers.”

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Full ingredient labelling is not the way forward. Creating an atmosphere where customers and staff feel confident discussing allergens is the best way to ensuring safety. The Government should not act on the FSA’s recommendations.”

She said full listing will also cause significant issues for businesses, and may also create a reliance on labelling that could prove to be less safe. “There is the possibility of mis-labelling and no accounting for cross-contact which cannot be totally avoided. Not only is full ingredient labelling wholly impractical for some businesses, it may provide customers with a false sense of security.”

The decision by the FSA board will be the basis for the formal advice provided to Ministers who will take the final decision.

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