New proposals for tougher labelling on food set out by the government this week, aims to protect the 2 million food allergy sufferers in the UK, and give them greater confidence in the contents of and safety of their food, and crucially, to prevent further deaths.
UK allergy figures
In the UK there are 100 food allergy deaths each year, 4,500 UK hospital admissions from food allergies and 8% of children are affected by food allergies or intolerances.
Proper labelling of food is critical so people actually know what they are eating and are able to avoid ingredients they are sensitive to. For those with the severest form of allergies it can be the difference between life and death.
New proposals, unveiled by environment secretary Michael Gove, will begin with a consultation on various labelling options. From all pre-packed food being clearly labelled to show all ingredients including allergens so that allergen sufferers can easily decide whether it is safe for them to eat – or not, to lesser labelling options.
Known as Natasha’s Law, these new proposals were sparked by the death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died in 2016 after suffering an allergic reaction to sesame in a Pret A Manger baguette she bought at the airport. The ingredient wasn’t listed on the label. She suffered a cardiac arrest on a British Airways flight to Nice.
The current law
The current law came into force in December 2011 focusing on the 14 most common allergens.
The law states that to sell food and drink products all vendors must label ingredients and the label must be:
- clear and easy to read
- easy to understand
- easily visible
- not misleading
- must show certain basic information, list the ingredients and show certain warnings
For those running a catering business, selling food loose or packaged for sale in your shop, they only need to show:
- the name of the food
- if any of the ingredients have been irradiated, or have come from genetically modified sources
- certain warnings
- any food additive you have added
- allergen information
- those selling loose meat products are required to show more information
Under current guidelines, takeaways and restaurants are only required to flag up foods containing 14 allergens most commonly implicated in allergic reactions, listed below:
Information according to Food Standards Agency: these are the 14 most dangerous allergens that need to be labelled on pre-packed foods when used as ingredients:
- Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan wheat), rye, barley, oats
- Crustaceans for example prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish
- Nuts; namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia (or Queensland) nuts
- Celery (including celeriac)
- Sulphur dioxide/sulphites, where added and at a level above 10mg/kg in the finished product. This can be used as a preservative in dried fruit
- Lupin which includes lupin seeds and flour and can be found in types of bread, pastries and pasta
- Molluscs like clams, mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid
Under the law, all businesses working with food must:
- make sure food is safe to eat
- make sure they don’t add, remove or treat food in a way that makes it harmful to eat
- make sure the food is the same quality that they say it is
- make sure they don’t mislead people by the way food is labelled, advertised or marketed
- keep records on where they got food from and show this information on demand – known as ‘traceability’ (PDF, 90KB)
- withdraw unsafe food and complete an incident report
- tell people why food has been withdrawn or recalled, for example by using a leaflet or poster
- display your food hygiene rating (if you sell food direct to the public)
The four new options
The four options being put forward for food that is made, packaged and sold on the same premises are:
- Full ingredient list labelling – all vendors have a duty to know exactly what is in their food, this takes it further obliging them to list all these ingredients clearly on their labels.
- Allergen-only labelling – inline with restaurants to be required to list just the 14 most common allergens. However, many people are allergic to many more foodstuffs than just these 14.
- Ask-the-staff labels with supporting information available for consumers in writing – obviously an easier and cheaper option for vendors.
- Promoting best practice around communicating allergen information to customers (meaning no change in the law)
Allergy UK’s response
Carla Jones, chief executive of Allergy UK said that the food allergy community is already very vigilant, taking a lot of responsibility for looking at food labelling. The food industry could do more to help.
Have your say
Food businesses and allergy sufferers are invited to have their say on the four options they think are most beneficial. To have your say click here: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/agri-food-chain-directorate/consultation-on-amending-allergen-information/
The consultation closes on 29 March 2019.
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