While packaged foods in supermarkets must already by law provide full allergen declarations on their packaging, until now, food defined as ‘pre-packed for direct sale’ have not been required to do the same. What this means in practice is that things like sandwiches and salads that have made on the same premises from which they are sold, can appear in chilled cabinets without any allergen information at all.
While this may seem like a glaring omission on the part of any sensible allergy labelling strategy, the situation arose from the assumption that a customer could simply speak with the person who made or packed the food and that all staff would either be aware of the allergens or be easily able to find out which are present and could pass this information on to the customer concerned.
It is easy to see the flaw in this approach: customers have mistakenly assumed that because allergens are not overtly flagged up, they are, by default, not present.
The potential for what has been proved, with the tragic death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, to be a fatal loophole, is now to change. Following a UK-wide consultation after Natasha’s life was tragically cut short by an anaphylactic attack having unknowingly eaten sesame in a baguette from Pret a Manger in 2016, the Secretary of State plans to introduce new legislation this summer.
The change in law will mandate full ingredients labelling for all pre-packed foods for direct sale to the public. Food businesses will have until summer 2021 before the law comes into force, giving them time to adapt to the change.
Although it’s impossible to eliminate risks entirely for people who experience severe allergic reactions to certain foods and ingredients, a change to the law will offer better protection and it is sincerely hoped that food business will take up the challenge to provide this crucial information ahead of the 2021 deadline.