The treatment of allergens by the food industry has again been in the press, following the tragic – and completely avoidable – death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse and the subsequent inquest after eating a Pret a Manger sandwich which failed to list all ingredients – of which one was a fatal allergen.
Pret maintained that their labelling was compliant with the law but the attitude of food retailers towards protecting consumers has been picked up by BBC’s Watchdog programme, which recently included undercover footage of journalists going into large catering businesses.
Many businesses were found to be falling short of their legal and moral duties. The main issues are a lack of information or incorrect information being given to customers, showing a clear lack of understanding of the severity of the risks associated with allergens.
It is incredibly disappointing to see the knee jerk reaction of some businesses who, following on from the Natasha case, have taken to just slapping a sticker on all sandwiches saying, ‘May contain sesame seeds’, irrelevant of whether this is an ingredient or not or even if there was a risk of contamination or not.
Food businesses need to understand this case is not just about sesame seeds, it’s about making sure information to consumers is accessible and accurate. It’s ultimately about keeping our customers safe.
Over the last few years, many businesses have made good improvements in the control of some allergens, in particular peanuts, nuts, gluten, dairy and eggs. Free from options are increasingly common on the menu at many eateries.
However, there are 9 other allergens which are not as well understood including celery, mustard and lupin.
Currently, there is no cure for food allergies. Whilst for many people the symptoms are mild, there have now been too many cases of an unnecessary death arising from food allergies when the food business has either failed to provide ingredient information to customers or failed to treat allergens correctly to avoid contamination.
It is important that we all learn from mistakes made and take steps to protect our customers, and ultimately our businesses.
How compliant is your business?
When was the last time you reviewed your allergy procedures? How confident are you that your staff would pass a ‘Watchdog’ test? Are you doing everything you can to protect your customers from the 14 Allergens? Do all your staff members even know what the 14 allergens are?
Allergen Training & Consultancy
If you need allergy training for your team or help with process management, I offer a half day accredited Level 2 Allergen course which can be run in house at a time and venue to suit you. I also offer consultancy services providing advice and recommendations specific to your business. Please contact me if you would like to find out more.
Rod Carver - Level 3 Food Safety Attendee
Academy Training Manager