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Pret A Manger: What are the rules for allergy food labelling in the UK?

15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died from a severe allergic reaction caused by sesame seeds in a baguette

Sabrina Barr
Monday 08 October 2018 10:00 BST
15-year-old died after suffering allergic reaction to Pret a Manger baguette, inquest will hear

Pret A Manger has announced that it’s going to begin listing all ingredients on its products following the death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered an allergic reaction in 2016 after eating sesame seeds on a baguette that were not listed as ingredients.

On Sunday, it was revealed that a second customer died from an allergic reaction to a sandwich bough from the chain that was supposed to be dairy-free.

Prior to the regulation change, the eatery wasn’t required to display all ingredients on its food products.

However, a number of people have now called on the government to make a change to the current legislation, with environment secretary Michael Gove saying that he’s having civil servants look into changing the law.

Markus Stripf, CEO and founder of Spoon Guru, an app that helps people find food products that suit their nutritional needs, explains the importance of ensuring that there is clear labelling on food products for people who suffer from allergies.

“According to Allergy UK, one in five individuals are affected by allergy. It’s clear that a significant segment of the population needs to rely on accurate food labelling,” he tells The Independent.

“There is zero margin for error and so it is paramount that the labelling is complete and reliable.

“Food allergy should not be taken lightly, the consequences can be life-threatening and should not be confused with a food intolerance.”

So, what are the current rules for allergy food labelling in the UK? Here’s everything you need to know:

What are the allergy food labelling rules in the UK?

The Food Standards Agency states that any food products that contain the 14 main ingredients likely to cause an allergic reaction must be labelled as such.

These allergenic ingredients include: celery; cereals that contain gluten; crustaceans; eggs; fish; lupin; milk; molluscs; mustard; tree nuts; peanuts; sesame seeds; soybeans; sulphur dioxide and sulphites.

Manufacturers must make it clear whether food or drink products contain any of these allergens, whether they’ve been pre-packed or not.

However, according to EU law, this can be done in “written or oral formats”, meaning that customers may be required to ask whether food contains allergens when it’s not stated on the labelling.

Over the past two years, Pret has been including “declarable allergens” on its food product labelling, with signs displayed on fridges, product packaging and at the tills advising customers to speak to members of staff for more information on foods that contain allergens.

However, from next month the international food chain will be updating its food labels across its UK stores so that they show all ingredients.

It will also be displaying more allergen warnings in its shops and on its freshly made products.

How can the rules be improved?

While the rules clearly state that manufacturers must make the presence of major allergens abundantly clear on food labelling, this doesn’t necessarily prevent people with allergies from being at risk of allergic reactions.

It’s important for people with allergies to also be careful when purchasing food or drink products that "may contain" allergens, as Stripf explains.

“Often there are also statements regarding if the product ‘may contain’ an allergen, for example a factory can make nut products and non-nut products. It is essential to read these statements if you have a food allergy,” he says.

“Tighter regulation is required regarding the use of these statements as they are currently not mandatory in all countries.”

At the inquest into Ednan-Laperouse’s death, which took place last week, coroner Dr Séan Cummings expressed his concerns over the current regulations which allowed Pret to sell food products with reduced allergen labelling, due to the fact that they were produced on site.

“It seems a little strange a local sandwich shop could benefit from that regulation but an organisation that sells 218 million items [a year] should also benefit from that regulation,” he said.

“A cynic might think it was almost a device to get around regulations relating to identifying food allergens."

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