This article is going to explore the issues surrounding allergen labelling and whether consumers are protected and provided with all the information they deserve and what reforms need to be implemented to further protect consumers. It is going to explore recent issues that were a direct result of failure to follow the required legislation for allergens. The legislation for such issues is very broad and is in need of potential reforms in terms of allergen labelling so that the number of incidents caused as a result of allergic reactions can be heavily reduced.
Introduction The focus of this article is on whether businesses are doing enough to make consumers aware of what allergens are present in all foods. This article will address the current laws governing the food industry in regards to allergen labelling. It aims to explain the issues with the current laws and what needs to be done in order to further protect consumers. It also looks to regulatory bodies and their role in making sure that businesses are complying with food safety requirements.
Food allergies and its implicationsFood hypersensitivity in the UK is on the increase with the number of people with food allergies being estimated up to 2 million . A small teaspoon or bite for a person who is allergic to a substance can trigger potentially fatal reactions with the number of people getting anaphylactic reactions due to food allergies being on the rise. Data released in 2017 by NHS England showed that the number of people being admitted to hospital after suffering a food allergy is rising by more than 10% each year . As there is no cure to allergies, it is vital that consumers are protected from eating things which have traces of allergens in them to prevent deadly reactions. Due to the rising number of prolific allergy related fatalities in the UK when people have purchased food from businesses and the number of people in the UK with food allergies, DEFRA ” the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have recently published proposals to reform the current laws surrounding the information of allergens and close the loopholes which companies and takeaways are finding. The Law as it Stands and its LimitationsThe Food Information Regulations 2014 (FIR), are the domestic regulations that establish the enforcement measures of the EU Regulation No 1169/2011. Annex II of the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation, outlines the fourteen allergens and products thereof which must be labelled or indicated as being present in foods ranging from eggs, nuts and fish products to sulphates added in foods. The labelling of these allergens aims to make it easier for consumers to buy products suited to their needs and clarify the allergens in the food with information having to be presented in a way which stand out from other ingredients” here with most companies putting down the allergens in bold writing so consumers can distinctly recognise them.This protects those who have allergies as they are able to see what is and what could be contained in their food. However, what about the allergens which aren’t included in the fourteen which are legally required to be labelled? The fact that only fourteen allergens are legally required to be disclosed can be seen as a limitation as people who may suffer allergies other than those in the fourteen may not be aware of them in their products.Currently the law under the FIR states that allergenic ingredients must be clearly labelled on foodstuffs which is prepacked and sets out high standards for this by companies needing to take steps to ensure that they distinctly make it clear of what is it in such products they sell. However, the law does not require the same to happen for non pre-prepacked food such as foods prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) nor for loose foods for which the law imposes less prescriptive approaches. When dealing with non-prepacked food companies do not have to label the allergens in the food individually or declare the allergens to the customer on them, but merely provide information on where allergen information can be obtained and leaving the responsibility on the consumer who needs to ask about potential allergens contained in the food . Although, the FIR does this to be able to free small, independent businesses from onerous regulations, it has dangerous effects for consumers. The FIR also does not provide any definition of PPDS making it hard for businesses to distinguish between prepacked food and PPDS and by not defining PPDS, the law provides a loophole for some companies not to follow through with the regulations. The recent case of the death of a 15-year old due to the failure of popular sandwich chain Pret A Manger to label the allergens in the sandwich purchased which contained sesame seeds – an ingredient the teenager was severely allergic to, demonstrates the flaws with the law as the sandwich she purchased did not actually need to be individually labelled. This was due to the fact that the company could be seen as making foods prepacked for direct sale therefore under s5 FIR therefore does not require businesses to individually label the allergenic ingredient information on such food items. The coroner report from this case called for reforms to the allergen labelling law and led to the DEFRA consultation concerning reforms of the laws surrounding PPDS foods. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health also states the need for an immediate review of food labelling legislation to ensure all loopholes are closed, as here the non-declaration of the fact that sesame seeds were present in the food was not in fact illegal, but the source of the problem resulted