Encouraging dialogue between customers and businesses is the most effective way of tackling allergen-related issues, according to UKHospitality.

UKH has responded to the Government’s consultation on allergen regulations for prepacked food advocating the promotion of voluntary labelling and “ask about allergens” stickers.

Following the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse in 2016 after an allergic reaction to a baguette purchased from Pret a Manger, allergens hit the headlines.

Natasha was allergic to sesame seeds – 1 of the 14 allergens listed by the Food Standards Agency as being required to be drawn to the attention of consumers as being present. The baguette Natasha purchased had sesame seeds baked into the dough, but no warning was provided. Sadly, Natasha had a severe allergic reaction and died later the same day. Pret A Manger announced it would start listing all ingredients in its products following Natasha’s death. However, this was a voluntary decision and didn’t mean that other operators would automatically follow suit.

Each year there are;

  • 4,500 UK hospital admissions a year from food allergy
  • 10 food allergy deaths per year
  • 1 in 4 people surveyed said they or a relative had suffered a reaction eating out
  • 8% of children affected by food allergies or intolerances
  • 2% of adults affected by food allergies or intolerances

Now, UKHospitality is calling for businesses to encourage conversation between customers and businesses to ensure that allergen-related issues are being openly discussed.

UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said: “Food safety is of paramount importance and it is vital that customers are kept safe and confident when they purchase our food and drink. The best way to ensure this is to facilitate an environment which encourages an active dialogue and partnership of responsibility between customers and businesses. We need our customers to feel comfortable about asking team members about allergens and confident that the information they receive is accurate.

“It may be tempting to rely on full labelling, but this option is potentially dangerous. Not only might it prevent customers from entering into a dialogue with staff, there are risks regarding mislabelling. It would also not be practical, as it would not circumvent the issue of cross-contamination which would be ever-present.

“FSA approved, consistent stickering encouraging customers to ask about allergens alongside continued staff training and industry-led action is the best way to ensure that customers get the most effective and accurate information.”

Producers and suppliers of both pre-packed and non-prepacked food are required to make consumers aware of the presence of any potentially allergic substances that may be present. For pre-packed foods, this needs to be on the packaging itself – unless the food is served on the premises where it was made and packaged. For non-prepacked foods, producers and suppliers have greater flexibility in how this information is communicated. For example, it could be written on a chalk board or explained by a member of staff.

Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash