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Published 9 January 2019
It would have been nigh on impossible for any catering professional (or indeed anyone else) to miss the news in 2018 of the inquest into the tragic death of fifteen-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse. She died as a result of an allergic reaction to sesame seeds contained within a sandwich, which were not listed or highlighted at the point of purchase.
The company which sold the sandwich in question was not considered to be in breach of any of the regulations which govern food safety or labelling. Those in the catering industry will surely consider this to be a rather frightening message: complying with the law is not always enough to prevent a tragedy.
There is currently a distinction between packaged food; which is required to have allergen information identified on the label; and that which is prepared on site, which is not. In both cases the customer must have access to the relevant information but in the latter case there is an onus on the consumer to ask the questions.
At the inquest last autumn, both the local authority inspector and the acting Senior Coroner for West London called for a review of food labelling regulations. This has since been echoed across both Houses of Parliament by politicians cross party and there is a visible appetite for change across both traditional and social media.
In October 2018 David Rutley, Minister for Food and Animal Welfare, confirmed that DEFRA, together with the Food Standards Agency and Department for Health and Social Care, had begun a review. Mr Rutley committed publically to “taking this matter up with the utmost seriousness and… [tackling] it as a matter of urgency”. The parameters of that review are yet to be confirmed but political will and public opinion would appear to dictate that change is all but inevitable.
So what does this mean for the catering industry and how do you keep your customers, and reputations, safe? Allergens are a deadly concern and the sad reality is that the regulations currently in place have proven themselves to be insufficient to protect consumers.
When considering the general form that any changes might take, we can be reasonably confident that any redrafting of the legislation in this area will provide for the burden currently placed upon the consumer to ask the right questions to be shifted towards the provider. How far will depend, in part, upon how the food industry engages in the consultation.
For the forward-thinking business, therefore, investment in clear information at point of sale, in order to stay ahead of the curve, is unlikely to be wasted and, more importantly, may ultimately save lives.
Food safety is a key issue and we expect it to remain so in 2019.
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