19 November 2019, 09:24 AM
  • Recent food safety scandals have put the food and drink industry under scrutiny. So what changes are being made across the board?
Industry responds to allergy issues

There is a growing need for food and drink products to cater to people with intolerances and allergies. Brands have responded to the rise of vegans, vegetarians and those going gluten-free with a plethora of launches, but it’s time for the same dedication to apply to allergens, and change is indeed happening.

The industry is becoming more aware of how important it is that consumers can trust the food and drink items that they consume. At a time when news headlines have been dominated by reports of severe allergic reactions and even deaths, consumer confidence is at a low. Demands have been made for businesses to provide transparent information about ingredients used and cross contamination, as well as to increase staff training in hospitality to provide allergen information on menus.

The tragic death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse after an allergic reaction to a Pret A Manger baguette made headlines in 2016, leading to calls for businesses to have to provide clear information on labelling. News outlets also reported on the case of teenager Owen Carey, who suffered a fatal allergic reaction in 2017 after consuming buttermilk at a Byron restaurant. This year the government announced ‘Natasha’s Law’ – a new law that will be coming into force by summer 2021 that will require food businesses to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packaged foods.

A Food Standards Agency spokesperson explains how small independent businesses like cafés and farm shops could be impacted by the new law coming into force, “The changes to the regulations which come into effect on 1st October 2021 could affect these kinds of businesses depending on how they produce and sell products. If products are sold loose or are packed at the request of the customer then there is no change. However, foods packed before a customer orders them may come within the scope of the new legislation and would require the name of the food and the full ingredients listed with the allergens emphasised on label to ensure that consumers know what is in the food.

“To help businesses prepare for this change, the FSA will be publishing technical guidance in December covering what products will require the new labelling and what they have to display. During the implementation period we will also be refreshing online allergen training tools and E-Learning modules on food allergens, and updating the Safer Food Better Business information pack to help small businesses. We will also be working with businesses and representative bodies to understand any challenges and encourage sharing of good practice.”

Henry Mackley at Harp Lane Deli says, “At the moment anything that we produce in house – quiches, pates, salads etc – are all sold loose. We obviously take allergy issues very seriously anyway, regardless of future legislation. We are able to provide a full list of allergens for anything we make ourselves, but as we only have a small kitchen we advise anyone with serious allergies to avoid anything homemade.”

Meenesh Mistry, founder of Wholey Moly, which creates handmade cookies with natural ingredients comments, “Better legislation is needed to ensure consumers with allergies are safe and able to enjoy their food. [the new legislation] doesn’t affect Wholey Moly as we already disclose all ingredients, but I think it could result in extra costs for small businesses, such as small delis and cafés, so there needs to be support in rolling this out. I also think more stringent rules could lead to less options for allergy sufferers as you run the risk of businesses wanting to be careful and so covering their backs with blanket statements such “made in a factory with peanuts”.

It’s clear that aside from labelling adjustments coming into force, big changes are being made already. As reported in The Grocer, a new audit service has been launched by food safety consultancy NT Assure and independent compliance audit company Serve Legal. The Customer Experience Allergen Audit will help retailers and operators in the hospitality and food-to-go-sectors to independently monitor the customer experience of allergy sufferers eating in their establishments. The audit will use mystery diners as food-to-go customers who will ask questions regarding ingredients, food preparation, cross-contamination and more, reporting back on the customer experience.

Uber Eats also announced this year that it would be introducing “allergy friendly” filters to make it easier for those with food intolerances or allergies to place orders through the app. The company said that the new feature will allow customers to filter restaurants, communicate allergy requests and allow the restaurants to contact customers and provide the opportunity to order another item that suits. Big-scale changes are being made with the largest players within the food and drink industry and it’s important for independents to follow suit.

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