Food labelling. It’s something we see every day but probably don’t pay that much attention too, right? Why do we need it? Who actually uses it? And what happens when it all goes wrong?
You may have recently heard about the huge scandal with Pret-A-Manger and their food labelling, where many people have become ill or even died from the inadequate, or not-so-inadequate by law labelling. 15 year old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse tragically died back in July 2016, when travelling on a British Airways flight to France with her Father, when she suffered a fatal allergic reaction to undisclosed sesame in a sandwich she had purchased from the chain – despite following all safety recommendations, being well informed regarding her allergy AND carrying her EpiPens, nothing was able to done to save her.
“Organic coffee, natural food”… but what are they hiding?
So the question arises: what went wrong? Pret-A-Manager currently doesn’t not label all of their freshly prepared products with allergens, they provide an allergen guide online and instore, where customers are directed to staff for further information regarding the product. The issue with the sandwich which ultimately lead to Natasha’s death was that the sesame, not advertised as an allergen or visible from the packaging, was in fact baked inside the bread. Her death could of easily been avoided if the sesame ingredient was highlighted on an ingredients label, like many other retailers do. It is thought Pret don’t print allergy labels in order to protect their ‘fresh, clean living’ image, not wanting to disclose any extra ingredients that may go into their products. Whilst it may promote their healthy image, they’re tarnishing that day by day when yet another person falls ill. How many of their staff have full allergen training? Can they guarantee it hasn’t been cooked with or cross contaminated with an allergen during the cooking process? And asides from the allergens, what about their general audience? What is actually going into their products…?
Pret have only just recently (October 2018) announced that they will trial a pilot in a FEW of it’s stores with full allergy labelling after Natasha’s death. But how will they measure their success? More people to fall ill or even die just to prevent tarnishing their image? There has been an outcry from this recent response, with many urging Pret to do more and ultimately pushing Natasha’s Law – the proposed law to make changes to allergen labels where it is required to label ALL prepared products with an allergen label. It’s hoping to come into effect by 2019, but after Pret’s recent statement on just ‘trialling’ the law, will it be welcomed by businesses as much as it really needs to be?
It is currently law that restaurants and takeaways must label and provide information on the 14 major allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, egg, sesame, cereals, crustaceans, fish, soybean, milk, celery, mustard, sulphites, lupin and molluscs. Foods currently prepared on site do not fall into the allergen labelling guides, unlike all other products, such as food prepared off site or loose foods, with the Food Standards Agency stating “Generally means those foods that have been packed on the same premises as they are being sold. In these situations, it is thought that the customer would be able to speak to the person who made/packed the foods to ask about ingredients and so these foods do not generally have to be labelled with ingredients by law. Foods which could fall under this category are meat pies made on site, and sandwiches made and sold prepacked or not pre-packed from the premises in which they were made.” This has not only sparked worries regarding purchasing food from Pret, but other retailers who pre-package their food on site too. What are we eating? How safe are we with this products? And how educated are staff.
Look at this label above. Full ingredients, allergens in bold. It’s really not that hard to produce is it? Ingredients in bold make it easy for someone like me who constantly has to read food labels to make sure it’s safe for me to eat. The bold lettering makes it pop out and easy to find.
The call for Natasha’s Law is a great one and is widely welcomed by all allergy sufferers and families who have suffered or lost as a result of mislabelling by the law. But the impact on businesses? How far and how much pressure will this law add to those, small and large with changing ways, employing extra staff to create this labelling and the cost implications of it too. But surely, the cost of a life is greater than any other cost to a company.
This is still a very raw and new campaign, but the discussion is there to be had. For now, read labels, ask questions and avoid any risks where you can. Will companies suffer from the risk of allergens or will allergenic persons suffer from continued poor labelling? The battle continues. But I can tell you for sure, I will not be purchasing from the chain in the near future until they sort their game out.
Emma is a Registered Dietitian and Registered Associate Nutritionist based in Cheshire, England. Emma works in community healthcare and writes freelance alongside her work: topics including Dietetic life, nutrition, mental health and lifestyle. Emma also writes and photographs recipes for the platform, as well as being the author of the ‘Mummy and Me’ series for SR Nutrition. Emma’s Food Stories is PR friendly brand.