Food labelling and the future
The tragic news of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who went into cardiac arrest on a flight to Nice after buying a freshly made baguette from Pret a Manger at Heathrow Airport in 2016, has been centre stage recently as the family called for a change in the law regarding food labelling.
Natasha’s father told the coroner that the label on the sandwich ‘gave no indication or mention that sesame seeds were present... Natasha and I relied on food information and saw no need to ask Pret counter staff if any other information was needed’.
An issue arose at the coroner’s inquest as to whether allergen information was provided on a sticker inside the fridge and whether allergy stickers were displayed near the till area. The sandwich packaging itself was not required under UK law to display allergen information because the sandwich had been made instore.
But what are the laws regarding food labelling, and what must you currently include?
The bulk of the rules applicable here come from Europe, but there are some UK specific elements in play.
As it stands labels must include the following:
- The name of the food;
- The condition of the food or whether it has been treated (i.e. is it frozen or has it been concentrated)
- Whether ingredients have been unexpectedly substituted (that is if it is something the consumer would not expect)
- The list of ingredients (these must be given in descending order of weight)
- Additional information for certain ingredients (e.g. if the food contains sweeteners or high caffeine content)
- The quantity of certain ingredients as well as the net quantity
- Durability dates (i.e. the use by date and the date of freezing)
- Any special storage conditions or conditions of use
- The name and address of the food business operator (this is person(s) responsible for ensuring that the requirements of food law are met within the food business under their control)
- The country of origin of the item
- Instructions for use where it would be difficult to use the food in the absence of such instructions
- Any voluntary or mandatory nutritional indications
- Allergen information (i.e. whether the food contains celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupine, milk, molluscs, mustard, nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soya beans, or sulphites above 10mg/kg or litre)
Given the sheer amount of information required, you would be forgiven for wondering where it all went wrong for Pret and how this event has unfolded. The answer here lies in how the UK has chosen to enact the European legislation.
Under European law non-pre-packaged food, such as freshly made sandwiches, food bought loose in delis, or food served in restaurants must provide allergen information. However, each member state can decide how the indication of allergen presence is to be given.
In the UK we can give that allergen information by any means, which includes just giving it orally. If you decide to give the information orally you do not need to provide a full list of the allergens contained in the food, but you must notify to the customers that allergen information is available and will be given upon request. This notification can be given by way of a simple sign or notice and does not have to be on the food item itself.
A second tragedy
A second inquest involving a Pret product is set to take place following the sad death last year of Mrs Celia Marsh who had a dairy allergy. The product here was a ‘super-veg rainbow flatbread’ made with a non-dairy yoghurt. There is an issue as to whether the product contained dairy protein; the allegation is hotly denied by the manufacturer and the outcome of pathology tests is awaited.
In response to the events of this story Theresa May has stated that the government will look into food labelling and companies’ responsibilities in relation to this, so be warned, changes may be on the horizon. Watch this space! Pret and many other take-away chains have meanwhile announced that they are reviewing their labelling policies and increasing the ingredients information on all packaging
If you have any queries regarding anything touched on in this article, or if you would like further information, please contact Sebastian Calnan, or give us a call on 0345 070 6000.