UK companies call for clearer rules on food labeling following Pret a Manger deaths
13 Mar 2023 --- Eleven UK food businesses, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, are calling for clearer rules on labeling in an open letter after the deaths of two Pret a Manger customers who suffered allergic reactions to undeclared ingredients.
The letter argues that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) needs to “make a clear decision on such thresholds and a strong recommendation to ministers.”
Pret a Manger is among the businesses that have signed the letter, organized by the foundation set up by the family of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after eating a baguette containing sesame seeds.
The businesses, which also includes Greggs, want a mandatory system to ensure the swift reporting of food-related anaphylaxis cases.
Both issues were highlighted last year by the coroner hearing the inquest on Celia Marsh, a dental nurse from Wiltshire with a severe dairy allergy who died after eating a “vegan” Pret a Manger wrap contaminated with milk protein.
The absence of ingredients is misleading
The coroner for Avon, Marie Voisin, says labels implying the absence of a particular allergen – especially terms like “free-from” and “vegan” – were “potentially misleading.”
The letter outlines that clearer labeling rules would provide food sellers with an absolute definition of how much of a specific allergen pre-packed food could safely contain before being labeled as free of that allergen.”
“Implementation would enable food producers to bring in consistent industry-standard testing and help keep the most allergic consumers safe and increase the choice of foods they can consume.”
The letter points out that Marsh’s death was not immediately reported to the relevant authorities or even to the business that had sold the product.
It says: “This not only posed a risk to customers but also impacted the investigation and learnings from Mrs. Marsh’s death. As the coroner recommends, government and public health bodies must devise a ‘’robust system’ for the rapid reporting of fatal and near-fatal severe allergic reactions.”
“We believe, taken together, these two actions could help save lives and build greater trust in the UK food industry for people with food allergies,” the letter summarizes.
Creating safety for allergy sufferers
In a statement, Marsh’s family welcomed the letter. They believe the measures would “make the world safer for allergy sufferers like our beloved mum and wife.”
“We are delighted that the call for real change following Celia Marsh’s tragic and avoidable death is supported by many of the country’s biggest food businesses,” says Nadim Ednan-Laperouse, Natasha’s father and co-founder of Natasha’s Foundation.
“It demonstrates that the industry shares our belief, and that of Celia’s family, that keeping their food allergic customers safe should be an absolute priority.
“It’s now over to ministers, health chiefs and the FSA to do the right thing by the 3 million people in this country living with food allergies and implement the coroner’s recommendations,” he comments.
The letter has been sent to No 10, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the health secretary, Steve Barclay, the Food Standards Agency, the UK Health Security Agency, the Royal College of Pathologists, the Royal College of Pathologists, UK Hospitality and the Food & Drink Federation.
Last year, Natasha’s parents set up a clinical trial anticipated to make “food allergies history.” The trial investigates if everyday food products can be used as treatment and is being pegged as a unique opportunity to establish immunotherapy as a practical treatment.
This came after UK businesses reported being “oblivious” to the then-upcoming allergen labeling legislation.
Edited by Elizabeth Green
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