Food Standards Agency (FSA) board members were told earlier this week the organisation responsible for the safety of our food would not take its foot off the food safety accelerator and there were no plans to impose any sort of self-regulation on food businesses.
Chairman Heather Hancock said: “Our ambition in doing this is not to loosen the reins. This is about our ownership, maintenance and driving forward of food standards and public protection.”
A need for more attention around the control of allergens in food was agreed by the board, which called for additional research to be commissioned into the understanding, prevalence and characteristics of allergies in adults.
More research, much of which has already been carried out through the organisation’s allergy research programme, would help decide future science and policy priorities, it said.
Providing clearer and reliable allergy information about food allergies and intolerances to businesses and consumers was “critical” for public trust in food and preventing illness.
Allergies and intolerance
Rates of food allergies and intolerance vary across the world, but it is believed, in the UK, around 2m people are living with a diagnosed food allergy – 600,000 of which are coeliac and therefore intolerant to gluten.
In a report, director of policy at the FSA Steve Wearne said: “There is no cure for food allergy or intolerance so the only way to manage the condition is to observe a strict avoidance diet.
“This puts a strain on the food allergic person, their family and friends.”
He added: “To avoid being the ‘awkward one’ who limits food choices or where to eat, the food allergic person often feels compelled to risk allergic reactions to fit in; this is especially true for young people.”
Although millions of consumers do suffer with allergies, there are few deaths and average about 10 a year, said Wearne.
However, consumer access to information around food ingredients had to be given more attention.
‘Access to allergen information’
Wearne added: “Access to allergen information is an important area of interest for allergic consumers; this covers what allergens are declared on prepacked foods and for non-prepacked foods.
“The unknown presence of an allergen can result in a severe reaction or death. The FSA’s Allergy and Intolerance Team has been at the forefront of food allergy developments, working closely with national and international organisations to influence research to develop policy for those with food allergies to help them make safe and informed food choices.”
Last year, it was revealed one in four people had suffered an allergic reaction while eating in a pub, despite protective measures such as the Food Information Consumer regulations that came into force in 2014.
Statistics from the FSA at the time showed one in five of those reactions were severe enough to warrant a visit to hospital.
Such figures have raised concern from industry experts about the way allergen labelling is handled in hospitality, compared with packaged food.
Labels on food and drink products must clearly state the allergens present, while the foodservice is only liable to communicate allergens verbally to consumers or offer them a list of allergens present in the dishes.