Tragedy puts allergens in spotlight

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Requirements: make sure your staff know what to do and you are robust with allergen labelling procedures
Requirements: make sure your staff know what to do and you are robust with allergen labelling procedures
You might have read recently about the case of a teenager who tragically died following an allergic reaction to sesame, an ingredient that was contained within a sandwich that she ate. This awful incident has again brought the issues of allergens into the headlines, and not only highlights the seriousness of the subject, but also the confusion over the law.

In this particular incident, the packaging on the sandwich didn’t list all of the ingredients and allergens the product contained. The coroner found that Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died of anaphylactic shock.

The coroner, Sean Cummings, said the baguette contained sesame, to which she was allergic. “There was no specific allergen information on the baguette packaging or on the food display cabinet and Natasha was reassured by that,” he ruled. This is because, under current law, non-pre-packaged foods do not have to be labelled, according to the UK’s Food Information Regulations 2014.

It is a stark reminder to all in the hospitality trade, that allergies need to be taken seriously, and a robust procedure should be in place for customers to discuss any allergens with the kitchen staff. It also requires the kitchen staff to be aware of the allergens and where to find this information.

Have your kitchen staff been trained in relation to allergies? Would they know what to look for in ingredients when an allergy is notified to them? Do your menus clearly identify the need for customers to make allergies known?

The store where the sandwich was purchased confirmed that, at the time of Natasha’s death, products would not have been individually labelled with allergen or ingredient information, and this was within regulations. However, it also confirmed there were signs in the fridge and at till points telling consumers with allergies to speak to a manager for advice or to see its allergen guide.

Although this will put more pressure on licenced premises, given the serious consequences to people who have severe food allergies, proposals are due from the EU to address the current gaps in the directives, including freshly prepared food.

Running licenced operations is a tough job. In an ideal world, all customers with allergies will notify you of any potential risks but, by having informed staff members and clear information available, risks can be minimised while providing confidence to customers that they can make an informed decision as to which dishes will be suitable for them.

However, with the spotlight now firmly back on this issue, providing a safe eating experience for allergy sufferers should be paramount, particularly as the number of allergy sensitive customers are increasing.

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