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Food Allergens and Product Mislabelling

View profile for Ian Rees
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Recently, the news has highlighted the dangers of food allergies having devastating consequences for food allergy suffers due to being food products being mislabelled.

Guidance states that food labelling should be accurate and specific but in reality, allergen information is usually in small print, difficult to spot on food packaging and easy to misunderstand by the consumer/general public. The rules simply state that allergen information must be easily accessible to all consumers, consistent, verifiable and that the information is accurate.

Recent media articles show that the government have been called upon to make a change to current legislation. People have a right to know that the food they have purchased matches the description given on the food label. EU regulations require food companies to warn of allergy risks, either on signs, packaging or orally. However, this is not sufficient for consumers especially with the growing allergens in the general population. There is concern worldwide particularly with food allergies being increasingly prevalent in young people. For example, supermarket bakeries have been in the news for being ‘unclear on allergies’ and that the information on potentially lethal ingredients is not always easy to obtain.

Taking another example, something that most people take for granted, going out to eat in restaurants – has the time come for digital menus which can offer its customers pinpoint accurate information about potential allergens in a particular dish? It is clear that restaurants need to provide consistent training with their staff and also to constantly update staff whenever a new food dish is added to its menu to protect the safety of its customers. A growing concern worldwide suggests that food fraud is becoming a challenge to food businesses and consumers due to the growing number of allergens entering the food supply chain.

There are 14 major allergens which must be either labelled on the food product itself or indicated as being present in foods which have been identified across Europe as the most common ingredients or processing aids causing food allergies and intolerances.

The 14 allergens which must be declared to the consumer are:-

  • Cereals containing gluten, namely wheat, rye, barley, oats
  • Crustaceans e.g. crabs, crayfish, lobster, prawns
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Milk (including lactose)
  • Nuts, namely almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, macadamia (or Queensland) nuts, pecan nuts, pistachio nuts, walnuts
  • Celery (including celeriac)
  • Mustard
  • Sesame
  • Sulphur dioxide/sulphites (where added and at a level above 10mg/kg or 10mg/L in the finished product. This can be used as a preservative in dried fruit
  • Lupin (which includes lupin seeds and flour) and can be found in types of bread, pastries and pasta
  • Molluscs e.g. mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid

The Food Standards Agency highlights that food which has been ‘pre-packed for direct sale’ has hit the news as this category of food products generally refers to foods which have been packed on the same premises as they are being sold. In such circumstances, 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. Such food products which fall under this category include sandwiches made and sold prepacked or not pre-packed from the premises in which they are made.

The news has recently reiterated the importance of food products providing full information to assist those with allergies. Stronger food labelling laws are currently being proposed to prevent further deaths of individuals who suffer from allergies. In relation to labelling food which is made, packaged and sold on the same premises, new proposals are being put forward. This could mean that all packaged foods such as salads and sandwiches could be required to list the full ingredients. 

When catering for an increasing population with food allergies, the food industry needs to make changes to ensure that it is as transparent as possible in order to be able to give consumers the information they need.

Ian Rees is a Solicitor specialising in complex Personal Injury claims, including road traffic accidents, cycling accidents, accidents at work, and accidents in the home. Ian is focussed on achieving a good outcome for individuals who have been injured, some with life-changing injuries, through no fault of their own. Ian has been working in the specialist area of personal injury for nearly 20 years since qualifying in 1998. Ian recognises that the injuries and loss of income caused by an accident can be a traumatic time, and will do all he can to reduce the stress and anxiety for the Client and the Client’s family.

For more information contact Ian on 01792 529641 or email ian.rees@jcpsolicitors.co.uk

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