Food Allergies and Reactions

Food allergies and adverse reactions to products that have been poorly labelled can have devastating effects. It is important for food suppliers to meet their legal duties in labelling their goods clearly and effectively, and it is crucial that consumers consult experienced legal specialists who are able to support them through the complexities of legal action and compensation claims if they have a claim to make.

Our Personal Injury professionals have many decades of experience in fighting for good outcomes for people who have suffered an injury or ill-health through no fault of their own, and they work hard to ensure that the process is as stress-free and seamless as possible.  

Clearly, food brands are keen to preserve their reputations and they have, historically, defended themselves very robustly when it comes to accepting liability for food allergy suffering. And, since in some cases compensation claims can result in heavy financial penalties, food firms tend to arm themselves with robust legal counsel when dealing with these cases. So, it is very important, if you have suffered an allergic reaction to food you feel has been poorly labelled or flagged up, that you seek tailored legal support.

What Does the Law Say?

Provision of allergen information is governed by the European Food Information to Consumers Regulation No 1169/2011 (FIC).

The intention of this specific regulation was to improve food safety for allergy sufferers when eating away from the home. It was included in UK law as the Food Information Regulations (FIR) in December 2014 to enables its enforcement in the UK.

As the legal guidance stands at the moment, food labelling should be accurate, specific and easy to spot. However, allergen information usually appears in small print, it can be difficult to notice on food packaging and it can be easily misunderstood. EU regulations require food companies to warn of allergy risks, either on signs, packaging or orally. However, time and again, this approach is proving insufficient for consumers – not to mention fraught with risks.

While most allergic reactions are relatively minor, a significant number are severe, and some can be fatal. If you have suffered an allergic reaction to food and you feel the supplier of this food did not make it clear that the item in question contained potential allergens, then you may have a viable case for compensation, whether your reaction was minor or severe.

Unfortunately, the existing law is not providing adequate protection to allergy sufferers and from 2021 further protection will be afforded when Natasha’s Law will come into force.

 

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Common Food Triggers

An allergic reaction is brought on by your immune system’s reaction to ingredients which the body flags up as a threat.

Some of the most common food triggers include:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree Nuts
  • Wheat
  • Milk
  • Soy beans
  • Eggs
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Celery and celeriac
  • Sesame seeds
  • Cereals containing gluten
  • Mustard
  • Lupus
  • Sulphur Dioxide
  • Sulphates

If a product contains any of the above then this information must be made available to any given customer. However, the way in which this information is relayed to the customer depends on which of the following three main categories it falls into:

  • Prepacked foods – these must have an ingredients list;
  • Non-prepacked foods -  such as that sold in a restaurant, information for every item that contains any of the 14 allergens must be provided;
  • Foods prepared for direct sale – there is a wide discretion as to how food business operators communicate allergen information to consumers which is inconsistent across establishments.

Eating foods which contain any of the above allergens can produce an anaphylactic reaction in some people.

The severity of an allergic reaction can be markedly different to an individual who is sensitive to some ingredients, and each incidence can also be different for a single sufferer. But, the most common symptoms include hives and itching, tingling in the mouth and swelling of the lips or throat, nasal congestion, abdominal pain and dizziness. Most of these food allergy symptoms can be dealt with by using antihistamines.

However, an anaphylactic reaction is far more severe, and it can be life-threatening unless medical assistance arrives very swiftly. Symptoms include a rapid constriction of the airways, making it hard to breathe, a sudden drop in blood pressure, quickening pulse and dizziness which can often lead to unconsciousness.

Two cases which have been widely reported in the press recently are those relating to Natasha Ednan-Laperouse and Owen Carey, both of whom tragically suffered fatal anaphylactic reactions after eating foods which contained allergens.

Compensation

The level of compensation awarded in a successful claim can vary greatly and will be dependent on the medical expert evidence setting out the level of pain and suffering and the period of recovery experienced after being exposed to an allergen.

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