Appetite for allergens

16 Mar 2015

Food allergy sufferers must know what is in the food they eat – in many cases their lives depend on it. A new regulation came into effect on 13 December 2014 which makes it compulsory for all sectors of the food industry to provide allergen information. Two months on from the introduction of The Food Information for Consumers Regulation the SCI Food Group arranged an evening to give food industry professionals an opportunity to hear an overview of the changes. Simon Flanagan, Senior Consultant, RSSL and Jenny Morris MBE, Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institue of Environmental Health (CIEH) spoke about these changes and the implications it has on the food industry.

Simon Flanagan, who has spent 30 years in the food industry, began the event by explaining the new regulation and stating what is new and why there needed to be changes. The new regulation now applies to not only pre-packaged foods, as bought in the supermarket, but also to food sold loose, or non pre-packaged foods, (in markets, deli counters, restaurants etc.) and importantly, also covers distance selling such as takeaway restaurants and shopping online. Additionally there is a new emphasis on the allergen information being visible and legible, which is why a minimum font size of 1.2mm has been imposed.

Interestingly there are now 'mandatory particulars' and 'voluntary particulars'. Mandatory particulars for example 'may contain nuts', concern deliberate ingredients and should be easily visible, clearly legible and not obscured in any way. They should also not be hidden for example under a flap or across a fold or crease. Voluntary particulars however are necessary if there is a risk of cross-contamination, but they must not mislead consumers or be ambiguous. The negative aspect of voluntary particulars is that the format can be inconsistent which can cause confusion with consumers, and therefore uncertainty as to whether products are suitable. Some examples include, 'may contain traces of' or 'produced on a line that also produces...'

Simon also revealed the harrowing statistics of food allergy sufferers in the UK: There is 1 fatality per month through food allergy, 1.92 million people have a food allergy in the UK, 5-8% of children have a food allergy and 1-2% of adults, and there are a higher proportion of fatal reactions when people eat away from home. These figures emphasise the need for new regulations to help food allergen sufferers.

Jenny Morris MBE, Head of TiFSip (The Institute of Food Safety Integrity & Protection), was awarded an MBE in 2014 for services to environmental health. She spoke about non pre-packaged foods and gave her views on enforcement of the new regulation which has a huge impact on this type of food.

Jenny stated that there is a duty on the upper tiers of authority such as Metropolitan Districts, and also local authorities to take control and to prevent things from going wrong. Loose foods should no longer be dangerous for allergen sufferers. Local authorities are now providing workshops and training on the new regulation which should help protect people and also help businesses succeed.

Andy Kerridge, Chair of SCI Food Group Committee explained, 'Allergen sufferers and their families face the daily lottery of what to eat, and some have a very restricted choice. Hopefully the Food Information Regulation will, by extending the requirements on the provision of allergen information to foods eaten out of the home, give allergen sufferers greater confidence in being able to eat out. However it has to be recognised that we have a food service industry that has a wide range of sizes and operational complexity, with many single-unit business. So communicating this change, training and enforcing it is going to take time. Many businesses have prepared and are ready, but this is not a one-off fix.  It requires constant vigilance and understanding of the consequences of changes to ingredients, suppliers and kitchen procedures'.

Becky Rivers

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