• Simon Hamilton
Food Allergens – the importance of correct handling and labelling in food manufacture

In September 2018, BBC news reported on the inquest into a second Pret a Manger customer who suffered an allergic reaction and tragically died as a direct result from ingredients not being fully labelled.

This is one of several cases that have come to light in recent times, highlighting a need to review how ingredients are labelled by food retailers and why there needs to be more clarity over labelling of pre-packaged food, freshly made food and the manufacturers responsibilities to provide ingredient information to retailers.

The food standards agency sets out that all pre-made food for sale must identify any of the following ingredients:

  • Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and khorasan wheat), rye, barley and oats
  • Crustaceans for example prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Milk (including lactose)
  • Nuts; namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts and macadamia (or Queensland) nuts
  • 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 like mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid

On the 27th December, a second customer sadly died as a result of an allergic reaction to dairy after eating a "super-veg rainbow flatbread" which was intended to be dairy-free.

In this instance, Coyo, a coconut milk brand that supplied the yoghurt in the product sold by Pret, was found to have traces of dairy protein in its yoghurt.

Coyo subsequently recalled its products this year after an investigation by the Food Standards Agency. It was discovered that their products contained contaminated raw materials. Coyo said it had carried out a "thorough review" of its ingredients and identified that the contaminated material was provided by an external third-party supplier, whose relationship had now been terminated.

To be clear, UK regulations state that any food handler in catering, manufacturing and retail must be supervised and trained in food hygiene and safety under Regulation (EC) 178/2002, the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Food Hygiene Regulations 2006.

It is essential that food business operators have a workforce that is fully training to regulation standards to prevent cross-contamination and ensure correct handling of ingredients, utensils and use of packaging. Therefore, training managers and HR teams need to be working closely with front line managers to assess training requirements and enforce regulation compliance in roles where it is a requirement by law.

In addition to this, food manufacturers should also be addressing the issue of transparency and flow of accurate information throughout the supply chain.

The Growth Company provide a number of food allergen awareness and good manufacturing safety courses to train employees and to be compliant with UK regulation.

See here for details on our courses