Teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died in July 2016 from anaphylaxis caused by sesame. An inquest held at the end of September concluded that a Pret artichoke and olive tapenade baguette, which had sesame baked into the bread, was the cause of death.
Pret relied on UK law, which permits no allergen labelling on products that are not prepacked, or which are prepacked on the premises where they are sold. However, coroner Dr Sean Cummings found Pret’s labelling to be inadequate and that it was not “monitoring allergens seriously”. In response, the retail chain pledged to place allergen warning stickers on all freshly made products.
‘Change in culture’
There needed to be a “change of culture” in businesses, regulation and enforcement, so that people with allergies could readily find the information they needed to keep safe, said the Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST).
“When businesses are fully complying with the regulations, and such tragic cases still occur, the law needs to be reviewed,” said Sterling Crew, chair of the IFST’s food safety group.
Alex Demetriou, managing director at procurement specialist Regency Purchasing Group, said the current law was “flawed” as it didn’t differentiate between a shop where sandwiches were made to order in front of the customer, and a shop where sandwiches were made on the premises – but behind the scenes, packaged up and put on shelves for the customer to pick up and take away.
“Many customers believe that the food would be labelled if allergens were present, so they assume that the product is safe to eat when it may not be,” said Demetriou. “The food and beverage sector should be fully committed to clearly labelling all allergens, removing doubt.”
It was “highly likely” other food firms would follow in Pret’s footsteps in voluntarily providing allergen information on the labels of freshly prepared products, claimed Dominic Watkins, global head of the food group at legal firm DWF.
“It’s increasingly likely the Government will remove the ‘pre-packed for direct’ classification from regulations, meaning all types of food in packaging will be required to declare any allergens on-pack, rather than providing it orally or by a sign as the law currently allows,” Watkins said.