Opinion

The challenges faced with allergen labelling

By Mariko Kubo

- Last updated on GMT

Kubo: 'There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to this problem'
Kubo: 'There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to this problem'
The recent public inquiry into the tragic death of a teenage girl, following a severe allergic reaction to sesame seeds, consumed in a takeaway sandwich, has served to highlight how safety-critical the provision of accurate allergen information is for some vulnerable consumers.

The incident also serves to further illuminate the challenges faced by food business operators (FBOs) in implementing ‘principles’-based legislation.

New EU rules governing the provision of food information to consumers were implemented in 2014. While the requirements for labelling on pre-packed foods were quite prescriptive, the various caveats around compliance for foods for loose sale, catered foods and those prepared and delivered directly to the end-consumer were less so.

Communicate allergens

Member states were left to formulate for themselves binding provisions on exactly how to communicate allergens to consumers.

Popular options are signs listing allergens displayed in the vicinity of the product, or oral information delivered by trained members of staff.

The intention was to provide flexibility to small businesses and foodservice operators as to how allergen information could be communicated, while still complying with the requirements of overarching regulations designed to ensure consumer safety.

No ‘one size fits all’ solution

There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to this problem, but a pragmatic approach should consider the prospect that simply complying with legislation might not be enough to protect consumers – the size, scale and inherent operational risks within the business should be considered when implementing solutions.

As FBOs have a wider legal obligation to only place safe foods on the market, it will likely mean that narrow interpretations of specific food regulations will be replaced with broader compliance strategies.

Mariko Kubo is head of food & beverage regulatory at Leatherhead Food Research.

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