Speaking at Food Manufacture’s Food Safety Briefing: 2020 and beyond – a new era for food standards, Barbara Hirst, food safety and quality consultant at RSSL stressed the need for a “gold standard” approach to free-from products. She claimed, however, that firms faced an uphill struggle to achieve this.
Her comments came after Natasha’s Law was presented to parliament in September, following the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse in July 2016 after she ate a Pret A Manger baguette containing sesame, sold as prepacked for direct sale (PPDS). From October 2021, food sold as PPDS will now require full ingredients labelling with allergens definitively emphasised.
Hirst confirmed that the Food Standards Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had recently delayed additional guidance for firms, ramping up the need for the necessary scrutiny on the factory floor.
‘Challenging for any business’
“This new guidance has been delayed, as understanding a definition for PPDS is very difficult,” she added. “This is challenging for any business.”
Hirst also pointed to the dangers of incorrect ingredients labelling, cross-packing and cross-contamination as key concerns for businesses. “When we think of managing allergens it is really important to put the consumer front and centre,” she said. “What kills people is a high dose of an allergen that they are not expecting.
“Incorrect ingredients, cross-packing and misrepresentation of recipe are the three things businesses must focus on. They are not.
‘Right product in the first place’
“They tend to focus it all around contamination. This is a lower risk because of the dose that an individual may be exposed to. Businesses need to focus on those other issues to ensure they have the right product in the first place and put it in the right packet.”
Cross-contamination of allergens remains a major concern for many food businesses. A survey of 95 food safety professionals, carried out for the briefing, showed that it was respondents’ main worry.
“Allergen management is difficult,” Hirst said. “Typical sites handle multiple allergens with frequent changeovers.”
She noted there was also a “disproportionate focus on cleaning validation in manufacturing”, and added that the rise in free-from and vegan products had also placed more pressure on many businesses to act.