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Call for tightening of allergen law

William Hatchett11/10/2018 - 14:00

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Pret A Manger
Pret A Manger

Following the deaths of two customers of the Pret A Manger food chain from food allergies, CIEH is calling for an immediate review of legislation to ensure that loopholes are closed.

Fifteen-year old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died after suffering a fatal reaction to a Pret A Manger artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette purchased at one of the company's outlets at Heathrow Airport, in July 2016. She was unaware that it contained sesame seeds, to which she was allergic.

The death of a second Pret A Manger customer, Celia Marsh, is also believed to have been caused by an allergic reaction to milk protein in what she believed to be a ‘dairy free’ flatbread. The affected product was bought in Bath last December.

Testing by Pret A Manger has confirmed that the ‘dairy-free yoghurt’ in the flatbread, made from coconut milk, was contaminated. A date for an inquest has yet to be fixed.

In the wake of the incidents, Pret issued an apology and announced improved allergen signage in outlets, full ingredient information online and prominent allergen warning stickers on freshly made products.

Under the Food Information Regulations 2014, businesses which produce food on site can provide reduced allergen labelling compared with factory-made products. They can either have stickers on fridges or on packaging or inform customers about allergy risks orally.

Last month, at an inquest into the death of Ednan-Laperouse at West London Coroner’s Court, a coroner said that reduced allergen labelling requirements for shop-made food may be being used by bigger businesses ‘to get around regulations’

Bridget Saunders, Hillingdon Council food safety officer told the inquest she had had found the Pret branch to be in compliance with food labelling and allergy information law, during an inspection in February 2016.

Tony Lewis, head of policy at CIEH, said: ‘We have to be clear here that Pret A Manger has done nothing illegal. The source of the problem is the current legislation that provides a number of loopholes and exceptions, in a system that is clearly not fit for purpose.

‘We are calling for an immediate review of current legislation to close loopholes and to ensure that food is properly labelled to ensure customer safety.’

A blog from Pret’s CEO, Clive Schlee, posted on the company’s website says: ‘We are deeply sorry for the loss of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse. I hope this sets us on course to drive change in the industry. Nothing is more important to us right now.

‘We now display declarable allergens for our freshly made products on shelf tickets. We also have signs in our fridges, on product packaging, and at till points advising customers with allergies to speak with a manager.

‘We recognise there is much more we can do. We will start trialling new labels which show full ingredients, including allergens, on packaging from next month. This will be rolled out as quickly as possible.

‘Pret is also committed to working with others, including the government, regulatory authorities, charity groups and industry peers to secure legislative changes to better protect people with allergies.’

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