• Allergens – labelling of catering foods on display

    Following the tragic death and inquest regarding Natasha Ednan-Laperouse to prevent future deaths, a change in labelling law was requested. The issue was that supermarket sandwiches, made in a factory under strict conditions to prevent contamination and fully labelled, are treated differently to those made in a catering premises and put on display for self-selection by customers. Four options were suggested, from voluntary improved training to full labelling. In a Kitchen Conversation with my colleague Sterling Crew, I react to the news that full labelling is going to be required.

    • Catering premises are different to factories – they don’t make foods in a production line but in a kitchen where many foods are made at the same time, meaning that ingredients may easily cause cross-contact.
    • There are actually over 100 ingredients that have been identified that can cause an allergic reaction – they are not on the legal list, but this means that it is effectively impossible to have an “allergen free” environment – because people are allergic to different foods and the caterer can only cope with this if they know about it when the food is ordered. That is why we need to encourage conversation with customers.
    • Full ingredient labelling is a complex affair – it can cost food businesses thousands of pounds per item to get an accurate label put together and verified. Small businesses may not have the technical know-how. If they try to do it without the necessary support, they may not do it accurately. A full label lists every ingredient and sub-ingredient in descending order by weight. That is not how caterers operate!
    • Manufacturers often get labelling of allergens wrong – there are many recalls every year. The risk from catering premises may be higher.
    • If there is a full label, the allergic customer may be less likely to ask questions about allergens and cross-contact in food, and could be more at risk.
    • I think the best label would be simply “Made in-house, ask about allergens” so that this alerts the customer that this is a different product to a manufactured one bought in the supermarkets and they need to ask the staff about allergens.
    • The business will have the information to hand about what ingredients are in the food, and critically whether there is a risk of cross-contact. In some instances, businesses may then be able to make a food specially for the guest.

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