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For any one affected by, and living with allergies, food labelling becomes crucial to eating safely. The FSA (Food Standards Agency) has recently held a consultation to see whether current legislation should be changed, and today published the results.

Callum celebrating his birthday at Pizza Express, with free from dough balls and cucumber sticks (gluten free, dairy free) and a blue balloon in the background

Cast your minds back to the Summer of 2018, when the Natasha Laperouse case resulted in Michael Gove promising a change to food labelling legislation. It came as a result of the case highlighting the labelling errors on the part of Pret a Manger. Natasha had bought a sandwich to eat on a flight, believing it to be safe after consulting the labelling on the back. Sadly this wasn’t the case and she suffered a fatal allergic reaction on a flight later that day. Her family vowed to change the way food labelling is undertaken, and backed by Michael Gove, a consultation was held by Defra and the FSA earlier this year.

The consultation ran until the end of March 2019, inviting businesses and individuals to take part, enlisting their help in explaining what if any changes should take place, and more importantly, why.

The 4 options provided for consideration were:

  • Option 1 – promote best practice (no change in current law)
  • Option 2 – add ‘ask the staff’ stickers to packaging, with staff required to provide information orally and in writing if requested
  • Option 3 – label food with the name of the food and then list the allergens
  • Option 4 – full ingredients to be listed and allergens to be emphasised

To break it down, option 1 is what happens at the moment. Option 2 is also something that happens now, and is not a robust process. It will depend on the accuracy of the information provided to staff during training, language barriers can be an issue, and if asked during busy periods, there’s no guarantee of accuracy again. Option 3 is a viable possibility.

Of all the options, option 4 is the one the majority of those in the allergy community pushed for. The recipes and how to create them isn’t necessary, simply open and honest communication and sharing of all ingredients used enables the consumer to make an informed decision as to whether something is safe for them or not. Nowadays it’s not JUST about the top 14 allergens, many are affected by allergies to onion, or particular spices, or even garlic, for example, which aren’t currently declared. It makes it very difficult for them to eat out safely, or to buy prepared food that is suitable for them.

So you shouldn’t eat out with allergies?

Just because you have allergies doesn’t mean you should have to miss out on eating out. It’s really NOT that hard to be able to provide information on what has been used in a recipe. There are many places that successfully cater for those with allergies as the FFEOA and FFFA show on a yearly basis.
The free from market is now a multi billion pound industry, with major supermarkets such as Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons leading the way on what they can offer to free from consumers.

Today, the FSA held an extraordinary board meeting to discuss the findings of the consultation, and following the results, proposed that

‘food outlets should list ALL ingredients in order to protect customers with allergies’.

Furthermore, it has recommended that strict new rules to highlight the top 14 allergens even more than the current legislation.
Many will understandably question why such a strong and hard stance has been taken. From an allergy parent perspective, and an allergy advocate working hard to improve the perceptions an understanding of allergies, I can say that it is because finally, allergies are being recognised as a life-threatening issue for those with serious allergies.

Indeed, of the 28 allergies Callum has, 8 of these will result in his breathing being compromised within 5 minutes of ingestion.

Allergies are serious and can be life threatening

Just let me repeat that again for anyone who is still unsure of the severity of allergies – Callum will STOP breathing and will be in a life threatening situation if he eats 8 of the 28 allergens he suffers with. That includes all forms of dairy (milk, cheese, butter, cream etc) egg, strawberries, chestnut, brazil nut, walnut, pistachio, almond, peanut.

We live with a ticking time bomb on a daily basis, never knowing when the next reaction might hit, nor how severe it may be.

Every day I drop him off at school, there is always that little voice at the back of my head silently praying that he comes back to me safely at the end of the day. It sounds crazy, but there is never any guarantee, and to get complacent can result in slip ups so we always have to be on alert and aware of everything happening.

If we eat out, we need to question, question and question again to get reassurance that the food being produced will be safe and free from as declared.

Not only does it help us, but it helps to give Callum confidence to live life to the fullest as well.

I always say

‘Allergies are life changing and not life defining’

And I stand by that quote every day. Callum needs to live like any other 7 year old, and not be stopped from doing anything. He goes to school, attends friends birthday parties, is part of a tumble squad, enjoys trips to the park, goes on holiday abroad, eats out and more.

Why should allergies restrict you?

Why should anyone say those with allergies shouldn’t be eating out because it becomes too much hard work for them?

Simply put, it shouldn’t be hard work. Simple health and safety routines, clear understanding of the implications of cross contamination, and robust procedures in place mean that Callum and anyone else with allergies can live without restriction, enjoying the same things everyone else does whilst remaining safe and not living in fear.

Thanks to this consultation, #natashaslaw is one step closer to becoming a reality, and now we must hope that the government keeps up the momentum and alters the legislation for the better for all allergy sufferers!

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