Recent fatalities make allergen awareness and safety a top priority

Published: 15 Oct 2018

In recent weeks, deaths associated with allergens have made international headlines. Since the introduction of the Allergen labelling law in 2014, it would appear that the food industry still has a long way to go with effective management of allergen policies. We look at recent allergen cases and revisit the CSC allergen guidance to make sure that your clients and business are kept safe.

The press has heavily reported on the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse (15) who died after eating a baguette purchased from a Coffee outlet which caused her to suffer anaphylaxis.

An inquest into Natasha’s death last week heard how Natasha bought the baguette unwittingly knowing it had sesame seeds within the bread which Natasha was allergic to.

Natasha, from Fulham, West London, ate an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette and became ill after buying it at Terminal 5 early on 17 July 2016.

Mr Ednan-Laperouse said halfway through the British Airways flight, she suffered an allergic reaction to sesame seeds contained in the baguette, before dying later on the same day.

The inquest into her death heard that sesame was not listed as an ingredient on the baguette's packaging. The outlet did not label "artisan" baguettes as containing sesame seeds, despite there being six allergic reaction cases in the year before Natasha died.

The baguette did not have any allergen advice on its wrapper. There was no requirement for it to do so because of reduced labelling requirements for food produced on-site. Despite Natasha and her father checking the packaging they bought the baguette thinking it was fine for Natasha to consume.

The outlet has announced it will go further than the regulations required by introducing full ingredient labelling, including allergens, to all products freshly made in its shop kitchens.

In a second reported case, Celia Marsh, 42, from Melksham, Wiltshire, died in December after eating a "super-veg rainbow flatbread".

Her relatives said they "just want the answers to why she died after eating lunch with her family".

The outlet claimed it was mis-sold a guaranteed dairy-free yoghurt. Supplier Coyo denies its yoghurt is to blame for the death. It is has been reported that an inquest into this fatality is still yet to be held. A spokesman for the coroner said they were still waiting for the results of pathology tests.

These two unfortunate cases follows many other recent prosecutions including food business operators being jailed for poor practices within businesses and really highlights the importance of stringent allergen checks, policies, procedures and training of staff in all food operations.

Allergen protocols are fully embedded in our food safety law and it is extremely important that allergens are managed well within all food businesses at every stage in the process. All allergen reactions and fatalities can be avoided with good practices at site and it is fundamental that these are adopted to avoid innocent people suffering.

People deserve food they can trust and a well managed, trusted and caring operation is not only good for the consumer but also for the business.

Below are important allergen procedures which should be adopted:

  • Awareness- All staff should be aware of the importance of allergen awareness. Members of the kitchen team and front of house must be trained and knowledgeable of the allergen content of food and trained in allergens. This must include agency or contracted workers.
  • Clear, well presented, up to date allergen information of foods sold/served in the food establishment must be readily available for members of the public and staff aware of these. Menus and/or display boards can be used for this purpose.
  • Any changes to the menu or any changes of ingredients are updated in the allergen information and all staff made aware.
  • Segregation – Ensure that all allergen products are kept in sealed plastic containers to avoid any cross contamination of products and ensure all allergens ingredients are kept separate.
  • Whilst much focus is placed on the 14 allergens that must be declared by law, it is important to remember that there are many other ingredients that your guests could have an intolerance to, eg. Chilli. It is therefore critical that the same due diligence is applied in this instance.

Even the most well thought out policies can be flawed if clear lines of communication in relation to allergen management are not followed. It is imperative that the front of house team communicate effectively with the kitchen team to ensure that food orders are processed correctly to avoid any confusion. Having a Standard Operating Procedure in this instance can prevent unfortunate scenarios.

For further advice, training or assistance, do not hesitate to contact CSC.