FWD’s Final Word: Allergen awareness

With new laws on ingredients labelling only a year away, FWD highlights the need for a robust and reliable system to be put in place to make sure wholesalers have the right information to keep their customers informed

Why are we concerned about allergens information?

Following the tragic death in 2016 of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, the teenager who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a Pret A Manger baguette, the government announced it will introduce legislation requiring food businesses to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packaged foods prepared on-site.

Currently, food prepared on the premises it’s sold in is not required to display allergen information in writing, meaning the UK’s two million allergy sufferers cannot be absolutely sure they’re safe. Natasha’s Law will mean a full list of ingredients must be displayed on pre-packaged food from the summer of 2021.

What’s this got to do with wholesalers?

Foodservice operators rely on their wholesaler to provide accurate ingredient information so they can inform their customers about any allergens that might be present in their products – something of even greater importance when the new law comes into force. In turn, wholesalers need to be sure the data they get from suppliers is accurate and up to date.

How do you ensure that?

We’re calling on the government to mandate a central allergens database for all food product attributes that wholesalers can access to ensure they can flag any potential allergens to their customers and then on to consumers. We’re asking the government to make it a legal requirement for manufacturers and suppliers to take responsibility for ensuring this information is comprehensive, accurate and up to date.

Isn’t that complicated?

It doesn’t have to be. Suppliers are already providing information to customers, just not in one central location as we suggest. If this function was introduced, suppliers would only be required to provide information once, rather than numerous times to several competing customers and databases, which would save them time and money.

So it’s down to suppliers to provide accurate information…

Absolutely and a legal requirement to do so. It’s right that suppliers should take responsibility for communicating the ingredients of their products and any allergen risks. Manufacturers often reformulate their products, but there’s potential for the ingredient change not to be accurately fed through the supply chain to consumers. This is particularly dangerous if the new formulation includes allergens, such as changing vegetable oil to rapeseed oil or including mustard seed in mayonnaise. We think it’s unfair, unsafe and unrealistic to expect operators and wholesalers to bear the burden of giving accurate advice to consumers without the assurance of reliable data from their suppliers.

And how would this be different from existing allergen databases?

There’s no legal requirement for suppliers to support the current providers. If the government makes it mandatory to provide information to a single central source, solution providers such as Erudus could adapt it to suit the needs of their customers.

What happens next?

FWD will make the case to government for legislative change, with the support of our members and other trade bodies. We’re calling for the new system to be active before Natasha’s Law comes into effect next year.

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