Research covering allergy related cases in the UK courts between Jan 2014 and Feb 2020 show that successful prosecutions resulted in improved allergen control and tightening of allergen related legislation, especially in food service
Research by Drs Hazel Gowland and Michael Walker published in December 2022 collates and analyses food allergy related court actions between January 2014 and February 2020. Information was collected from national and local news reports, commentary from enforcement and regulatory professionals, coroners’ inquests and freedom of information requests to local authorites. There was a significant increase in the number of cases brought over this period and it is clear that legal action has led to changes in labelling law and improved allergen management practices.
This is of crucial importance especially in the food service industry as the vast majority of fatal and near fatal incidents occur outside the home or with takeaway food. In most cases the defendants were food business operators who had failed to provide accurate information about allergens in their food although in one case it was a member of staff who was prosecuted for having input incorrent information on the order.
Several recent trends make an accurate declaration of allergens ever more important if those living with food allergies are to be able to eat out safely.
The ever increasing number of vegan and plant based foods
Although these may not contain milk products or eggs as such they may not be free of milk or egg contamination which could cause a reaction in someone with milk or egg hypersensitivity.
Delivery services and takeaways
Fuelled by the pandemic, delivery services have mushroomed. However, increased awareness among such services of the need to have good allergen protocols in place, mean that some are now requiring food hypersensitivity customers to contact the business directly, and not purchase via their delivery platform.
Meanwhile some restaurants and takeaways are refusing to provide food for delivery because although they can implement controls within their own businesses, they cannot guarantee such care from the delivery drivers.
Since, however, online is now a way of life for many, in order to get service some allergic consumers may order without declaring their allergens thus putting themsleves at risk.
Those living with food hypersensitivity are active social media users and report, in real time, on any allergy issues they experience in a food outlet. As this can lead to reputational damage and even intervention by local authorities, outlets with any sort of social media presence are becoming ever more aware of the need for tight allergen control in their establishments.
Conclusion and recommendation
It seems clear from the research that better reporting and the prosection of food allergy issues has led to more awareness and better controls - but there is still a long way to go.
The Food Standards Agency already has in place or is about to implement several schemes to collect and investigate reports of food hypersenitivity reactions including, where possible, anaysis of food samples.
Pilot ‘Citizen Science’ projects have been commissioned by the FSA and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to involve food-hypersensitive communities in an attempt to improve food safety standards in on line ordering of food.
The FSA is supporting research to establish the UK Anaphylaxis Registry and to monitor anaphylaxis trends in the UK and beyond.
Finally, the FSA through the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI) is funding the UK Fatal Anaphylaxis Registry (UKFAR) to review fatal anaphylaxis cases which they hope will increase understanding of the issues and therby to reduce risks of future fatalities.