Food Standards Agency Symposium 2020 – a vision for the future of the food hypersensitive consumer
February 2020 – Notes on the presentations
Welcome – Heather Hancock, Chair FSA
Understanding the causes and diagnosis of allergies – Dr Paul Turner
Caring for a child with food allergies – Alexa Baracaia — Allergy influencer/advocate
Let's talk about Allergies – Carla Jones — Chief Executive, Allergy UK
The enforcement angle – Reporting and acting on incidents – Christina Heeley — Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council
Keeping your customers safe – Rupi Zani — Pizza Express
How technology can help – Tarryn Gorre — Co-Founder, Kafoodle Caroline Monkhouse Flower — COO, Kafoodle
Getting the supply chain right – Darryl Thomson BSc. MIH. MRSPH. — Chairman, UK Hospitality Food Experts Group
Industry perspective on food allergens in an expanding vegan and free-from market – Dr Jayne Hipkiss — Chair, FDF’s Allergens Steering Group; Dr Stella Cochrane — Deputy Chair, FDF’s Allergens Steering Group
The FSA – our work moving forward – Michael Wight — Deputy Director of Policy, FSA
Heather Hancock, Chair FSA
The aim of the Food Standards Agency's programmes are to improve the quality of life for the two million people who have to live with food allergies – and the nearly 5 million people who live with food intolerances. A job which is very much worth doing as research suggests that the quality of life of these groups is often worse than that of those who suffer from other intestinal conditions or from diabetes.
Focus on 16–24 year olds
But while the FSA in concerned for all food hypersensitivity sufferers their focus in the immediate future is on 16–24 years olds – a particularly vulnerable group.
Around 10 people per year die from food allergic reactions and the majority of those fall into this age group. Teenagers and early 20s naturally take more risks than other age groups and are especially reluctant to stand out from the crowd by declaring a food allergy – so are especially at risk.
The agency wants to work with this group and the food outlets serving them by:
The agency will continue to fund research – such as the TRACE study identifying the extrinsic factors which might influence an allergic reactions (whether you have just exercised or have been under stress).
Regulation and oversight
Dr Paul Turner — Clinician Scientist / Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Allergy & Immunology, Imperial College London
Reactions to food are not new and although the public perception is that the incidence is increasing all the time, food allergy actually peaked in the 1990s and has plateaued ever since.
Reactions to food can be toxic (as a result of eating toxins) or non toxic.
However, different language is used by health professionals, researchers, regulators, the food industry and the public – which serves only to cause confusion.
PAL/'may contain' labelling
As far as we know, no reactions are triggered by 'traces'. The perception that they are causes unnecessary anxiety amongst allergy sufferers.
PAL/May contain labelling should only be used when there is a genuine risk of cross contamination or of an allergen being mistakenly included in a product. If good manufacturing processes and protocols are followed and full risk assessments are done, there should be no need for precautionary allergen labelling.
Alexa Baracaia — Allergy influencer/advocate
Alexa described some of her experiences with her son Sydney, now 8 years old, who has multiple life threatening allergies.
Sydney had very bad eczema as a new baby but no connection was made with possible food allergy. At three months he had a life threatening reaction to egg but although treated in A&E, they were not offered an appointment for three months. They therefore saw a private allergist who found that Sydney had multiple potentially life threatening allergies including to egg, peanuts, sesame seeds – and banana!
Their life changed, Alexa started a blog about their experiences (yesnobananas...) and became a vocal advocate for the rights and needs of food allergic people. She now also runs a weekly allergy forum on Twitter– #allergyhour.
Of all of Sydney’s' allergens, Alexa finds sesame the most troublesome to manage as sesame seeds get everywhere.
Alexa then described the problems of eating out with allergies. Their experiences have not been good:
Unfortunately, while the recent publicity surrounding the deaths of Natasha Ednan Laperouse and Owen Carey has certainly raised the awareness of food allergy with the general public, it has seriously put 'the frighteners' on the food service industry. Far from engaging with their allergic customers to try and improve the situation, they are tending to retreat behind precautionary warnings that they cannot guarantee that any foods will be safe.
Welcome exceptions to this tendency that Alexa singled out were Nandos', Pizza Express and Leon who, after initially adding warnings to their menus, engaged with Alexa and have altered their procedures so that they are now happy to serve allergic customers.
Alexa's top messages going forward:
Carla Jones — Chief Executive, Allergy UK
There are 1,500 deaths in the UK from asthma each year but in how many of those is food allergy implicated?
Challenges of eating with food allergies, especially eating out:
Quality of life
Christina Heeley — Service Manager, Trading Standards, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council
Christina reviewed the case of Dylan Hall who died in 2015 as a result of eating a Chicken Korma which contained peanuts in an Indian restaurant .
Christina also pointed out that the potential for confusion with e-orders was considerable. Moreover, there was no way for an outlets servicing e-orders to know whether the exclusion of particular ingredient was because of preference or allergy.
She suggested that E-orders should include some sort of allergy alert.
Having embarked some year's ago on offering allergen free foods to their customers, Pizza Express are fully committed to doing so as supportively and comprehensively as is possible.
Awareness and engagement among staff and customers
Meanwhile, more information should be available in an easily accessible form. Bearing in mind the FSA's focus on 16-24 year olds as an especially vulnerable group:
Can technology help in communicating with consumers about food allergy?
Yes, it can, but there is a very low level of IT literacy (and a great deal of manual processing) among the small food operators who make up the majority of food outlets.
90% of small business just see food as food – but food is also data. Technology companies can develop processes to enable them to use that data.
How can technology help the industry?
How can technology help the consumer?
Chairman, UK Hospitality Food Experts Group
Although much in the food industry is confidential, food safety is the one area in which all players are prepare to share their knowledge and experiences.
However, it is difficult for small operators to find information about allergy and about suppliers.
He suggested a reworking of the hierarchy of hazard control (ERICPD) to cover allergens:
Eliminate – Remove unnecessary allergens (peanuts, sesame etc) from recipes and from the working kitchens
Replace – Wherever possible replace allergens such as milk or gluten with freefrom versions thereof. However, there could be both quality and cost issues in doing this.
Isolate – Separate allergens from other foods in storage and preparation areas. This is good practice where ever possible but may not always be possible in a small space.
Communicate – Inform customers about whatever risks you are unable to eliminate.
Dr Jayne Hipkiss — Global SRA Director Regulatory Compliance, Mars Wrigley Confectionery UK and Chair, FDF’s Allergens Steering Group; Dr Stella Cochrane — Science Leader, Allergy and Immunology, Unilever UK and Deputy Chair, FDF’s Allergens Steering Group
The vegan market is developing fast:
However, points that need to be noted as far as the vegan market is concerned in relation to allergy:
General points on labelling and reference doses/thresholds:
Michael Wight rounded up the day by outlining the FSA's objectives: