This month marks a significant step forward in the Food Standards Agency's (FSA) campaign to enhance transparency in allergen information. On the 13th of December, a pivotal meeting is scheduled to deliberate on the FSA's Food Hypersensitivity (FHS) program. The aim is to gauge the board members' perspectives on the recommended strategies for sharing allergen information in the non-prepacked food sector.
Central to this discussion is a groundbreaking proposal: "Should there be a standard expectation for suppliers of non-prepacked food to provide both written information and engage in informative conversations with customers about allergens?" This approach would revolutionise how allergen information is communicated in the food industry if agreed upon.
In a significant move, the FSA will consider whether to introduce interim guidance without immediate legislation, allowing for a future decision on advising the government about making menu labelling a mandatory legal requirement.
The drive behind this change is deeply personal and poignant. It stems from the tragic loss of 18-year-old Owen Carey, who suffered a fatal allergic reaction to a Byron chicken burger containing buttermilk on the 22nd of April, 2017. The aftermath of this tragedy sparked widespread public support, with nearly 13,000 signatures collected for a petition, leading to a parliamentary debate in May. Owen's father has expressed his anxious anticipation for the impending policy decision.
This discussion comes over two years after the implementation of Natasha's Law in October 2021. While this law mandated clear allergen labelling for food pre-packaged for direct sale in England, it did not extend to non-pre-packaged foods.
The documents for the upcoming FSA meeting underline a critical point: "People with food hypersensitivities need to make informed decisions about their food choices. Our findings suggest that there is substantial scope for enhancing the current flow of information, with written details being a crucial component."
The meeting will explore options for allergen information delivery, including written formats (like menus) or verbally through staff interaction. It emphasises the need for clear guidance if an operator opts not to provide written information, ensuring consumers can access this information through other means, like inquiring with staff.
The FSA is eager for the board's input on these proposals, aiming to establish a robust expectation of providing both written and verbal allergen information. This approach seeks a balance between uniformity and flexibility, encouraging compliance from businesses without necessitating additional legislation at this juncture.
Please share your thoughts and comments below on this vital issue impacting both consumers and the food industry, how would this affect your business operations?