24-30 April was Allergy Awareness Week. Natasha Allergy Research Association has been gearing up to make allergy history. They advocated the appointment of an Allergy Tsar to assist those with allergies, and calling for clearer allergen labelling and mandatory reporting of all fatal and near-fatal allergic reactions.
Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, a trustee of Natasha’s Foundation and one of the world’s leading allergy scientists, said,
“Despite this growing burden of disease, there has been little investment in NHS allergy services for the last 20 years. A shortage of allergy specialists, clinics and inadequate allergy training among GPs means many patients with allergies fail to get the care and support they need.
Appointing an Allergy Tsar to act as a champion for people with allergies would be an important first step in addressing this unmet need.”
In our last article, we talked about some tragic stories caused by food allergies. Food allergies affect an estimated 26 million people in Europe alone. Extrapolating this proportion to the world’s population of 7 billion, up to 550 million people could be impacted by food allergies, emphasising a major global health risk. Young children are especially vulnerable, with estimates indicating that up to 8% of them suffer from food allergies, which can be fatal in some situations.
It is critical that food manufacturers take steps to ensure that any allergens are clearly labelled on their products. Some manufacturers are actively finding ways to ensure their products are accurately labelled in line with allergen control in food and beverage manufacturing. For example, Kellogg has announced a partnership with The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation in an effort to advance the work towards eradicating the dangers posed by food allergens. The partnership is expected to benefit up to three million people and their families, making a significant impact on the food allergy community in the UK.
However, many manufacturers still do not pay enough attention to their labelling practices. A recent study discovered that allergens were responsible for a large amount of food recalls in the United Kingdom over a five-year period, highlighting a cause for concern for individuals with severe food allergies. Specifically, over 50% of food recalls were attributed to allergens.
With the tragic stories that we discussed in our last article including victims Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, Celia Marsh and Megan Lee, we could not emphasize more the importance of ensuring the allergen ingredients are clearly labelled on food products to allow consumers to make informed choices about what they eat. Mislabelling or failure to label allergens can result in cross-contamination, unintentional consumption or more seriously, death.
Beyond the immediate physical harm that can be caused, inaccurate labelling can also have a significant impact on a brand’s reputation. A single negative incident can have far-reaching consequences. Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died after eating an unlabelled baguette from a Pret A Manger store in 2016, which contained sesame seed oil, to which she was severely allergic. Following the incident, Pret A Manger faced significant backlash on social media and in the press, with many customers expressing anger and disappointment at the company’s failure to properly label the allergen. The incident received widespread media coverage and resulted in a significant drop in sales for the company. Furthermore, the inquest into Natasha’s death found that the company’s labelling practices were inadequate and contributed to her death. The tragic incident not only had devastating consequences for Natasha’s family and friends but also had a significant impact on the reputation of Pret A Manger.
With the introduction of Natasha’s Law in October 2021, some factories have already taken steps to prevent such incidents from happening. Nonetheless, not every approach has proven to be effective.
A few factories have set up a print room to ensure accurate labelling. While a print room in a factory can certainly produce labels with accurate information, it cannot be solely responsible for ensuring that products are accurately labelled. Even with the best labelling equipment and procedures, mistakes can happen. Workers may accidentally mislabel products, overlook allergens or ingredients, or misread the labelling instructions. Besides, the print room may not have access to all of the necessary information. For example, if a supplier fails to provide accurate information about the ingredients in a particular product, the labels produced by the print room may not be accurate.
To ensure clear and accurate labelling of allergen ingredients, manufacturers need to review and improve their labelling and inspection procedures in respect of allergen declarations. Food service manufacturers need to be especially careful in providing unpackaged goods (i.e. cakes etc.) that contain allergens. Rather than having a label print room, it will be more rational and efficient to install integrated coding and labelling systems within the production lines.
Harford Autocoding solutions can be integrated into production lines and send real-time actionable data directly to those who need it. At the start of each production run, the system will ensure in-line barcode scanners are configured to check that the correct packaging materials and labels are used – on each individual product, case or pallet. This process ensures 100% verification of packaging accuracy, to avoid inaccurate label information and unnecessary wastage.
Harford have enormous experience in helping food and drink manufacturers ensure greater accuracy of labelling for control of allergens, date coding, quality and much more – thus giving manufacturers greater confidence in the labelling of their packages and products. To know more, call our team on 01225 764461 or contact us here.