Speaking at MCA’s Food To Go Conference yesterday, former Food Standards Agency chief executive, Tim Smith, called for wholesale changes to the reporting of serious allergen-related incidents.
Updating on his work chairing Pret’s food advisory panel, he said it was “completely unacceptable” that the company was only notified about Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after eating one of its baguettes, nine months after the incident.
He called for a mandatory register of allergen related deaths and serious incidents, saying Public Health England’s notifiable diseases plan, could easily be extended to include allergens.
Updating on the trials of full ingredient labelling on freshly made products, Smith said it had been well received by customers and would be rolled out across the estate.
He insisted that full ingredient labelling, as opposed to precautionary warnings about possible allergens, was the only viable approach to ensuring customer safety.
He added: “I know the change provoked a number of concerns from within the industry but as someone involved in the development of the existing regulations, which affect all mainline retailers they were never designed to distinguish between a Pret and a Marks & Spencer.
“We cannot have a situation where two million people feel locked out of simple, normal, everyday experiences – something as straightforward as going to a shop and buying lunch. It’s wrong for them and it’s bad for our businesses.
“I accept that there are significant operational challenges in implementing full ingredient information on all freshly made products. It’s a huge challenge and logistically very difficult but surely the principle has to be right. As someone who has worked in retail, regulation, supply and food to go, I just can’t see why the principles cannot be adopted in full. The good news is that technology will probably do our job for us in time but we shouldn’t make those two million people wait.
“Over time, I believe technology might provide a better solution than printing lots of labels but, right now, this is the most responsible and helpful approach.”
Asked whether there needed to be a wider education push to ensure customers were taking responsibility for their own health, Smith said: “In general there is a need for better education around food safety but on the specific area of allergens, I don’t think sufferers need any help to understand their condition. What they do need is for us to provide them with the clear information they need to make their choices.”