Could Coroner’s Findings Lead to a Change in Allergen Rules and Legislation?

The law relating to large food companies’ provision of allergen information to customers could come under review following the verdict into the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse on a flight to Nice on 17 July 2016.

The verdict was recorded by Coroner, Dr Sean Cummings, at West London Coroner’s Court at the conclusion of the inquest into Natasha’s death from anaphylaxis. Natasha had suffered an allergic reaction which proved fatal after eating a baguette, purchased from Pret A Manger at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5.

The Coroner noted that there was no specific allergen information contained on the baguette packaging or on the cabinet in which the baguette was displayed even though the baguette was manufactured to the food chain’s specifications and contained sesame to which Natasha was allergic.

Under European Law, all food businesses have to declare the presence – whether for use as an ingredient or a processing aid – of any of 14 major allergens.

Pre-packed food must have allergenic ingredients clearly emphasised within the ingredient list but the requirements are different for loose food and food pre-packed for direct sale, due to Regulation 5 of The Food Information Regulations 2014.

Regulation 5 permits food businesses offering for sale loose food and food pre-packed for direct sale to provide the allergen information either by displaying the information up front on a menu or menu board so that the customer doesn’t have to specifically ask for the information, or by sign-posting to where information can be found or obtained either in writing or by asking a member of staff.

This avoids the need to label each pre-packed food item directly for sale or each loose food items with allergen information.

Pret A Manger’s baguettes are prepared in their on-site kitchens and therefore, they can make use of Regulation 5. It is not a requirement for allergen ingredients to be displayed on the baguette because it is classed as food pre-packed for direct sale.

During the inquest Dr Cummings queried how an organisation that sold over 200m items each year could benefit from a regulation which a trading and food standards officer from Hillingdon Council said was “to deal with small independent premises that perhaps prepare food on site and put it into a bag for customers coming in”.

Dr Cummings, at the conclusion of the inquest, resolved to report to Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary questioning further whether large businesses should be able to continue benefitting from Regulation 5.

It is uncertain whether there will be a review, but in light of the Coroner’s observations some would say that there are 200m reasons why there should be, and of course Natasha’s family know that there is one compelling and urgent reason for Mr Gove’s involvement.