It’s been more than two years since 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died after an allergic reaction to a Pret sandwich, and the government is finally looking at proposals to toughen up food labelling laws.
The teenager was on a BA flight when she suffered an allergic reaction to the sandwich, and her two EpiPens failed. In September 2018, an inquest ruled that the labelling on the packaging had been “inadequate”.
Since then, Natasha’s parents have tirelessly campaigned for a change in food labelling laws, arguing that full ingredients should be listed on all packaged food – a proposal they’ve called “Natasha’s Law”.
On Friday 25 January, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) finally launched a consultation into the idea.
Under current rules, food prepared on the premises in which it’s sold is not required to display allergen information on the package, Defra said.
But under the proposed reforms, food outlets selling pre-packaged food could be required to list the full ingredients on their foods by law.
Since Natasha’s death, Pret has improved access to allergen information in stores, such as ensuring allergen warning signs are displayed in shops and making sure all branches have access to this information – this means customers can ask staff questions about ingredients if they have any concerns.
But people with food allergies have previously told HuffPost UK their conditions are still not taken seriously elsewhere.
Gemma Evans, 34, from Surrey, told us her severe nut allergy is often a problem when she eats out, despite the risk of her having a fatal anaphylactic reaction if she consumes contaminated foods.
“It’s like playing Russian roulette,” she said. “When you have a severe food allergy, every time you order from a menu, you are putting your life in the hands of the kitchen staff.
“I can predict how seriously an eatery considers allergies from the first moment I tell a member of staff about it. If they seem indifferent or impatient, I walk straight back out the door.”
Even at restaurants with full allergy menus available, things aren’t always plain sailing. Lucille Whiting, 37, from Suffolk, said she finds it hard to eat out as her toddler Elijah is allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, sesame seeds, mustard seeds and banana.
At a family birthday, the restaurant they were eating at had an allergen menu to hand, but the staff said they couldn’t actually guarantee no cross contamination. “He sat in a restaurant with a bowl of broccoli before because they couldn’t guarantee anything else was safe,” she said.
The consultation on proposed amendments to food labelling laws, launched on Friday 25 January, will run for nine weeks.
Let’s hope it leads to actioned changed soon.