UK – Eleven UK food businesses have penned an open letter calling for clearer rules on labeling after the deaths of two Pret a Manger customers who suffered allergic reactions to undeclared ingredients.

The letter is addressed to officials, including government ministers, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Food and Drink Federation, argues the FSA needs to “make a clear decision on [allergen] thresholds and a strong recommendation to ministers.”

The letter adds that “this would provide sellers of food with an absolute definition of how much of a specific allergen pre-packed food could safely contain before being labeled as free of that allergen”, cites the Guardian.

The businesses, which also include Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Greggs, also want a mandatory system to ensure the swift reporting of food-related anaphylaxis cases.

The letter was organized by the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, which was named after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died in 2018 after eating a mislabelled baguette containing sesame seeds.

Natasha’s Law was launched in 2021 and made it a legal requirement for pre-packaged and freshly prepared food to have full ingredient labeling and allergen labeling on the packaging for full consumer transparency.

The issue was also highlighted during the inquest on Celia Marsh, who is said to have died from her dairy allergy after eating a “vegan” Pret a Manger wrap contaminated with milk protein.

The coroner said at the time that labels implying the absence of an allergen – especially terms like “free-from” and “vegan” – were “potentially misleading”.

Meanwhile, a report found out that many shoppers in the UK find food labels confusing and this is actually leading to a lot of people not really understanding what they’re eating.

While most people are aware a healthy diet involves eating a variety of nutrients in differing quantities, it’s less well-known what these nutrients should be, and how much a person should be consuming, reads the report.

The confusion around what labels actually mean may stem from the fact that categorization guidelines differ from nutrient to nutrient – demonstrating the complexities of nutrition science.

Standardizing the way nutrition is communicated across all packaged foods would help. And mandating a “traffic light” format on all products would eliminate the need to compare one item with words and another with numbers.

In addition, harnessing the psychology of how people interpret information – so that what’s on food packets actually makes sense to shoppers in the supermarket, is the next step needed to solve this phenomenon.

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