Allergy-related food recalls have risen 20% to a five-year high in the UK amid high-profile allergy-related deaths and concerns about the dangers of poorly labelled foods, according to a London law firm.
So far this year, 122 food products were withdrawn from the market, compared to 102 in 2017/18, according to an analysis by Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC). It says 22% were due to undeclared milk, while 16% related to nuts that were not mentioned on the label.
Allergy recalls have impacted all of the major supermarkets in Britain, with withdrawn products ranging from soup to nuts and from beer to ice-cream.
Allergen recalls occur when a food product is found to contain undeclared traces of allergens, which could prove harmful, even fatal to some people. The rise in recalls related to food allergies first spiked following EU legislation that came into effect in December 2014, requiring all food labels in shops to display information on 14 different allergen types.
RPC puts the current rise down to recent high-profile allergy-related deaths, such as those of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse (who died after an allergic reaction to a Pret A Manger baguette) and Owen Carey, which are causing businesses to exercise increased caution and initiate product recalls of food voluntarily.
Deaths caused by food allergens means that businesses face a severe reputational backlash if they not seen to take the problem extremely seriously, pointed out RPC.
Costs of recalling a product can potentially be significant and include legal fees; collection, transportation and destruction of the product; as well as advertising and communications. However, these costs would be dwarfed by the cost of reputational damage or from dealing with the legal and regulatory issues created by a serious allergic reaction.
Allergy-related recalls could continue to rise after Natasha’s law
Natasha’s Law, named after the teenager who died after eating a baguette from a sandwich chain that contained undeclared sesame, will require all businesses that sell food to print a full list of ingredients on pre-packaged food from October 2021. This may lead to further allergen related issues if mislabelled products find their way into fast food and casual dining chains, said Government guidance to businesses about how to manage this requirement is expected imminently.
Nick McMahon, Head of Health and Safety at RPC said: “Recalls of food products due to allergens have surged as businesses exercise greater caution. We could see numbers rise even further, once Natasha’s Law comes into effect.
“Deaths from allergic reactions to food products are, thankfully, extremely rare. However, media coverage of recent cases risks tainting manufacturers in the eyes of the public.”
In the most recent case, Carey died as a result of asthma exacerbation in the context of a severe food allergic reaction, after eating a Byron skinny grilled chicken burger while celebrating his 18th birthday with his family on 22 April 2017.
The menu did not show the chicken burger contained buttermilk. Byron told an inquest that a notice on the menu asked customers to advise staff of their allergies. However, the inquest ruled that Carey had told serving staff about his allergies but was not told the meal included buttermilk.
Gavin Reese, partner at RPC, added: “To protect their reputations and bottom line, businesses have to rigorously adhere to current FSA guidelines, ensuring that staff are aware of different types of allergens and fully understand their potentially hazardous consequences.”