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Is it Time to Review The Regulations on Food Packaging?

By Principal Lawyer and Employers Liability Lead , Personal Injury

The tragic case of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse has once again highlighted the potentially devastating consequences if diners are unaware of what allergens are in their food.

The 15-year-old collapsed and died after eating a baguette from Pret a Manger at Heathrow that contained sesame seeds which triggered her attack.

Pret’s packaging failed to mention sesame seeds were 'hidden' in the dough despite being given a ‘specific warning’ about the dangers, West London Coroner’s Court was told.

So What is The Law Regarding Allergen Information on Packaging?

Under EU regulations when food is handmade and packaged on site, as it is in Pret, outlets are not required to put allergen information on each individual item.

The only thing they have to do is put allergen warnings around the shop, rather than in the packaging. For more specific advice customers are expected to ask staff.

The loophole is designed to prevent small independent businesses from onerous regulations, but is also being used by huge multi-national companies like Pret.

As Dr Sean Cummings, the coroner in the case, said: “It seems on the face of it a bit strange that a local sandwich shop can benefit from that regulation ... but that an organisation that sold ... 218m items (a year) could also benefit from that regulation ... A cynic might think it was almost a device to get round regulation relating to information on food allergens.”

He has a point.

Should the regulations change?

This case has shown that this legal loophole has had, and could continue to have, deadly consequences.

While Pret has done nothing wrong, the chain could not be further from a small business. It should surely now be made to clearly label allergens on packaging.

This is a matter of life and death for people who have allergies so it is essential labelling now improves.

It is not like the case of Natasha was the only one that has come up in the last year at the sandwich giant.

In fact, there had been nine similar cases of people suffering allergic reactions to the same bun in the year before Natasha’s death.

The inquest heard that a 17-year-old girl nearly died nine months earlier after going into anaphylactic shock from seeds in the same sandwich, bought from a shop in Cardiff.

After reading about Natasha’s death, she contacted the family’s lawyers to say she had also suffered a severe allergic reaction.

But despite this stark warning Pret did not do anything.

This incident showed that Pret’s packaging was a tragedy waiting to happen and unfortunately that tragedy came with Natasha’s death.

This case has highlighted the desperate need to look at this legal loophole and reassess the regulations around food packaging to ensure this never happens again.

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