An important step for the allergy community has been taken with the introduction of Natasha’s Law. Born of the tragedy of Natasha Ednan-Laparouse’s death after eating a Pret sandwich with sesame baked into the bread. Natasha had suffered from anaphylaxis and asthma all of her life, and her death was an avoidable tragedy if the sandwich had had full labelling.
I’m so in awe of the Ednan-Laparouse’s devotion to improving the life of those with allergies, they have responded to every parents’ worst nightmare with determination and strength that is admirable and astonishing. By creating the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation they have found a voice for parents, and pushed through significant changes which will help those with allergies eat out more safely. Pret have supported this initiative from the very beginning, showing a corporate response that is to be congratulated.
Allergies and asthma are on the rise, and nobody really knows why. Also increasing is the seriousness of allergic reactions. Reading the figures from the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation is frightening:
- There are an estimated 2 million+ people living with a diagnosed food allergy in the UK
- One in four people in the UK has hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis) which equates to about 16 million people
- The percentage of people diagnosed with allergic rhinitis, asthma and eczema trebled over 30 years.
- Figures from 2012 suggest at least 1 in 40 children in the UK are suffering from at least one serious allergy.
- In the 20 years to 2012 there was a 615% increase in the rate of hospital admissions for anaphylaxis in the UK
I do wonder in the increase in admissions is related to the change in the way we eat. More and more we eat out, it’s a huge driver in our economy. When I was growing up there were not sandwich bars, or take aways. We ate out as a treat a couple of times a year but now it’s a regular occurrence for many people. In restaurants the care of those with allergies can vary widely, and with that the risks vary widely as well. The range of allergic reactions is huge…which I think it part of the problem with getting them taken seriously. Most worrying, a food that only caused a mild reaction once, can cause a serious one later. There is no way to predict the severity of an allergic reaction, which makes allergies a frightening condition to manage.
The changes that Natasha’s Law have brought about are key to safety – requiring food outlets to provide full ingredient lists with clear allergen labelling on Pre-Packed Food for direct sale. So that’s food that is prepared, and prepacked and sold on the same premises. It doesn’t cover food that is packed after you have ordered it, but allergen information must still be provided, however that can be verbally. Businesses selling PPDS must ensure that information on the Top 14 allergens is available before purchase, and when the product is received. So that covers places like Pret, Itsu, Wasabi, Starbucks, Costa etc., but not small sandwich bars that make sandwiches or other food to order. Natasha’s Law is a great step forward, and should save lives and help allergy sufferers to avoid being, in effect, poisoned by the food we buy.
Personally I’d like to see all ingredients listed, that would help people who suffer from allergies outside of the Top 14. I also think it would be useful for people to understand what is in the food they are eating, and a required ingredient list would achieve that. In additional, the option to give allergy information verbally should be changed to all information to be given in printed format – verbally it’s too easy for there to be mistakes and misunderstandings. It would protect staff, and allergy sufferers alike, if allergen information had to be in written form. If businesses feel this is too difficult then I’ll leave them with this quote from Natasha Allergy Research Foundation
- Just under half (48%) of consumers say that they, or someone in their household, avoid at least one food/ingredient, with 16-24-year-olds (61%) the most likely age group to report household avoidance of foods/ingredients.
So just about half of households will be thinking about allergies when they dine out, and within the younger age category that rises to 60%. That’s a lot of people thinking about allergies when they look at a menu. Dealing positively and openly with allergies is the best way to attract customer’s loyalty because we aren’t going away, and we are a growing group.