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The Latest in Food Allergy Safety:

Owen’s Law Could Be Closer Than We Think

Discover the critical importance of Owen's Law for enhancing food allergy safety in UK restaurants. This blog explores the proposed changes, their impact on food businesses, and how Kafoodle's solutions can facilitate compliance.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

In an era where food safety is paramount, Owen's Law advocates for stricter food allergy labelling in UK restaurants. This proposed legislation, spurred by a tragic incident that claimed Owen’s young life due to inadequate allergen information, aims to revolutionise how food businesses communicate potential allergens. 

The Owen’s Law campaign for enhanced allergy labelling in UK restaurants gained notable traction, with 12,889 supporters signing the petition. This initiative was brought to parliamentary discussion alongside another proposal advocating for creating an 'allergy tsar' position in May 2023.

The Owen’s Law Campaign achieved recognition during UK Parliament Week when it was runner-up for the “Petition of the Year Award.” This underlines its critical importance and growing momentum towards legislative change—a cause that resonates deeply with us. 

Why is Owen’s Law important? 

Owen's Law is a campaign started by the Carey family, who tragically lost their son and brother, Owen, in 2017 as a result of poor allergen understanding and communication. 

Owen, who had been reassured the food he was eating was safe, suffered a deadly anaphylactic reaction because the chicken he ordered had been marinated in buttermilk. That information was not present on the menu.

Despite clearly communicating his serious dairy allergy to the server and ordering plain grilled chicken, the allergy message was not given to the chef, resulting in what his sister described as a “breakdown in communication, a lack of understanding, a lack of training, and a lack of detail on the menu to make sure everyone was safe.” 

The Implications of Owen's Law for Food Businesses

Should Owen's Law become enacted, it will significantly enhance the current food allergy labelling standards. From bustling high-street restaurants to large institutional kitchens, food businesses will need to adjust operationally to comply with these stricter requirements. This law would mandate clear, precise labelling of allergens directly on menus, ensuring transparency and safety at the point of order.

What change will Owen’s Law require of restaurants?

1. Restaurants to put all information about allergens in their food on the face of the main menu so customers have full visibility of what they're ordering.

2. Servers must always initiate a discussion with customers about allergies.

What went wrong operationally to cause the deadly food allergy reaction?

1 . Lack of menu detail

All food businesses are legally obligated to provide information on the presence of the 14 major allergens in food. Labelling rules for ‘prepacked for direct sale’ (PPDS) food were implemented across the UK in October 2021 and require full ingredients listing, with the 14 major allergens emphasised. This change means more types of food will now be labelled with allergen information, in particular, ‘grab and go’ food. However, these laws don’t affect every food business, and there is still an element of risk, especially for people with food hypersensitivity. 

Whilst the ingredients in the final chicken burger product may have been dairy-free, to the server's knowledge, the menu should have accounted for preparation for the customer to read, and the server should have been briefed or had access to a comprehensive allergen list.

2 . Poor communication between customer and kitchen

In the events that led to Owen’s death, Owen couldn’t have done more to make the restaurant aware of his allergy. Regardless of the events that day, during the inquest, it was apparent the chef was unaware of Owens's allergies, a problem trying to be solved by requiring servers to initiate a discussion with customers about allergies on all occasions.

3 . Human error

Even the most diligent establishments can falter under the pressures of human error. Miscommunications or oversights, such as failing to update menus or allergen lists when ingredients change, pose serious risks. This oversight was evident in Owen's case, where, despite precautions, critical allergen information did not reach those who needed it most—highlighting the need for stringent and automated systems to minimise such errors.

What tech solutions will help businesses comply with Owen’s Law?

1 . Digital menus

Comprehensive up-to-date allergen list

Even if ingredients or cooking methods change, a digital menu ensures businesses can rapidly update changes to recipes containing allergens in line with Owen’s Law by providing the fourteen major allergens (often more) present in each component of a recipe in the form of symbols, numbers or words on the face of the menu, on a display board or via an app.

Ability to filter by allergy and ingredient

Digital menus can provide powerful filter and search functionality so customers can exclude recipes that don’t meet their dietary requirements. This is especially useful for customers who suffer from allergies outside the major fourteen required by current law.

Connect customers to the kitchen

Digital menus often put customers in direct contact with the kitchen staff preparing their food. They allow customers to remove specific ingredients from their orders or add notes to inform kitchen staff of anything that may hinder the customers' safety.

2 .  A recipe builder

Complete ingredient list 

Businesses can use a recipe builder connected to up-to-date ingredient management software to account for every item required to prepare and serve a menu item. This ensures that not only every allergen is accounted for, but recipe costs and nutritional calculations are also correct.

Preparation and cooking methods

The way food is prepared and cooked affects the end product, from additional allergens not obvious, such as marinades and seasonings, to changes to the recipe's micronutrition. 

How Kafoodle Can Assist

Understanding the potential adjustments and preparations needed for compliance with Owen's Law is crucial for all food service providers. With Kafoodle, these changes can be seamlessly integrated into your operations. Our software supports comprehensive allergen tracking and produces compliant labels and digital menus that enhance customer safety and fortify your business against future regulatory changes.

Now supported by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Natasha’s Law already in force, the Owen’s Law campaign hopes to see a change in legislation by late 2024. By partnering with Kafoodle in anticipation of Owen's Law possibly coming into force, you can ensure compliance and future-proof your operations. This partnership will keep you ahead of compliance curves and continue to offer safe, transparent service to all your customers.

For more detailed insights on how Kafoodle can assist your business in preparing for Owen's Law and explore our solutions designed to empower your food safety practices. 

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