When the 2014 Food Information Legislation was introduced, it became evident that the government were really taking the threat of food allergens seriously. With as many as 10 people dying from food induced anaphylaxis in the UK each year, it was clear why this often overlooked threat came under the microscope. The regulation, which specifies that all 14 known allergies (eggs, crustaceans, fish, peanuts, soya, milk, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame, sulfates, lupin, molluscs, and gluten) must be displayed on a food product or meal, was a solid attempt at ensuring safe dining. The law applied to all businesses that supplied food products- even ice cream vans! Although food companies were not required to cater for every food allergy with a tailor-made dish, they did need to ensure that their diners could access allergy information before they made an order. With the second instalment of this regulation coming into power on the 13th of December 216, it’s a good time to stop and consider how far we have come. The new legislation requires all providers of pre-packed food (ranging from coffee shops to airlines) to display the nutritional value of the product on the label. Currently, the provision of nutritional information on pre-packed food is voluntary unless specific nutrition-related claims are made (‘low fat’, for example). Theoretically, this movement will allow all of us to have complete knowledge of the food we consume- before we consume it.
Are we then, now a country full of food-savvy individuals who are able to access completely safe meal options at all times? Or is there still a way to go? Have these laws even changed anything? Well, it is certainly arguable to suggest that as a society we are more aware of the presence of allergens, food intolerance and other specialist dietary requirements. The wide range of ‘free from’ products that line our supermarket shelves lay credit to this, as do the specialist online food providers who offer ingredient substitutions (vegan cheese, nut free-Nutella, gluten-free bread, etc.). It is without question that we have really started to acknowledge the need for specialist food products, and have definitely made a good start at catering for those affected. There are many people, however, who would argue that this isn’t a good move for any of us and that the widespread conversation regarding specialist diets has triggered a society of hypochondriacs and ‘fad’ chasers. Many argue, for instance, that ‘food intolerance’ has become an almost ‘buzzword’-with many people now claiming to be affected by them who actually aren't. Furthermore, many suggest that these substitutions and 'free from' diets are advertised and marketed under the assumption that they are ‘healthier’. This has resulted in many individuals assigning themselves certain identities, such as ‘gluten free’ for their supposed health gains. Often this notion is misinformed, and the nature of these products misunderstood. The actual rise of food allergies (which are different to a food intolerance and cause life threatening symptoms) have been increasing. It is estimated that 50% of children in the UK are now diagnosed with an allergy, a large majority of these being food related. What these statistics show at least, is that attention to the risk of allergies is not something that we should let slack- further adjustments to keep up with this increase are certainly needed. The UK has definitely increased its hunger for information regarding food intolerance and allergies, potentially as a by-product of the original legislation. There are now hundreds of resources, charities and support groups available such as Allergy UK, as well as specialist campaign groups such as Anaphylaxis UK that often call for more action to be taken. Organisations like these offer great banks of information as well as support and advice. There are also threads of conversations on other sites such as the ‘Nut Mums’ thread on Mumsnet, whereby parent's of children with nut allergies can share stories, chat about certain recipes and offer each other support and empathy. Resources like these really allow those affected to network and connect on a much wider, informal space. There has also been a positive response to this in many areas of society and in many forms; big and small. Nurseries and some schools, for example, have banned nut products from their premises entirely, even peanut butter sandwiches have been excluded for fear of cross-contamination.
Furthermore, there has been a significant increase in food being ‘recalled’ for fear of cross-contamination with allergens- just a quick look at the Food Standards Agency’s news articles page demonstrates how prevalent this is. Obviously, recalls like this are great- potential hazards are being acknowledged and removed- but the real question is why are these occurrences still so prevalent, even two years after allergens became the focus of legislation? Have we not taken enough measures? Or are individuals and companies not following through with their allergen compliance? Since the act came into place, a rise of enforcement via the FSA (Food Standards Agency) have also increased, at approx 59%. What this means is that although we are cracking down on failures to comply, we are still seeing many businesses who are not complying in the first place! Again, a double-edged ‘swings and roundabouts’ scenario, but it is clear more work needs to be done. Of course, Kafoodle was developed partly as a response to the 2014 legislation and has a great response since then. The feedback that we receive from our customers primarily focuses on the relief of 'feeling safe' whilst eating which is a great thing for us to hear. Although some may argue that not enough progress has been made since 2014, it’s clear that we are moving forward in the right direction and that food allergies, food intolerance and specific dietary requirements are something that we can how have an informed conversation about. We would love to hear your thoughts on the matter, so please, get in touch and let us know whether the legislation has made an impact in your life. You can tweet us @kafoodle, or follow us on Facebook too. Further reading:http://www.positivehealthwellness.com/diet-nutrition/need-know-peanut-allergies-symptoms-lookhttps://www.food.gov.uk/science/allergy-intolerance/label/labelling-changeshttp://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2014/1855/pdfs/uksi_20141855_en.pdfhttps://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/fir-guidance2014.pdf