Are cuts putting Allergy sufferers at risk?
New research conducted by campaign group Unchecked.uk and the Times has revealed that nearly one in five food samples taken by inspectors in England, Wales and Scotland contains at least one undeclared allergen.
Of the 6,602 food samples tested specifically for allergens by local authorities between 2016 and 2018, 1,212 (18.4%) were found to contain traces of allergenic substances which could prove harmful, or even fatal, to allergy sufferers. In each case there was no indication of the allergen’s presence in the food product.
Peanuts formed the majority of undeclared allergens present (328 samples), followed by gluten (223), egg (203), and milk (159).
Of 71,474 total food samples taken, 15,591 (22%) were found to be unsatisfactory in some way. Most of these (8,791) were found to have ‘labelling and composition faults’.
The study also found that, during the three-year period examined, the number of food samples tested for allergens fell by over a quarter, with 20 councils taking no allergen samples at all.
According to Emma Rose, Project Lead at Unchecked.uk, “These figures show that there is a real postcode lottery when it comes to food sampling. In the worst-case scenario, unknowingly consuming an allergen can prove fatal – and that’s why the law requires food businesses to tell people what allergens their food contains.
“But regulation is only as good as the enforcement that underpins it. And it’s clear that in the case of UK food law, the enforcement gap is looming large. Cuts in staff and funding have stretched regulators to breaking point, and the fall in enforcement activities is putting lives at risk.”
Wiltshire Council defends high figure as result of ‘pro-active policy’
OVER 35 per cent of food samples tested by Wiltshire Council contained hidden and potentially fatal allergens, a national survey has revealed.
The council says the figures are so high because it is being pro-active in checking samples and so finding problem meals, protecting the public from harm.
John Carter, head of public protection, said: “We conduct testing on foods from food businesses throughout the county to ensure they are compliant and that customers aren’t at risk of eating food with potential allergens.
“Unfortunately, some foods have contained allergens which customers may not have expected.
“The high numbers of potential allergens found in samples from across the county have occurred because we are pro-actively looking for such instances, rather than solely relying on customer feedback and tip-offs.
“We regularly carry out awareness-raising exercises with the takeaway food sector and our message to businesses is clear – customers should be able to rely on the business to supply food free from an allergen when requested, to ensure the safety of Wiltshire residents.”