Food Allergy Aware, in conjunction with Blake Morgan LLP and main sponsor CaterCloud, staged the first online version of their food allergy prosecution mock trial. This year, they chose to prosecute not only the business, but also the business’ director, in a gripping dramatisation, highlighting the real and devastating effects when food hygiene practices go awry.
During the trial, mock judge, Christian Jowett, head Barrister, Tom Walker, outline the prosecution case, a narration of systemic failure within fictional restaurant ‘Baby Basiletti’. From lack of proper communication at the time of booking, to a contaminated food delivery that was not properly contained and removed from the kitchen stock, to wait staff that didn’t pass on information about a nut allergy, to a chef who changed the ingredients of a popular dish without informing staff of allergens, it was a grim tale which could have led to death in a real-life situation.
Perhaps the most poignant part of the process is the realisation of just how plausible and easily this scenario can, and does, happen in restaurants due to lack of training and insufficient checks and balances within organisations. Author, patient expert and freelance writer, Ruth Holroyd, is a prime example, giving her own harrowing account of when food hygiene methods go terribly wrong.
Ruth Holroyd knows better than most the consequences of allergen contamination after a visit to the Artichoke Pub two years ago landed her in intensive care. She suffers from a severe dairy allergy. The culprit was supposed to be a dairy free sorbet, unfortunately it was frozen yoghurt and the evening ended with Ruth in anaphylactic shock. Her advice to others with food allergies is to always follow your intuition. “I just knew something wasn’t right,” says Ruth, “but I was being told that the food was safe.” Ruth went on to say “I’m so proud to be part of this. It’s brilliant. Takes me right back to sitting in the court listening to my food allergy prosecution. Quite emotional.”
The number of people living in the UK with allergies is rising at a rate of 5% every year. Though this presents foodservice operators with significant potential revenue, catering for vegans and allergies, it also requires proper staff training. The need to get this business model right is not just good for business, it is also imperative for public health.
According to the FSA, it is their ambition for the UK to be the safest place in the world for the hypersensitive consumer and to support them in making safe and informed food choices. Strict enforcement of allergen labelling (PPDS) goes some way towards achieving this goal, but perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to overcome is a lingering perception that those with food allergies or intolerances are just ‘picky eaters’ and a general ignorance of how lethal a food allergy can be.
The UK Food Information Amendment, also known as Natasha’s Law, comes into effect October 2021 and will require food businesses to provide full ingredient lists and allergen labelling on foods pre-packaged for direct sale on the premises. The law is a direct outcome of the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse following the consumption of a sesame seed contaminated roll in 2016, a wholly avoidable death had proper food labelling been used.
Damaein Houghton of Center Parcs succinctly stated, “It’s not just legal and reputational damages. Importantly, there is a human being affected each and every time we get it wrong.”
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a method of controlling food safety hazards within a commercial setting. Ideally, HACCP would form the basis for all food safety management by identifying what can go wrong, critical control points, and to ensure that an appropriate plan of action is in place to minimise risk.
“The underlying principles of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point HACCP is the establishment of the corrective action to be taken when any monitoring indicates that there is a loss of hazard control,” says Caroline Benjamin, Food Allergy Aware Founder.
Over 130 attendees of the mock trial split into groups of jurors to discuss sentencing based on the evidence given. The results were clear with 97% voting that both the company and the company’s director were culpable in this situation. Though the actual degree of culpability was a more heated debate with 60% categorising the director’s culpability at ‘High’ and 40% feeling his culpability was more in line with the ‘Medium’ definition. Ultimately, mock judge Jowett decided his culpability was ‘Medium’ as there were systems in place to avoid the situation, but they simply were not adhered to or were only conveyed verbally.
Caroline went on to announce the launch of their ‘Near Miss Reporting Campaign’ in the autumn, the campaign will highlight the importance of registering all incidence (actual and near misses) which occur within foodservice business’s, reported both internally from staff with a NO blame culture and externally from customers.
The need to share best practice across our industry is vital as a preventative tool for accidents. ‘Food Safety is NOT a Competition’ and we need to share information to prevent accidents before they happen!
It was an informed day for all who attended, small operators to National chains, with much fantastic feedback. “I appreciated the approach from both sides, it wasn’t focused solely on the victim. There were strong cases made by both sides and it became very clear that having robust procedures successfully carried out by fully trained and knowledgeable staff is key. The defence barrister was very convincing! We are already reviewing our NPD and product launch processes and checks as a result of yesterday’s course”. – Commercial Director