Eateries warned they could face negligence claims following Pret allergy deaths

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Coffee chains, non pre-packed food retailers and similar outlets may face negligence claims following Pret A Manger allergy deaths, warn experts.

Earlier this month, the government announced its decision to review food labelling laws. Prime Minister Theresa May said the government will look at food labelling responsibilities “individual companies” have.

This follows the inquest into the Natasha Ednan-Laperouse’s death, where Dr Sean Cummings, coroner said he would be writing to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to consider whether food labelling laws are adequate for large food business operators. 

Ednan-Laperouse, a 15-year-old, from Fulham, south-west London collapsed on a flight from London to Nice on 17 July 2016 after eating a baguette she had bought from a branch of Pret a Manger at Heathrow Airport  Terminal 5. And Celia Marsh, a dental nurse was also a victim of allergy death from a Pret product on 27 December 2017.

The current Food Information Regulations 2014 require food business operators to list any of the 14 allergenic ingredients on all pre-packed foods.  However, regulation 5 provides an exception for certain food items including those which are ‘prepacked for direct sale’. 

Daniel West, associate at BLM, said: “If that applies then the food business operator does not have to list any allergenic ingredients on the food product itself but can provide allergen information by any means the operator chooses, including orally (provided the operator indicates, by way of a label attached to the food or on a notice, menu, ticket or label, that details of that substance or product can be obtained by asking a member of staff).”

“Pret relied on stickers placed on the food display units, which highlighted that allergy information could be provided by staff or obtained from Pret’s website,” said West explaining that Pret’s actions were within the guidelines.

Although current regulations offer certain labeling exceptions, Jonathan Toulson, personal injury technical director at Sedgwick, warned that how all firms offering non pre-packed/direct sale foods could see negligence claims “in terms of staff training, signage and generic shop guidance (oral and written) if misleading and doesn’t give proper advice on allergens contained in a product.”  

“For example, if the customer then asks at the counter ‘can you tell me a little bit more about whether I should be aware of any allergy into this product?’. This could highlight whether the staff are trained properly and are aware of the information they should be giving and if the notices are actually sufficient on site and worded properly.”  

The change in law would have an influence on the policyholders in the food retail and production sector West added:  “If the law changes then this will undoubtedly impact policyholders in the food retail and production sector – particularly those that fall into the ‘prepacked for direct sale’ category, because it is likely many such businesses will take a similar approach to labelling as Pret did and this may no longer be sufficient if the regulations are changed.  If policyholders do not change their procedures in response to such a change then this could lead to an increase in claims.”

On the implications the inquest could have on the labelling of food, Tim Deards, complex loss adjuster at Sedgwick said: “They are looking to close the loophole of regulation 5 and they looking to make it mandatory that all food is labelled with allergen advice. Larger companies like Pret and Gregg won’t have any issues with it because they will have compliance departments. The burden will be on the smaller companies”.

West concluded: “No doubt insurers will be monitoring the proposed review of the law. Even if there is no change, insurers may prefer to see policyholders proactively responding to the issues raised by the coroner. Both Pret nd Greggs are reviewing the way they provide ingredient information to customers.”

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