Allergies can be mild or severe – some people are born with them, whilst others develop them over a period of time. In some instances, allergies can be so severe that fatalities occur, such as the sad and tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, aged 15. Natasha was due to embark on an exciting holiday that she was really looking forward to but suffered the reaction halfway through a flight to Nice.
Natasha suffered from the most severe allergy reaction, anaphylaxis, to a sesame seed allergy and her symptoms developed so rapidly that nothing could be done to save her. The culprit was a pre-prepared baguette from Pret-a-Manger. The baguette was made and packaged in-house, which meant that labelling allergenic ingredients was not required so there was nothing to alert her to the fact that sesame was contained within the bread. Natasha was fully aware of her allergy and had spent a lot of her life ensuring that she did everything possible to avoid allergic reactions. Had the baguette been labelled she wouldn’t have chosen it. Her father, who was obviously aware of her allergies and any symptoms, injected her with adrenaline from two different EpiPens, but sadly this did not work. She died shortly after the symptoms manifested themselves.
This occurred during the summer of 2016, and now, finally, by the end of this summer, new legislation is being introduced to consolidate labelling rules. Natasha’s parents have spearheaded this campaign to prevent this happening to anyone else and whilst it comes too late for Natasha they feel it is a fitting legacy to help other allergy sufferers and their families. Whilst sesame is included in the list of 14 allergens that the EU say should be highlighted, each individual member state has the ability to label freshly prepared handmade food as they wish – the UK is one of the member states whose Food Regulations 2014 law allows freshly handmade, non-pre-packaged food (i.e. food made on the premises for direct sale to the consumer) to not be individually labelled. This ‘grey’ area could have caused Natasha’s death.
Surely it begs the question that every single food served either in restaurants, cafes, packaged or unpackaged should have the relevant information for food allergy sufferers? Pret a Manger states that whilst no individual labelling practice is their current method of operation with food made on the premises, items are clearly marked on the fridge shelves and at the tills in all relevant places. They also state that a full allergen guide is available in all of their stores, which consumers can ask for. Should it be the responsibility of the consumer to ask for this, or should it be that of any stores offering ready to go food?
The new law, aptly named ‘Natasha’s Law’ will require all food businesses to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packaged direct sale foods, to enable consumers to have more trust and confidence in what they are eating, reports Michael Gove, the UK Environment Secretary. With over 2 million food allergy sufferers in the UK alone, it was time that this loophole in food labelling was closed.
According to the Food Standards Agency statistics, there were 4,500 hospital admissions in 2018 with a subsequent 10 deaths caused by food allergies. However, whilst the law will still be under mandate, it will potentially take until the summer of 2021 before it is enforced. This is to allow businesses some time to put their plans into action and to allow for any possible cost implications to be considered. Hopefully, making labelling and full ingredient lists consistently clear by all food preparation companies, will stop these unnecessary fatalities and provide much more confidence for the future. No longer will the ‘may contain nuts’ sticker be a sufficient description for those whose lives are at stake. Companies making and providing food should take more responsibility in providing their customers with in-depth information in the future.
Lessons to be learned?
Whilst Natasha’s Law will not come into effect until 2021, Natasha’s tragic death will in time bring about some radical changes in food labelling laws. The shock waves, which passed through the UK following Natasha’s death have meant that even now prior to the law coming into effect fresh food preparation companies are becoming more vigilant.
If you suffer from an allergy or think you may have an allergy, do visit your doctor to get it checked out – it may take a while to diagnose, but it is obviously well worth having the relevant tests.
A word about EpiPens – less than a year ago, the BBC reported short supply of EpiPens in the UK, and in fact, worldwide. As these can be vital in cases of severe allergic reactions, always ensure that you have two available, even if one of them is past its shelf life. One user reported to the BBC that it took 6 months to receive the second one that she normally carries, causing a great deal of concern. As EpiPens are the most commonly used auto-injector in the UK, it may be worth checking with your doctor if there are other alternatives that you can use.
The eventual passing of Natasha’s Law may hopefully give her parents some comfort after working tirelessly to bring this about.