This investigation was covered in The Times. See the full investigation.

Nearly one in five food samples tested by Local Authorities contain potentially dangerous hidden allergens, research by Unchecked UK and the Times has found.

Out of 6,602 food samples taken by Local Authorities in England, Wales and Scotland in 2016, 2017 and 2018, more than 1,200 contained traces of allergenic substances that could prove harmful or even fatal to those suffering from food allergies.

Samples were taken from local food premises, such as manufacturers, takeaways, restaurants, hospitals, schools and care homes.  In each case there was no indication of the allergen’s presence in the food product.

The problem is likely to go even further than the figures indicate as despite a number of high-profile food allergy deaths in recent years, the number of food samples tested for allergens fell by over a quarter during the period 2016-18, with 20 Local Authorities taking no allergen samples at all.

The proportion of failed results from these Local Authority samples will be higher would be the case from random testing, as councils may target poorly performing food businesses, or take samples following tip-offs from the public.

Emma Rose, Director of Unchecked UK, said:

“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”.

The fall in sampling in the last three years is part of a wider long-term decline in total food sampling, which has plummeted by nearly 60 per cent since 2009, according to analysis by Unchecked UK.  Food law enforcement staff numbers have fallen by a third since 2009, and there are now just three staff in post per 1000 UK food establishments.

Food Standards Agency figures show that around 10 people die in the UK each year as a result of undeclared allergenic ingredients.

Dr Hazel Gowland, leading expert in food allergy risks, said:

“This is critically important work. The presence of unlabelled allergens in a range of foods is potentially life-threatening for increasing numbers of consumers with allergies, intolerances and coeliac disease. Sampling by Local Authority Food Officers and testing by Public Analysts are essential to ensure food is safe and labelling is correct. These results are a major concern, indicating the urgent need for additional local authority resources to protect consumers.”

Dr Duncan Campbell, Honorary Secretary of the Association of Public Analysts, said:

“Local Authorities are required to prepare and publish a food sampling policy which commits them to providing the resources necessary to carry out a food sampling programme. Sampling programmes are expected to be risk based. Eating food outside of the home presents a risk to those with an allergic disease and sampling is the only way to ensure that caterers are managing these risks adequately if at all.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

  • This study was published in The Times – https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/one-in-five-food-samples-has-hidden-allergen-23znhcf8x
  • The proportion of failed results from Local Authority sampling will be higher than it would be from random testing, as councils may target poorly performing food businesses, or take samples following tip-offs from the public.
  • In England, more than 20 per cent of samples contained an undeclared allergen (861 of 4271 samples), in Scotland just under 8 per cent (144 of 1857), and in Wales nearly 44 per cent (208 of 474). Peanuts were the most commonly detected allergen present (328 samples), followed by gluten (223), egg (203), and milk (159).  The sampling was carried out by Local Authorities, with samples coming from food premises, including manufacturers, retailers, cafes, takeaways, butchers, bakeries, schools, care homes or hospitals.
  • Food law enforcement staff numbers have fallen by a third since 2009, and there are now just three staff in post per 1000 UK food establishments: 1,793 for 571,804 food establishments (in England, Ireland and Wales, 2017/18).
  • Since the Government accepted the recommendations of the Elliott Review (September 2014), one of which called for improved laboratory testing capacity and capability, half of the Local Authority Public Analyst laboratories in England at that time have closed and only three remain.
  • All food businesses are required by law to tell customers if their food contains one of 14 major allergens. This can be done by highlighting them in ingredients lists (for pre-packed foods), or providing allergen information on menus, written notices, or labels (for non pre-packed foods and pre-packed foods for direct sale). Food staff must also handle and record allergen ingredients correctly.
  • NHS statistics show that hospital admissions in England for anaphylactic shock caused by adverse food reactions rose by 70 per cent between 2008/09 and 2017/18. Admissions of children under 14 years old have more than doubled over this period: NHS data – Hospital Admitted Patient Care Activity
  • “Around 10 people die from allergic reactions to food every year due to undeclared allergenic ingredients”, Questions and answers on the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation allergen provisions
  • An estimated 7 per cent of children are affected by food allergies in the UK.

About Unchecked UK

Unchecked UK is a project of The Ecology Trust, a grant-making charity established in 2003 which seeks to tackle the root causes of environmental and societal problems. Unchecked UK exists to support the UK civil society counter movement against the erosion of important public protections, and to make the case for proper investment in the enforcement bodies that keep us safe. www.unchecked.uk

For all media enquiries please contact:

Luke Holland / luke@cathoddu.com / 07447 008098

For further information on Unchecked.uk, please contact:

Emma Rose/ emma@unchecked.uk/ 07917 799 203

< BACK

This investigation was covered in The Times. See the full investigation.

Nearly one in five food samples tested by Local Authorities contain potentially dangerous hidden allergens, research by Unchecked UK and the Times has found.

Out of 6,602 food samples taken by Local Authorities in England, Wales and Scotland in 2016, 2017 and 2018, more than 1,200 contained traces of allergenic substances that could prove harmful or even fatal to those suffering from food allergies.

Samples were taken from local food premises, such as manufacturers, takeaways, restaurants, hospitals, schools and care homes.  In each case there was no indication of the allergen’s presence in the food product.

The problem is likely to go even further than the figures indicate as despite a number of high-profile food allergy deaths in recent years, the number of food samples tested for allergens fell by over a quarter during the period 2016-18, with 20 Local Authorities taking no allergen samples at all.

The proportion of failed results from these Local Authority samples will be higher would be the case from random testing, as councils may target poorly performing food businesses, or take samples following tip-offs from the public.

Emma Rose, Director of Unchecked UK, said:

“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”.

The fall in sampling in the last three years is part of a wider long-term decline in total food sampling, which has plummeted by nearly 60 per cent since 2009, according to analysis by Unchecked UK.  Food law enforcement staff numbers have fallen by a third since 2009, and there are now just three staff in post per 1000 UK food establishments.

Food Standards Agency figures show that around 10 people die in the UK each year as a result of undeclared allergenic ingredients.

Dr Hazel Gowland, leading expert in food allergy risks, said:

“This is critically important work. The presence of unlabelled allergens in a range of foods is potentially life-threatening for increasing numbers of consumers with allergies, intolerances and coeliac disease. Sampling by Local Authority Food Officers and testing by Public Analysts are essential to ensure food is safe and labelling is correct. These results are a major concern, indicating the urgent need for additional local authority resources to protect consumers.”

Dr Duncan Campbell, Honorary Secretary of the Association of Public Analysts, said:

“Local Authorities are required to prepare and publish a food sampling policy which commits them to providing the resources necessary to carry out a food sampling programme. Sampling programmes are expected to be risk based. Eating food outside of the home presents a risk to those with an allergic disease and sampling is the only way to ensure that caterers are managing these risks adequately if at all.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

  • This study was published in The Times – https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/one-in-five-food-samples-has-hidden-allergen-23znhcf8x
  • The proportion of failed results from Local Authority sampling will be higher than it would be from random testing, as councils may target poorly performing food businesses, or take samples following tip-offs from the public.
  • In England, more than 20 per cent of samples contained an undeclared allergen (861 of 4271 samples), in Scotland just under 8 per cent (144 of 1857), and in Wales nearly 44 per cent (208 of 474). Peanuts were the most commonly detected allergen present (328 samples), followed by gluten (223), egg (203), and milk (159).  The sampling was carried out by Local Authorities, with samples coming from food premises, including manufacturers, retailers, cafes, takeaways, butchers, bakeries, schools, care homes or hospitals.
  • Food law enforcement staff numbers have fallen by a third since 2009, and there are now just three staff in post per 1000 UK food establishments: 1,793 for 571,804 food establishments (in England, Ireland and Wales, 2017/18).
  • Since the Government accepted the recommendations of the Elliott Review (September 2014), one of which called for improved laboratory testing capacity and capability, half of the Local Authority Public Analyst laboratories in England at that time have closed and only three remain.
  • All food businesses are required by law to tell customers if their food contains one of 14 major allergens. This can be done by highlighting them in ingredients lists (for pre-packed foods), or providing allergen information on menus, written notices, or labels (for non pre-packed foods and pre-packed foods for direct sale). Food staff must also handle and record allergen ingredients correctly.
  • NHS statistics show that hospital admissions in England for anaphylactic shock caused by adverse food reactions rose by 70 per cent between 2008/09 and 2017/18. Admissions of children under 14 years old have more than doubled over this period: NHS data – Hospital Admitted Patient Care Activity
  • “Around 10 people die from allergic reactions to food every year due to undeclared allergenic ingredients”, Questions and answers on the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation allergen provisions
  • An estimated 7 per cent of children are affected by food allergies in the UK.

About Unchecked UK

Unchecked UK is a project of The Ecology Trust, a grant-making charity established in 2003 which seeks to tackle the root causes of environmental and societal problems. Unchecked UK exists to support the UK civil society counter movement against the erosion of important public protections, and to make the case for proper investment in the enforcement bodies that keep us safe. www.unchecked.uk

For all media enquiries please contact:

Luke Holland / luke@cathoddu.com / 07447 008098

For further information on Unchecked.uk, please contact:

Emma Rose/ emma@unchecked.uk/ 07917 799 203

< BACK