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Food businesses performance on allergens improving

Rachel Wilcock, principal officer for food, Lancashire County Council Trading Standards Service

Local food businesses have upped their game when selling food containing allergens according to Lancashire County Council Trading Standards Service.

Over the past three years the percentage of businesses failing tests for ingredients containing allergens which hadn’t been declared on menus has dropped from 40% to 12.5%.

Trading Standards are working closely with businesses to make sure they understand the serious implications of serving food containing undeclared allergens, and bring any which fail sample tests into line.

Food allergy is a serious and growing public health issue, with one in three of the UK population living with an allergy of some form.

The figures have been highlighted during Food Standards Agency’s national Food Safety Week campaign (June 10 to 16), which seeks to highlight the role of those whose daily work is to ‘protect our plate’ by ensuring food is safe to eat.

Rachel Wilcock, principal officer for food, Lancashire County Council Trading Standards Service, works to inspect and advise businesses to ensure the food on our plates is safe, and contains only what the label or menu says it does.

She said: “We carry out sample tests on a quarterly basis to check how well food businesses are complying with their obligations around allergens, and identify those where we need to take further action.

“Businesses should not serve food containing certain specified allergens without ensuring those ingredients are listed in information available to the customer, so that people with allergies can easily check before they order.

“The good news is that over the last three years we’ve seen a real improvement in the proportion of businesses passing, and while we don’t want any failures at all, I hope this gives people confidence that their food has become safer in this respect.

“We’re working hard to bring that failure rate as close to zero as possible, and are building on what we’re already doing by producing a new information and training pack which we’ll be rolling out to businesses later this year.

“This includes a film featuring the stories of local people who live with serious, and potentially life-threatening, food allergies to really try and drive home how important it is that businesses comply with the laws in place.”

At the same time, an emerging area of concern is the growth in foods and supplements produced as part of the ‘wellness’ industry, which are marketed with claims about their potential to improve our health.

There is now an increasing problem with untested ingredients being put into food supplements, and unproven claims being made about the supposed benefits of health foods which fall foul of consumer protection rules.

Rachel added: “We are now seeing an increase in wellness-related foods, whether that be meals being marketed as ‘healthy’ or food supplements claimed to help you get the most from your workout.

“Unfortunately, sample tests are finding that some of these products don’t contain what the label says, contain things which haven’t been tested and passed as safe for human consumption, or extra ingredients which are not on the label.

“There could be all sorts of potential health consequences to consuming untested ingredients, as well as wider impacts for society and individuals. In the case of fitness supplements for example, an unlisted ingredient could lead an athlete to fail a dope test.

“Trading standards officers work with other agencies, such the Food Standards Agency, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the police and the UK Anti-Doping Agency to ensure these potentially dangerous ingredients are removed from the market before they cause harm to consumers.

“Wellness foods and supplements an area of the industry we’re focusing on more and more. As with any product or service you buy, our advice is always to be alert to any special claims being made about them and question whether you’re buying from a reputable source. If any claim sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”

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