Food Allergies

The Importance of Food Labelling

The importance of food labelling cannot be overstated. Choosing what to eat is a matter of moral and religious importance for many of us – central to our sense of identity and purpose. For others, labelling can all too frequently be a matter of life and death – it has to be 100% accurate.

That importance was brought home to me over Easter when I visited Greenwich Park with my youngest daughter. A run around followed by an ice cream was on the agenda. What I got was a frightened and ill 8-year-old daughter and a shocked regretful, guilty mother.

We all make mistakes, oversights and assumptions. That day it was my turn. I assumed that the chosen salted caramel ice cream – my daughter’s favourite flavour – wouldn’t contain nuts. I didn’t read the label, I didn’t ask the question I just assumed, and guess what – hazelnuts. A few licks later, my daughter’s throat is itchy and constricting – she feels like she can’t breathe. Luckily little ice cream was consumed, luckily I was near a chemist and able to buy some anti histamine, and luckily medical intervention was unnecessary. My daughter was lucky and I had a powerful reminder to check the label, ask the retailer and if in any doubt – avoid the food.

Not everyone is so lucky. The incidence of food allergies has increased dramatically in both adults and children over the past 40 years. Almost one in 12 young children suffers from a food allergy. Almost every classroom in the UK has a child with an allergy to nuts, milk or eggs (milk and eggs being the most common allergens).

I have spent countless hours reading food labels, double and triple checking to ensure products are safe for my family. My husband and both daughters have nut allergies and despite the many times I’ve swooped to snatch the suspect food from an unsuspecting hand I still made a mistake.

That mistake brought home to me the importance of labelling. As a business woman who supplies treats and chocolates for people with food allergies, vegetarians and vegans, I know how important trust is. Our business depends on it. Customers expect and deserve correctly labelled products.

As consumers, we need absolute confidence in food labelling. Unfortunately, as all too frequent tragedies show there is great deal of progress to be made. A leading national charity for allergy sufferers, Allergy UK, has a ‘food alerts’ section on its website listing hundreds of items of food withdrawn or recalled because labelling is either missing, incorrect or poses a health risk.