Pret A Manger said it would move to fully label all ingredients in its soups, salads and other products as it looks to win back consumer trust after two people died from allergic reactions to food they bought at the chain.
Allergen labelling is not currently required by law in the UK when restaurants or fast-food outlets cook the food on site, although staff are required to provide allergen information if customers ask for it. In contrast, pre-packaged foods such as sandwiches, salads or ready meals made in factories and sold in supermarkets or convenience stores are legally required to have full allergen labelling.
The government is studying whether to close the loophole by requiring allergen labelling for foods classified as “pre-packed for direct sale”, the middle ground in which many fast, casual-dining outlets like Pret operate.
A joint consultation held by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Food Standards Agency, and the Department of Health ended on March 29, and results are expected in the coming months.
Michael Gove, Defra secretary, promised action in a meeting with the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, who died after having an allergic reaction to sesame in a Pret baguette in July 2016.
Celia Marsh, 42, also allegedly died after a having a reaction to a flatbread sandwich sold at Pret that was supposed to be dairy free. An inquest into her death is expected later this year.
“The issue of allergies has struck a deep chord within Pret A Manger following the tragic deaths of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse and Celia Marsh,” Clive Shlee, chief executive, said.
The new labels will arrive in 20 London shops this week, and will be rolled out nationwide by the end of the summer. In the UK, it is estimated that 1-2 per cent of adults and 5-8 per cent of children have a food allergy, according to Defra, and more have intolerances.
© Robert Alexander
These include reformulating about 70 recipes to remove allergens, investing in training for staff, and installing tablet computers in stores so allergy sufferers can easily check what foods are safe. It has also committed to releasing a quarterly report of any allergy incidents, although the details of that are still being worked out.
“It’s a significant investment, and also a big change culturally,” said Mr Schlee. “For 30 years, we built Pret kitchens up to emphasise speed and freshness of the food, and now we also need to change to foster accuracy and precision.”