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Food allergy, a summary of recent cases in the criminal and civil courts of the UK

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Abstract

Food allergy, a significant public health concern in the developed world has developed a forensic context where allergy related personal injury, fatality or criminal non-compliance on the part of a food supplier are issues that have recently come before the UK courts. EU General Food Law (178/2002/EC) and Directive 2000/13/EC (to be consolidated into the proposed Food Information Regulation) address allergen avoidance risks relating to composition, labelling and food safety. The European Framework Directive on Safety and Health at Work (Directive 89/391 EEC and daughter legislation) may also be deployed. Compensation in civil law for loss or damage caused by an allergic reaction to a food supplied, not as requested, or with misleading or incorrect information has also been sought. The authors describe recent such cases dealing with prepacked retail and non prepacked catering situations where contraventions of food law could have resulted in fatalities, and health and safety and civil litigation following deaths from food allergy. The cases came before the civil (including appeal) courts, magistrates and coroner’s courts. In the absence of a current cure, health protection depends on accurate diagnosis, informed food allergen avoidance and the effective management of symptoms. These strategies depend in turn on the multilayered approaches adopted by clinicians, scientists, food suppliers, allergic consumers (and those who care for them), and regulators. Effective food allergen avoidance depends on the diagnosed consumer knowing what to avoid, being able to access correct ingredients information and to rely on the absence of allergen cross-contamination. Access to ingredients information may be via a label, menu or other printed means, or by enquiring of a staff member who may not always appreciate the implications of such a request or be competent in managing food allergy risks. Lapses in any of these areas may have forensic consequences beyond even their initial (sometimes severe) personal impact.
O RAL P R E S EN TA T ION Open Access
Food allergy, a summary of recent cases in the
criminal and civil courts of the UK
Hazel M Gowland
1*
, Michael J Walker
2
From Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Meeting 2011
Venice, Italy. 17-19 February 2011
Food allergy, a significant public health concern in the
developed world has developed a forensic context whe re
allergy related personal injury, fatali ty or criminal non-
compliance on the part of a food supplier are issues that
have recently come b efore the UK courts. EU General
Food Law (178/2002/EC) and Directive 2000/13/EC (to
be co nsolidated into the proposed Food Information
Regulation) address allergen avoidance risks relating to
composition, labelling and food safety. The European
Framework Directive on Safety and Health at Work
(Directive 89/391 EEC and da ughter legislation) may
also be deployed. Compensation in civil law for loss or
damage caused by an allergic reaction to a food sup-
plied, not as requested, o r with misleading or incorrect
information has also been sought. The authors describe
recent such cases dealing with prep acked retail and non
prepacked catering situations where contraventions of
food law could have resulted in fatalities, and health and
safety and civil litigation following deaths from food
allergy. The cases came before the civil (including
appeal) courts, magistrates and coronerscourts.Inthe
absence of a curr ent cure, health protection depends on
accurate diagnosis, informed food allergen avoidance
and the e ffective management of symptoms. These stra-
tegies depend in turn o n the multilayered approaches
adopted by clinicians, scientists, food suppliers, allergic
consumers (and those who care for them), and regula-
tors. Effective food allergen avoidance depends on the
diagnosed consumer knowing what to avo id, being able
to access correct ingred ients information and to rely on
the absence of allergen cross-contamination. Access to
ingredients information may be via a label, menu or
other printed means, or by enquiring of a staff member
who may not always appreciate the implications of such
a request or be competent in managing food allergy
risks. Lapses in any of these areas may have forensic
consequences beyond even their initial (sometimes
severe) personal impact.
Author details
1
Allergy Action, St Albans, UK.
2
LGC, Teddington, UK.
Published: 12 August 2011
doi:10.1186/2045-7022-1-S1-O1
Cite this article as: Gowland and Walker: Food allergy, a summary of
recent cases in the criminal and civil courts of the UK. Clinical and
Translational Allergy 2011 1(Suppl 1):O1.
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1
Allergy Action, St Albans, UK
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
Gowland and Walker Clinical and Translational Allergy 2011, 1(Suppl 1):O1
http://www.ctajournal.com/content/1/S1/O1
© 2011 Gowland and Walker; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provide d the original work is properly cited.
... As will 566 be seen from this paper, much of the material gathered has been in the media or 567 from direct contact with local authorities rather than the peer reviewed literature. It 568 is timely therefore to review and collate extant material 53 . 569 is seen as a last resort, with advice and guidance often seen as a more 596 productive and efficient means of securing compliance. ...
Article
Background Food allergy has a forensic context. We describe 8 cases in the UK courts involving fatalities, personal injury, or criminal non-compliance with food law from mainly ‘grey’ literature sources.ResultsThe potentially severe consequences for people with food allergy of contraventions of labelling law have led to enforcement action up to criminal prosecution for what might otherwise be regarded as ‘trivial’ non-compliance.Conclusions We suggest there should be central collation of such cases. Non-compliances should be followed up in a more rapid and robust manner. Evidence of fraud in the catering supply chain supports recent calls for zero tolerance of food fraud. Businesses must guard against gaps in allergen management; there are readily available sources of training and guidance but also against fraudulent substitution in the supply chain, about which training and guidance should be developed. New allergen labelling legislation and case law appear to place responsibility on food businesses even for the forensically problematic area of allergen cross contamination. The courts can be an effective last resort for vulnerable consumers; however there is evidence of knowledge and skills gaps, both in the investigation and prosecution of potentially serious incidents of food allergen mismanagement and mislabelling. Thorough investigation of food allergy deaths is required with a tenacious and skilled approach. Early realisation that samples of the food and/or stomach contents from a post mortem examination should be retained and analysed. The supply chain must be rigorously examined to find out where adulteration or contamination with the fatal allergen occurred.
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