Some of the UK’s largest supermarket chains are giving customers incorrect and confusing information about potentially lethal allergens including nuts, sesame and milk contained in unlabelled bread and pastries sold at their instore bakeries, a BBC Watchdog Live investigation has found.
Posing as customers with food allergies, the programme’s undercover journalists secretly filmed staff at branches of Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco giving wrong or confusing answers when asked about products containing ‘major’ allergens.
In one Asda store, staff said selected bakery products didn’t contain sesame as an ingredient – a substance that can prove lethal to an allergy sufferer. In fact, sesame was listed as an ingredient for the products on the store’s website, and in some other Asda stores.
The programme found problems with information about allergy ingredients at three Asda stores, including one where no ingredients information was available. In each, staff provided a general warning that products may be contaminated with nuts or seeds, without identifying specific major allergens contained within the recipe.
In total, the programme found cause for concern in five of the 24 supermarkets where it asked for information about allergen ingredients on the bakery counter. Secretly filmed footage can be seen on Watchdog Live, to be shown tonight (7 Nov) on BBC One at 8pm.
EU regulations state that 14 ‘major’ allergens, including nuts, sesame, milk, eggs and wheat, must be highlighted in the ingredients lists on prepacked foods. In the UK, businesses selling loose food products packed for sale on-site – including supermarket in-store bakeries – don’t need to provide a full list of allergens on their packaging. But they must ensure clear and accurate information is readily available to customers by other means, such as verbally from staff.
In September, Dr Séan Cummings, the acting senior coroner for west London, said the death of 15-year-old sesame allergy sufferer, Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, was caused by anaphylaxis after eating a baguette from Pret A Manger which did not list allergens on the packet.
The sandwich chain has since promised to overhaul its labelling policy. Her parents, Nadim and Tanya Ednan-Laperouse, say Environment Secretary Michael Gove has told them the law around food allergy labelling could be tightened as early as next year.