01 Oct 2021

News

Natasha’s life-changing law…

After years of lobbying, Natasha’s Law, or the Food Information Amendment Act, will come into force on October 1st 2021. This will introduce stricter standards, meaning that all pre-packaged foods must carry a full ingredients list, enabling allergy sufferers to make informed choices while purchasing food out of the home.

In July 2016, a sixteen-year-old Natasha was elated to find a Pret-A-Manger baguette that not only contained some of her favourite foods, but also seemed ‘safe’. Natasha suffered from a number of allergies and knew the significance of the choices she made. But the sesame seeds that had been baked into the bread had not been declared on any packaging. Natasha suffered an anaphylactic reaction and sadly died later that day.

The coroner’s report revealed what Natasha’s parents refer to as a ‘legal loophole’, which meant that the standard of food-labelling on pre-packaged food for direct sale (i.e. food made and packaged on the premises) fell short of expectations, leaving many more exposed to potentially fatal consequences.

As we prepare for the implementation of Natasha’s Law, we sit down with Partner Ken Thomas and his daughter Meg. Both are aware of the impact that a severe allergy can have on daily life – Meg has a severe egg allergy. In this blog, they tackle some questions regarding life with an allergy, in addition to considering the impact that Natasha’s Law will have for fellow allergy sufferers.

What impact does the allergy have on a day to day basis?

Meg: My allergy impacts my life physically, mentally and socially.

Daily, I am faced with mild allergic reactions as I come into contact with egg on surfaces and in the air as egg is cooked. This has been especially difficult when living in shared accommodation with other fellow students. It is hard to prevent people from eating what they want to eat, even though it may contain egg. This leads to quite a bit of anxiety surrounding mealtimes and can strain friendships.

Having an allergy also makes eating outside of the home stressful. When abroad this problem is heightened as language barriers and differing attitudes towards allergies make it very difficult.

Do you have an example of a very severe reaction?

Meg: There have been several severe reactions over the years as egg is present in many different foods. One severe reaction which stands out was caused by cross-contamination of egg in a boiled rice dish that I ordered in a Chinese restaurant. Whilst eating my meal, I started to notice the first symptoms of an allergic reaction as my tongue started to tingle and swallowing started to feel uncomfortable.

After voicing my worst fears, myself and my family had to quickly pay and leave our meals in the restaurant so that we could get home, before the worst of my reaction began.

By the time we had arrived home my reaction was in full swing, and I could barely move due to the severe stomach cramps. Gradually I went into anaphylactic shock, was unable to move and had to rely heavily on my asthma inhaler to keep breathing. At this point I was driven to A&E.

What changes have you seen over the years to the approach to allergies?

Meg: When I was younger, chips were just about the only thing I could order off the menus whenever we ate out, as allergy guides were very rarely provided within restaurants. Some eateries are still much better than others and various national chains are very alive to the issue and more restaurants these days can provide an in-depth allergy list, if you ask for one. It is important that all outlets take up the changes instigated by Natasha’s law with a renewed vigour, to ensure that fellow allergy sufferers are able to purchase and eat food with confidence.

What improvements or changes do you think could be made to improve matters for those who suffer with allergies?

Meg: Due to media coverage and legislation, there has been an increase in the awareness and consideration of allergies and I am eager to see the impact of Natasha’s Law as it is rolled out across a number of eateries in the UK. While we wait to see the impact of the legislation, it is imperative that food businesses do all they can to have comprehensive, up-to-date and accurate allergy guides, plus staff who are fully trained to deal with allergy sufferers.

What role do you think the legal sector can play in protecting allergy suffers?

Ken: Lawyers have been involved in campaigning to tighten requirements for food labelling. Whilst the food business sector has made big strides over the last few years, sadly some businesses do not take the issue seriously enough. Many allergy sufferers will opt to ‘avoid making a fuss’ but in reality unless action is taken then the same mistakes will happen again.

Local authorities can take enforcement action but only if they are made aware of such incidents. Bringing a claim for negligence and/or breach of statutory duty is another way of ensuring that food businesses take the needs of allergy sufferers seriously.

While most allergic reactions are relatively minor, unfortunately a significant number are severe and some can even be fatal. If you suffered an allergic reaction to food due to negligence on behalf of one or more parties, then contact us today to see how we can help you.

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