The consultation, carried out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) follows the 2016 death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a teenager who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a baguette made by sandwich chain Pret a Manger.
The food covered by the consultation is packed for sale on the premises on which it is made, and known as prepacked for direct sale (PPDS). Loose items sold without packaging, food which is prepared but not packaged, or food which is prepared and packaged after the customer orders, does not fall within the remit of the consultation.
PPDS foods are not currently required to carry labels on the packaging, although allergen information must be readily available to customers including if they ask a member of staff.
Food safety expert Sarah Taylor of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: “Defra is exploring ways of closing the gap in legal requirements on allergen labelling between prepacked foods and food prepacked for direct sale."
“PPDS foods are made on the same premises where they are sold to consumers. At the moment, these foods - Pret a Manger sandwiches are one example - don’t require the full allergen labelling that is required on packaging for prepacked food such as supermarket ready meals,” Taylor said.
“The consultation follows recent tragic cases of allergen deaths and aims to improve clarity on food information in the out of home environment,” Taylor said.
The consultation document (30 page / 679KB PDF) sets out four possible options for change. Option one would promote best practice, encouraging businesses and consumers to review their knowledge, skills and actions to ensure a safer environment for those suffering with allergies.
The other three options require regulatory change. Option two would mandate businesses to carry 'ask the staff' labels on all PPDS foods, and staff would have to provide information in writing on request before the food was bought by a consumer.
Defra said option two was the least costly regulatory option to implement and was already being undertaken by a number of businesses.
Option three would require PPDS foods to have a label on the packaging to tell the consumer the name of the food and which of the 14 allergenic ingredients specified in law the product intentionally contains.
Option four would require labelling for PPDS foods to mirror that currently required for other prepacked foods, highlighting any allergenic ingredients in a list of all ingredients used.
The document noted that until the UK leaves the EU it is restricted in the changes it can make to legislation regarding allergen information provision. It is unable to change the definition of non-prepacked foods, and it is unable to change how information is provided to consumers on takeaway food, for example.
The government said it did not currently have a preferred policy option, and the four options could be combined, for example to apply to different sizes of businesses in a tiered approach.
The consultation will run until 29 March.