Allergens: Ready meal coding and the lethal self-service scam

  • By Louise Adcock
  • August 23, 2016
  • Food
  • Convenience food
  • Trays
  • Pouches
  • Carton

Packaging plays an enormous part in that process, especially given customer allergies. Since December 2014, failure to display accurate allergen information on food packaging has been illegal. The primary packaging of any food product must indicate clearly the presence of the 14 most common allergens. Failure to do so can result in a heavy fine, not to mention the potential disastrous PR ramifications and, worst of all, customers at very real risk of serious illness or even death.

Yet with the ready meal market dominated by removable outer cardboard sleeve packaging, there’s a new risk in the battle against misinformation.

The self-service scam

Self-service checkouts have led to rare but very real supermarket deceptions, where some customers have taken to illicitly exchanging ready meal sleeves to scan through a cheaper product whilst taking home the dearer option. This leaves customers at the mercy of incorrectly-labelled products at both ends of the deal. Even if the customer has done their research in the shop before swapping the cover, the “purchased” meal could still be consumed by someone else in the home with severe allergies and without the correct cover, ignorant of the true ingredients. There is also the product whose cover has been swapped back at the supermarket to consider.

Incorrect allergen information can lead to fatalities. Culpability is high on the agenda, as seen recently in the case of the peanut death from a takeaway outlet. In that instance, there was clear guilt, but regardless of the deceitful manner in which the customer arrives at a fatally wrong ingredient, the blame will lie squarely with the manufacturer. Let’s not forget those customers unwittingly buying the wrong product thanks to swapped outer sleeves. Through no fault of their own, they may be buying food to which they are seriously allergic.

Consequently, even greater transparency is required on behalf of food manufacturers.

Another change to allergen coding?

Traceability is a key issue that stretches now to the ready meal trade, with the microwaveable plastic containers employing coding technology to identify the supply chain of the supermarket products. There can be no ambiguity over implementing food safety labelling legislation; the plastic container needs to verify the key ingredients that could cause a reaction. Compliance is paramount to the industry’s ongoing mission to provide the consumer with full, accurate information.

Domino is leading the way in making sure that this procedure becomes standard practice, with ready-meal containers coded to display prominently that allergen information which could otherwise be separated from its cardboard sleeve. 

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