Airline allergy procedures under review

07 March 2019, Katie Coyne

Peanuts

Changes to how airlines safeguard passengers with nut allergies is on the cards as part of a consultation into the future of aviation.

The government has said it may publish guidelines to improve clarity and consistency, and create a central point of information for nut allergy sufferers.

Part of the remit of the Department for Transport’s Aviation 2050: the future of UK aviation green paper is to improve the passenger experience and concerns around nut allergy are included in that. It coincides with a consultation being hosted by the FSA into food allergen labelling, aimed at closing harmful loopholes. 

Allergy UK has published research that found 70% of those it surveyed felt airline policy on this issue was unclear. Some airlines have stopped serving nuts on flights but this doesn’t rule out exposure, as nut products can still be bought airside and taken on to the plane. 

Aviation minister Liz Sugg met allergy sufferers, medical experts and airlines last week and said the government planned to develop a central point to access allergy policies of airlines and the procedures for alerting airlines when there are passengers travelling with allergy needs.

Sugg added: "Passengers with nut allergies can face potentially life-threatening challenges when travelling which can cause significant stress and anxiety, especially for families with children. 

“We want to see improved clarity and consistency in how the sector deals with allergies because it is vital that sufferers have the confidence to travel.”

Tony Baldock, environmental health and licensing manager at Crawley Borough Council, said: “It’s very interesting that this is in the aviation paper at all and they should be given some credit. It would be difficult to enforce and it will need to have teeth. 

“The only problem with it is it’s only going to deal with airlines based here. What needs to happen is for this to be pushed through the ICAO [international aviation organisation] or the World Health Organisation, which has an aviation branch.

“You have to have an international focus for it to work. If we could develop a best practice and then push it out through ICAO or WHO it could work. This would also make it easier to police if it was an internationally adopted standard.” 

Aircraft are considered food premises under the Food Safety Act, but they are administered as airlines rather than individual aircraft. Each airline can choose which local authority it registers with. 

In October last year CIEH called for an immediate review of legislation to ensure loopholes around allergen labelling were closed, following the death of two Pret A Manger Customers.

Currently, prepacked foods for direct sale that have been packed on the same premises where they are being sold – such as a café or sandwich shop – do not have to carry labels and information about allergens. This is one of the issues that the consultation into allergen labelling is looking into. 

While any changes brought in by this legislation will affect airlines, this loophole does not apply to airlines as they are bringing food in that has been prepared elsewhere. 

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, died after suffering a fatal reaction to sesame seeds, to which she was allergic but which she did not know was in her sandwich. She purchased the Pret A Manger artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette at one of the company's outlets at Heathrow Airport, in July 2016.

Ednan-Laperouse died on board a British Airways flight headed to Nice for a holiday and although her father injected her with two EpiPens she later died in a French hospital. 

The death of another Pret A Manger customer, Celia Marsh, is believed to have been caused by an allergic reaction to milk protein in a ‘dairy free’ super-veg rainbow flatbread. The product was bought in Bath in December 2017.

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