An investigation conducted by a local council in Wales, UK, alleges that several hot drinks vending machines posed an allergen risk to consumers with severe food allergies, due to cross-contamination of several beverages and inadequate or non-existent allergen information.
During an investigation between April and September 2020, the trading standards service of Torfaen County Borough Council visited ten businesses in the Torfaen area that sell hot drinks dispensed from vending machines.
The investigators claim to have found “serious failings” in the provision of allergen information, as well as cross-contamination of milk to products that did not contain milk as an intended ingredient.
The investigators alleged that five businesses failed to provide consumers with statutory food allergen information as required by The Food Information Regulations 2014; with four businesses not providing any information on food allergens to consumers at all.
Of the businesses that were providing allergen information, investigators claim that it was either incorrect, inadequate or difficult to find and – in the case of information that was provided verbally – staff could not confidently confirm the correct allergen status of the products.
The investigating team also submitted drinks purchased from all ten vending machines to a laboratory for analysis. Results from laboratory analysis showed that two drinks that were not supposed to contain milk had detectable levels high enough to cause a reaction in the most severely allergic individuals.
The investigators also allege that both of the contaminated drinks came from businesses where the only source of allergen information was orally via members of staff.
A statement from non-profit organisation Anaphylaxis Campaign – which represents consumers at risk from severe allergic reactions – said that it “is vital that vending machine manufacturers and operators understand their legal responsibility to provide the statutory allergen information to allow consumers to make safe choices.”
The non-profit stated that if there is a risk of cross-contamination, this must be adequately communicated via precautionary allergen information prior to purchase.
Lynne Regent, CEO of Anaphylaxis Campaign, said: “We commend Torfaen Trading Standards for undertaking this important piece of work and highlighting the potential risks to consumers with allergies from non-pre-packed vended products.
“Allergic consumers need to be on their guard when purchasing from vending machines and if adequate information cannot be provided about allergens, don’t take the risk. Any concerns should be reported to the local trading standards so they can be investigated.”
In response to the report, the Automatic Vending Association (AVA) – the trade body of the vending industry in the UK – stated: “Members of the AVA are an important part of the foodservice industry and have strict regulations and standards around allergen labelling. The AVA was involved in the preparation of the Food Information to Consumers Regulation on behalf of our members and we continue to work hard with them to ensure they are compliant with these regulations.
“For AVA members, appropriate labelling on machines is part of their annual quality audit. The issue of allergen labelling is one we take extremely seriously. We will take this opportunity to once again remind our members of the need to provide current and comprehensive allergen information to consumers to ensure they make safe choices.”
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