Which option would you choose?

Oct 3, 2018 | Human Factors

You’re running late, you’re hungry and won’t have another chance to pick up something to eat before your journey.


There’s a busy food retailer nearby, and you go in to find something to tide you over, scanning the sandwiches, wraps and salads. A couple of the products on offer look safe to eat, but there’s no labelling on the shelf or the wrapper about allergens.

You are faced with three options;

  • Buy the product that looks like it would be safe to eat,
  • Leave the shop and search for something else, or
  • Join the queue for the counter and when you finally get there, ask for the allergens information folder, to search through for the information you need.

Which option would you pick?

For those with food allergies, It is hard enough finding safe foods to eat when you’re out and about. How challenging it must be, especially if you’re not confident in public, to have to ask at the counter for information on allergens. You’re then probably confronted with a folder full of hard to find, hard to read information.

When you’ve plenty of time to sift through the information, it’s a large emotional burden. When you’re pressed for time, how much harder must it be to take those steps.

For many in the UK, the unfolding story from the family of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse this week was heartbreaking. The paucity of legal requirements for food labelling was hammered home by the experience of Natasha’s Grandmother, who went into her local branch of the national chain in question, and asked for allergen information for the same sandwich her Granddaughter had eaten. She recounted the stress and difficulties experienced in asking for and then struggling to understand allergen information from within a folder.

As of this Wednesday, the company at the centre of the storm have agreed to steps that ought, one might be forgiven for thinking, have been in place for years – placing food allergen information on freshly made products. The company were complying with the law on food labelling. However, that law includes a loophole permitting establishments that prepare food freshly on the premises to simply have a folder available on request with allergen information. It is even permissible to impart the information verbally to the customer.

It shouldn’t take the death of a person for change to happen, but so often it does. In light of the Coroner’s findings in this family’s case, a review of current Food Labelling legislation has been promised by the UK Government.

You only have to look at the history of medicines regulation to see that many pieces of legislation were put in place as a result of human tragedy. Thankfully, there are now regulatory requirements for labelling and Instructions for Use on all medical devices and drug / device combination products

Even so, when developing a new product we must be mindful of what else the user or patient may have to contend with whilst using our device. Ask yourself, is it reasonable and practical to use the materials we provide with the product. If the answer is “no”, how else might the product be designed to reduce uncertainty over its use, how could information be better provided, to be more readily accessible to the user?