Those with years of experience in living with food allergies will already be wary of takeaway food, whether it be from a machine or a ‘live’ outlet, but newcomers to the condition may not be aware of how risky an indulgence this could be. So Torfaen County Borough Council’s small study comes as a timely warning.
Vending machines, obviously, present very different levels of risk. If they are selling pre-wrapped goods, whatever they may be, contamination risk is minimal while the individual items should have full ingredients listing on them. So you may lose the cost of your purchase if you find you cannot eat it when you get it from the machine, but you are at no more serious risk. However, hot drinks vending machines offer a much high level of risk. This, specifically, is what the Council’s Trading Standards officers were assessing, although, while in the establishments, the officers also assessed whether ‘accurate and timely food allergen information was being presented to consumers in compliance with current food law.’ To quote from their report:
Ten Torfaen businesses were visited of which only five were found to be fully compliant in respect of the provision of food allergen information to consumers.
Of the ten businesses visited, it was deemed that five failed to comply with laws concerning the provision of food allergen information to consumers; four businesses were not providing any information on food allergens to consumers upfront before non-prepacked food was purchased, and one business was providing upfront food allergen information however it was deemed that the information was not readily accessible by the intending purchaser.
Further, two businesses were providing food allergen information orally via members of staff however, and despite both businesses displaying a notice informing consumers that food allergen information was available by asking a member of staff, both businesses were not able to confidently declare what allergens, if any, were present in the foodstuffs being sold through their vending machine.
As far as the actual drinks were concerned the officers took drinks from 10 different vending machines and then sent them for analysis. What they were looking for was milk contamination, especially in supposedly milk free drinks which were purchased immediately after a milk-containing drink. You can see the full details of the results in the report but the bottom line was that two out of the ten samples of supposedly milk free drinks did contain detectable traces of milk – sufficient to cause a reaction in someone with a severe milk allergy.
They also found that the allergen information on the machines was often poor or inaccurate, if there at all. In the example below, lactose is highlighted instead of milk.