Ready to Eat – or not?

We should not forget that “Prêt à manger” actually means “Ready to eat”.

Calling it PRET disguises the idea, though I’m sure those that work for them have rarely, if indeed ever, thought about their origins.

So they completely lost the philosophy of the company name when a poor girl succumbed to her allergy. We can speculate whether she had been kept in an ultra clean environment and so unable to build resistance to various problems but given that there is no realistic legislation able to provide for that, then our food compliance laws should have been able to provide sufficient basic protection.

For the deceased it was a ‘loose law’ which turned out to be just another example of ‘the market will provide’.

Except that it also turns out it that it doesn’t.

It is much better if legislation provides. That’s us. That’s why we elect governments, though very regrettably, many of us haven’t been terribly inclined to properly participate in that as of late.

So food regulations are pretty much like building regulations à la Grenfell Tower. If you do not design them properly, they don’t work. The market definitely does not provide.

“Prêt à manger”, whilst praising their own individual branches ‘independence’, and whilst complying with the letter of the law, seem to be lacking their own basic safety supervision.

Meanwhile, and even more importantly, there is inadequate state supervision – with trading standards and public health inspection largely lost to spending cuts.

Time was when they could and would advise you. As, indeed, they have me. Now, I fear they have way too few resources for that.

When visits are infrequent, a local branch of Prêt à manger may not have been receiving proper advisory direction, though as an increasingly large operation they should not have needed this. But enforcement visits could have flagged up the weaknesses in their management.

How much better for everyone if there were legislation that was properly supervised and enforced.

The essential for proper enforcement is proper resourcing.

Lacking that resource is just another example of government austerity undermining the country’s laws.

Legislation becomes no more than a wish list and when government undermines itself, it calls into question its very existence.


  1. Geoff -

    Tragic, unnecessary and completely avoidable loss of life.

    This further reading is essential to understand the depth of deregulation since 2010.

    Under the section headed “Revolution Blues: The Reconstruction of Health and Safety Law as
    ‘Common-Sense’ Regulation” Prof Paul Almond offers an in depth assessment of the scale of the changes.

  2. Peter May -

    Agreed. And thanks for the links.
    At least the public health/food allergy regulations are covered – for the moment at least – by EU law. It is just that that the individual state is responsible for putting it into effect in its own individual way – which is fine for a UK small bakery, which knows what it is doing, but too loose for a big company that doesn’t – and it is also one that partly makes its own stuff with ‘lowest common denominator’ staff.
    To me, with proper enforcement they would have been ‘directed’, then their other branches would have been visited and compliance failure would have led to prosecution. Instead, there are no resources to do this….
    Rather than this ‘red tape challenge’, which might kill us, we should concentrate on a legislation challenge which makes the requirements specific and simple and the legal advice and enforcement properly resourced.

  3. Bruce Gray -

    Over here in the U.S., our orange trumpian occupier of the White House is doing everything he can to deregulate business under the guise of “creating jobs”. The problem is deregulation doesn’t necessarily create jobs, what is does is increase profits. The two are not linked. Those increased profits typically come at the expense of worker/consumer safety and the environment. Regulations actually create jobs from a compliance assurance standpoint. Some industries even benefit from regulation (applied uniformly) as it creates a barrier to entry for competitors (think automotive). One could argue that this stifles competition and drives up cost, but most consumers are willing to pay a little more to assure a product they use or consume is safe. Deregulation is neoliberalism at its worst.

    1. Peter May -

      Quite so. Regulation makes a fairer market and, as you say, probably drives up cost a bit (but what is the cost of dying?) so in fact ensures considerably fairer competition!

  4. Peter Dawe -

    Sorry, The person with the allergy and their guardians are at fault here. The legislation is clear, fresh unlabelled food is not warranted to be free of allergenic products. SO DON’T EAT IT!

    Pre-packed food IS labelled, by law. Read and decide.

  5. Peter May -

    Fair enough, but if, as I understand to be the case Prêt à manger stock both prepackaged sandwiches and some made on the premises you can understand the possible confusion.

  6. Andrew -

    This was a tragedy all round, and no doubt due to a combination of factors – no labelling by the retailer, the buyer did not check the product, and if she had it is not clear the staff would know the answer, she suffered a severe reaction on an aeroplane in midflight, the epipens did not work, etc etc – and so the absence of any one of those factors could have led to a different result. I see Pret has undertaken (voluntarily) to fully label all the products it sells, even though the law has been clear for many decades that it is not necessary to label items that are made to order, or packed for direct sale on the same premises.

    (The requirement to label for allergans currently comes from Food Information Regulations 2014, which refers back to the 2011 EU regulations on provision of food information to consumers – see (Reg.2) and (Art 2.2(e)). And there is lots of guidance over here: There was a similar exception to the labelling requirements under the Food Labelling Regulations 1996, and the Food Labelling Regulations 1984, and the previous regulations as far back as 1980. I’ve not checked the earlier regulations in the 1970 and 1960s, but it would not be very surprised to find that labelling was never required for items made up for sale on the premises. It may be convenient to say so, but it does not appear to be an issue of deregulation at all.)

    I expect some other high-street chains have also been making use of this exception, and perhaps the law needs to be updated to reflect the fact that we don’t live in the 1980s any more. I doubt there will be much problem here in changing the UK regulations to require a higher level of labelling than the EU regulations require.

    Hard though it may be, I substantially agree with Peter. From an interview I heard on the radio the other day, this young woman clearly had multiple serious food allergies since she was an infant, and so it must be incumbent on her to check carefully the contents of any foods before she eats them (a little like professional athletes making sure that there is no risk that they might accidentally consume a prohibited drug). That said, it is also incumbent on retailers to make the information easily available to their customers, and perhaps she was misled by the absence of labeling on this particular product.

    Would Pret be off the hook if they had a blanket defensive statement at the door: “All of our products may contain cereals, sesame, nuts, peanuts, soy, egg, milk, fish, shellfish, celery, mustard, sulphites, lupins, etc etc”?

  7. Peter May -

    I would entirely agree that this is not about deregulation but much more about proper application of the regulations that there are.

  8. Andrew -

    Perhaps it is worth being more specific. It is crystal clear from the regulations that Pret is not required to add labels about allergans to products that it packages for sale on the same premises. There *is* a requirement under Regulation 5 to make the information available.


    “(1) A food business operator who offers for sale a relevant food to which this regulation applies may make available the particulars specified in Article 9(1)(c) (labelling of certain substances or products causing allergies or intolerances) in relation to that food by any means the operator chooses, including, subject to paragraph (3), orally.

    (3) Where a food business operator intends to make available the particulars specified in Article 9(1)(c) relating to a relevant food orally … the operator must indicate [in a manner that is readily discernible] that details of that substance or product can be obtained by asking a member of staff.”

    Was that regulation properly applied? I don’t know. But if I had a severe food allergy, I would have asked the question.

    I entirely agree with your point about the necessity to give adequate resources to the authorities responsible for checking and enforcing compliance – not just on food standards, but the tax authorities, the police, etc.

  9. Peter Dawe -

    I enjoy sesame seed rolls (and peanuts). Potentially their presence in a public place could cause death. ( Peanut allergies in planes is frequently reported. )
    So am I to lose the freedom to have my choice of roll or snack?

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