Food Labelling – A Legal Requirement

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

Recent headlines in the media demonstrated the need for food labelling on all prepared and cooked foods in restaurants, take-aways and supermarkets selling ready meals/ready to use sauces, etc. No one should die because they ate food, that had an ingredient that was not meant to be, in the food, in the first place! There have been too many cases of individuals losing their lives while eating out and this has to stop.

Owen Carey, a young man died while out celebrating his 18th birthday in 2017 when he ordered a chicken burger at a famous burger chain. Owen informed staff about his allergy but was not told that the dish contained buttermilk, the hidden ingredient that proved fatal, as he was allergic to dairy. Owen suffered a severe anaphylactic shock after eating only half the chicken and feeling his lips tingling and experiencing stomach problems. He collapsed under an hour later never to wake up again.

A similar case happened to Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who died in 2016 after an allergic reaction to a Pret A Manger baguette which contained sesame seeds!

Currently the law states that as a food business you must follow the allergen information rules set in EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation. This means that you must;

  1. provide allergen information to the consumer for both pre-packed and non-prepacked food or drink
  1. handle and manage food allergens adequately

Food establishments also need to make sure that all staff are trained about allergens. By law you also need to tell your customers if any food products you sell or provide contain any of the main 14 allergens as an ingredient. Some of the 14 allergens are: celery; cereals containing gluten; crustaceans – such as prawns, crabs and lobsters; eggs; fish; lupin; milk; molluscs – such as mussels and oysters; mustard; tree nuts – including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts; peanuts; sesame seeds; soybeans; sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million). As you can see it’s a complicated process and more needs to be done to reduce the risk to consumers.

One question that no one is asking is why are so many people having allergies and intolerances to food? Experts have various opinions about this but some independent Scientists and researchers have pointed the finger at our over use of chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides since the 1950’s! Plus the use of synthetic, laboratory made products that have been added to food to increase its shelf life along with additives to increase our consumption of processed foods. Plus can the Tories guarantee that they will not dilute or remove existing laws that were set up by the EU to protect consumers all over Europe?

As an organisation, we set out to focus on cooking food from scratch, as this is the only way to know what truly is in your food. Let’s all get back to basics and take back control of our health from the food lobby.

Published in the Peeblesshire News on 4th October 2019.

Aspartame! Hidden danger in our drink.

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

In this column I will be tackling one hidden ingredient; Aspartame! What is this ingredient and why is it so valuable to corporations? In a nutshell, aspartame is a substitute for sugar or in other words an artificial sweetener that was accidentally discovered by a scientist researching an anti-ulcer medication in the mid 60’s and is composed of two amino acids; aspartic acid and phenylalanine. If you see any drink that has “Sugar free’ be warned, as for a majority of us, this could be worse than sugar itself.

Aspartame is mainly found in a number of sugar free food products like fizzy drinks, cereals, ice cream, chewing gum, diet cola’s, etc. to name a few. Chances that you are having this in your daily diet is probably very high and unavoidable in many cases. So what is this magic  ingredient? To give you an example aspartame is 200 times sweeter than refined sugar! 1 gram of aspartame has roughly 4 calories while 8 grams of sugar has 32 calories! That’s a huge saving if you only look at the headline grabbing banner. Unfortunately for the general public this sweet con has one big downside, i.e. bulging waistlines and links to obesity.  One way aspartame and other non-nutritive sweeteners may affect body weight is by increasing people’s appetite, which may lead to a higher food consumption. News reports over the last few decades have claimed that aspartame causes or increases the risk of headaches, dizziness, seizures, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer, etc, and the list continues. Currently there is insufficient scientific evidence to confirm or refute these claims of aspartame’s role in the above mentioned associated risks.

In July 2017 a systematic review was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal which should make us stop and think twice before consuming any sugar free products.  The researchers also noted an increase in diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension and cardiovascular events in those who used sugar-free sweeteners like aspartame. Evidence found did not clearly support the intended benefits of non-nutritive sweeteners for weight management, and observational data suggest that routine intake of non-nutritive sweeteners may be associated with increased Body Mass Index (BMI) and cardiometabolic risk.

The primary outcome of the research showed change in BMI while the secondary outcomes included changes in body weight; adiposity; glucose metabolism; and incidence of overweight/obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and other cardiorenal outcomes.

Some of the alternates to sugar free sweeteners are stevia, which is plant based and is 200 times sweeter or monk fruit extract which is calorie-free and up to 250 times more sweeter than sugar. Both these are natural sweeteners but care should be taken to have them in moderation and if you have a sweet tooth like me try eating fruits and alternatively don’t skip or delay any meals as this will also contribute to you losing the battle to keep in check your sweet desires and increase your snacking habit.

I know!

Published in the Peeblesshire News on 6th September 2019.

Back to Basics – Cook Your Own Food

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

Our eating habits have changed dramatically since the early 80’s in this country. What with the coming of take-aways and supermarkets providing ready meals for every household budget. Health is this country was relatively good as people ate local food that was mostly available during seasons, people had time and knew how to cook. Fast forward today and we see a massive increase of diet related illnesses eg. heart, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. The NHS is under huge strain to deal with what is becoming an epidemic. Our organisation was setup in 2007 because I came across a research document called ‘Obesity in Scotland’ from the Scottish Public Health Observatory. The key messages were; Nations that make an early change to sustainability, both in terms of peak oil and climate change could reap substantial health dividends which includes reduced obesity, less inequality and enhanced well-being; Obesity is linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer, kidney failure, arthritis, back pain and psychological damage and decreases life expectancy. For example, type 2 diabetes is almost 13 times more likely to occur in obese women than in women of normal weight. Obesity in Scotland is linked to nearly 500,000 cases of high blood pressure; Obesity and its consequences cost the NHS in Scotland an estimated £171 million in 2001 and finally, Scotland has one of the highest levels of obesity, second only to the United States of America. (Today Scotland is 3rd behind Mexico, still a long way to go).

All the above figures have increased substantially. Reports like these have come and gone and we have not seen any real policy shift and change from any government as the food and drink lobby is very powerful.

The current high profile news is “Processed Foods”. Governments all across the world are tackling this problem through taxation! Unfortunately, it does not take a rocket scientist to see the ulterior motives of ministers who want to raise more money to balance their budgets. We already are taxing alcohol, cigarettes, etc but these measures are not stopping people from accessing these simple pleasures. We all know now what the tobacco companies did a few decades ago in order to keep their profits high. They mixed addictive chemicals into their cigarettes to hook customers for life. We now have a new term called “ultra-processed foods”. The same principle of addiction applies. These types of foods are apparently more dangerous than ever for human consumption. Breakfast cereals, chicken nuggets and ice-cream are some of the main culprits which leads to poor health and early death.

This is one of the reasons You Can Cook was setup, so as to raise awareness of the dangers of fast foods. The only way to eat good food is to cook it yourself from scratch with raw ingredients as all the additives, chemicals, preservatives and E numbers are completely avoided from your diet.

This is one area where we need to go back to basics.