The forensic implications of food hypersensitivity - a review of cases in United Kingdom courts: January 2014-February 2020

M H Gowland, M J Walker

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Food allergy is a major public health concern. Failures of food allergen avoidance and the consequences for those with food hypersensitivity (allergies, intolerances and coeliac disease) have a forensic context. The aim of this study was to collate and analyse the use of action in the United Kingdom (UK) courts as redress following adverse food allergy reactions or failures of allergen management.
Details of prosecutions during the study period (1 January 2014 to 31 January 2020) were recorded from regular key word Internet searches. National and local news reports were primary sources, along with commentary from enforcement and regulatory professionals. Information was also collected from coroners’ inquests by attending hearings and direct contact with coroners and participants in the hearings. Freedom of Information requests were made to local authority enforcement departments. In several cases, the authors had direct involvement in investigations.

From 2014 to 2020, there was an increase in reports. Seventy prosecutions were recorded as well as two associated appeals and two applications for Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice. This resulted in 68 convictions; seven individuals received custodial sentences, three of which were suspended although one individual had a tagged curfew imposed. Fines ranged from £50 to £93,000. Details of the law applied and the evidence gathering processes are reported.
Legal action, including landmark prosecutions for Gross Negligence Manslaughter and Preventing Future Deaths reports from coroners, with salience of criminal penalties, has led to changes in labelling law and improved allergen management practices better to protect the interests of patients with food hypersensitivities. A central system of collation of such data, and on ‘near misses’, will enable more focused root cause analysis to further improve allergen management and reduce patient risk.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-354
Number of pages8
JournalPerspectives in Public Health
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2022


  • Group Processes
  • inquest
  • offence
  • Food Hypersensitivity
  • health and safety
  • food law
  • food labelling
  • Hygiene
  • regulation
  • coeliac
  • coroner
  • food allergy
  • prosecution
  • Internet
  • manslaughter
  • Allergens
  • food hypersensitivity
  • Humans
  • food safety


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