In today’s society, concerns about food safety often revolve around allergens and pathogens. However, safe food goes beyond these considerations for a growing number of people in the United Kingdom.

Preventing foodborne illness and managing allergens remains vital but it is equally important to widen the definition of food safety to include the provision of essential nutritional information.

The availability of comprehensive nutritional data in all food outlets is crucial for individuals managing conditions such as diabetes. Diabetics rely on precise carbohydrate information to calculate their insulin dosage accurately.

Type 1 diabetes is a serious, autoimmune condition where the blood glucose (sugar) level is too high because your body can’t make a hormone called insulin. It has nothing to do with a poor diet or an unhealthy lifestyle, but these circumstances accelerate the chances of getting type 2.

Estimates from Diabetes UK show that 5 million people in the UK have diabetes, although not all of these are diagnosed, and it is type 1 for around 400,000 people. Nearly 1.9 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Living with diabetes is difficult, it is relentless, 24/7/365 and involves constant weighing of food and carbohydrate/insulin dosage calculations. Diabetes doesn’t just affect you physically, it can affect you emotionally too. There are many factors to consider, and it can be stressful knowing what’s best, but you shouldn’t need to put your life on hold. All kinds of food are fine for people with type 1 diabetes to eat.

A diabetic, or the parent of a diabetic child, inspects food labels for the nutritional content of that food (especially carbohydrates), if it is not there, we don’t buy because, without it, you cannot calculate the insulin dosage required to counteract those carbohydrates. This data is found on all packaged food products but not on any loose or pre-packed products, nor can you find it on most menus in restaurants, cafes, street vendors, or ice-cream vans.

Carb counting is really important to keep blood sugar levels steady and avoid spikes. This means matching insulin to the amount of carbs you eat and drink. It takes time and effort, but once you get the hang of it, carb counting can lead to better blood sugar control. It also gives you more choice over when – and how much – you eat. You can enjoy special occasions and treats by making changes to insulin doses.

Need for full nutritional data

When considering food safety, we must broaden our perspective to include the specific needs of individuals with various health conditions.

Food and hospitality venues should provide full nutritional data because for individuals with diabetes, knowing the carbohydrate content of foods is crucial. Access to accurate information enables them to make appropriate food choices and calculate insulin.

By providing detailed carbohydrate information, food outlets can assist diabetics in calculating insulin doses accurately, promoting better blood sugar control and reducing the risk of complications.

If comprehensive nutritional data is available, food establishments can attract health-conscious consumers, promote a positive brand reputation, and differentiate themselves in a competitive market. Additionally, accommodating specific dietary needs can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Diabetes UK has published a guide with a list of outlets that have included the carbohydrate, sugar, fat and salt content in each serving on menus.

Mandating the provision of nutritional data in food venues is a critical step towards promoting transparency and accountability within the industry. It encourages manufacturers and food establishments to prioritize consumers’ health by formulating and offering healthier options.

Educational initiatives can raise awareness about the importance of issues beyond pathogens and allergens, emphasizing the significance of nutritional data. Collaboration among government agencies, food industry stakeholders, healthcare professionals, and consumer advocacy groups is also vital in developing comprehensive strategies to enhance food safety for vulnerable populations.

About the author: Ron Cook is a retired senior technical manager in the food industry who campaigns for easier access to nutritional data to help diabetics manage their condition. His efforts have been featured in The Sun and Public Sector Catering magazine. He has an 11-year-old daughter with type 1 diabetes.

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