Marks and Spencer

Marks and Spencer’s online allergy and intolerance information and ‘free from’ food lists are excellent.

Here is the Gluten Free page. It gives immediate mention and priority to coeliac disease, from which many supermarkets and brands would do well to learn (here’s looking at you, Aldi).

Here is the Allergies page. There’s a lot to be commended here – the early alert to see a GP if you think you have a food hypersensitivity, the correct description of coeliac disease as an autoimmune disorder – and it is largely in straightforward English and easy to read.

A ’14 free’ ready meal from M&S

There’s a section called Should I be eating this? which offers links to M&S Food lists, which are regularly updated, and which list safe options for those avoiding individual allergens. Those allergens are gluten, dairy, nuts/peanuts, sesame, egg, soya and yeast (the last of which is not a so-called top 14 allergen). Combined lists are also offered – for instance gluten, wheat and dairy, and peanuts/nuts and sesame.

But the best feature, to my mind, is the facility to email M&S (on nutrition@marksandspencer.com) to request ‘combined’ – essentially, bespoke – lists of foods free from your particular set of allergens.

I contacted the M&S team to ask about this, and they told me that the service only applied to the seven allergens named above, and that “the system which produces our product lists  … can only filter for a maximum of five allergens in one list”.

So, if you need an M&S list for, say, gluten, dairy, nuts/peanuts, sesame and soya – you can order one through the service.

It’s obviously a bit of a shame that some allergens are omitted, and also that this may not be sufficient for those with half a dozen or more allergies – but it’s the best I’ve seen of this kind, and I’m sure most food sensitive M&S shoppers would benefit from it, even if only as a starting point to help lead the way to some likelier potentially safe options.

M&S nut allergy warning

I also don’t know of any other company that provides a yeast-free list. Emily, the M&S nutritionist with whom I was in touch, explained that yeast has been a common request in recent years, hence why they continue to provide the list. (I know little about yeast sensitivity, but hope to look into it in future. If anyone has any pointers, please leave a comment.)

On the M&S allergies page you’ll also find an explanation of their policy on allergy labelling – including their good ‘allergy update’ and nut-allergy warning logos.

I have not always seen eye-to-eye with M&S in the past – you may recall the Kinnerton saga of 2014, for instance, and I wish they would do away with the expression guilt-free from their store – but, credit where credit is due, I think this is all good. Agree?

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