In 2016, 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse purchased a baguette from the Pret A Manger in Heathrow Airport. On her ensuing flight to Nice, she went into cardiac arrest after ingesting sesame seeds contained within in the sandwich but not listed amongst the ingredients. At the inquest into her death, the coroner called Pret’s allergen labelling “inadequate”.
Inadequacy is exactly what Henshaw Safety & Training Solutions Ltd is on a mission to fight. A new, family-run company based in Walton-le-Dale in Preston, Henshaw's only started trading earlier this year and provides bespoke consultancy and training to ensure organisations and their products meet crucial industry standards.
The world of health and safety and food standards often ticks along unbeknown to the vast majority of people, and it's easy to bash red tape until you realise how important it is. But its importance isn't lost on Marcia and Liam Henshaw, the mother-son duo fronting their fledgling company.
"It's not appreciated how important food safety is," said sales director Liam, 19. "We do everything we can to ensure people are safe and compliant; a lot of people just believe it's basic, but there's depth to it."
Technical consultant Marcia agrees. "It does go unnoticed because a lot of the time you're working in the background with businesses to raise their standards to make sure they're safe. Because it's not something which is that obvious - you can't see allergens or bacteria - it's for us to go in and offer a different view and see what people aren't seeing."
Last year, Liam had just finished a qualification in business and marketing but didn't fancy the whole nine-to-five rigmarole, while Marcia was getting itchy feet in her job in Manchester. The two sat down and soon developed a business plan with Marcia, who has 23 years' experience in food safety, confident they could make a more than decent fist of things. "It all fell into place," said Liam.
Offering a wide range of specialist consultancy and training services, Henshaw's will also be working with clients to make sure they're compliant with Natasha's Law - a new piece of legislation which passed last week and which was named after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse. It requires all pre-packed food to display complete ingredient and allergen-labelling from October 2021.
The law is more than welcome in Liam's eyes. "Allergens are only really being appreciated now [for their severity] after the unfortunate deaths of people due to reactions. It's massive in the industry: preventing cross-contamination, putting controls in place, and declaring everything in the labelling."
And being at the vanguard of making sure people are safe is hugely rewarding, according to Marcia. "The aim is to be on the solutions side of things," she said. "It's exciting; you have to be adaptable because what will fit for one organisation won't necessarily fit for another. It's about finding a way for companies to be compliant in their business, and that's the bit we both love."
Liam added: "I love seeing the changes [being implemented]. When we do a report, we go top to bottom at a site, take photos, submit it, and it's really rewarding going back after that and seeing all the drastic changes that have been made. We massively try to help local businesses and work across the region with a company called Food and Drink Means Business, who hold events at which we offer free advice and consultancy."
But what makes Henshaw's special is not only their work, but the fact that they're fundamentally a family business. "It's nice that we're a family-run company," said Liam. "We support local and we like to support family businesses as well. It keeps it nice and cosy."
Marcia agrees. "[Setting up the company] has been brilliant, really exciting. It's nice to have that autonomy and make our own choices; we've got lots of plans. It's a joy working alongside my son, so it's great that were growing a family business."