Natasha’s Law: The Biggest Allergen Legislation Reform of the 21st Century The government has announced that it is implementing one of the biggest allergen prevention reforms of the century in 2021. The newly formed ‘Natasha’s Law’, will make it a legal necessity for all food businesses to include full ingredient labelling on pre-packaged food.
The new law, announced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is to be brought in after the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse in 2016, who fatally purchased a sandwich that contained ingredients she was allergic to.
Natasha’s Law, introduced by environmental secretary Michael Gove, will apply to both England and Northern Ireland. The new law means that all food companies that prepare fresh food on site will have to clearly show the entire ingredient list of all of the products on sale to customers. Whilst this reform will involve more resources from a business perspective, it undoubtedly demonstrates a positive step towards protecting the lives of allergen sufferers in the UK.
The trade body which represents the UK’s hospitality sector acknowledged the ‘sensitivity’ around ‘Natasha’s Law’ being introduced however cautioned that new food labelling practices could be ‘
impractical and potentially hazardous’.
Voicing her concern Kate Nicholls, chief executive of
UKHospitality, said: “We are worried that full ingredient labelling is going to prevent the kind of dialogue we need to promote. Some smaller businesses may struggle with the unwieldy new legislation and it is almost certainly going to lead to much less choice for customers. There is also a risk that the new measures, which will not circumvent cross-contamination and will be open to mislabelling, will only promote a dangerous reliance on labelling.”
However, Heather Hancock, chair of the Food Standards Agency, said the new rules would give better protection for allergy sufferers, explaining “
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement: this is an important step forward in our ambition for the UK to become the best place in the world for people living with food hypersensitivities. We know that the impact of food allergy and intolerance on quality of life can be as great or even greater than almost all other foodborne diseases. While it is impossible to eliminate the risks entirely, we believe the Secretary of State’s announcement of this change in the rules will mean better protection for allergic consumers.” What is ‘pre-packed’ food?
The FSA classes PPF as foods that have been made and packed on the same premises from which they are being sold, for example, a packaged sandwich or salad made by staff earlier in the day and placed on a shelf for purchase. Currently, these foods are not required to carry labels and information on allergens, as it is expected that the customer can speak with the person who made or packed the product for this information. This has led people mistakenly assuming that the food does not contain any allergens.
What does STS think of the new legislation changes? We spoke to Annabel Kyle, STS Consultancy Manager of the North, to see what implications these changes could have on small and large businesses.
Any food business that prepares / wraps food on the same premises that the food is sold from to label these foods with full ingredient labelling that includes the highlighting of allergens.
This will be no mean feat for food businesses, particularly smaller ones, and the government has advised that food businesses will be given 2 years in which to implement Natasha’s Law before it starts to be enforced. This gives food businesses a good period of time to work out how they will comply with the law before it is enforced.
Food businesses of all sizes will need to develop a system of labelling that allows them to list full ingredients in a way that is both legally compliant and simple to carry out. They may want to trial their system to ensure it is effective and that they are able to maintain it easily and with accuracy.
Accuracy is the key here. Staff in food businesses selling foods in this way will need to be suitably trained in the system, and in allergenic contamination controls, so they have the knowledge and understanding to ensure allergenic ingredients are correctly recorded and that allergens are not accidentally introduced during preparation. The recording of allergenic ingredients in PPDS foods, as with all foods, will need to be systematic and well organised.
Big businesses, such as national sandwich chains, are likely to go for an electronic labelling system as, for the most part, they will be working to set recipes and will want their labels to be branded with their logo. While very efficient for large businesses, such systems can be prohibitively expensive for small businesses, so small to medium sized food businesses may end up using handwritten labels. However, this is very time consuming, particularly as the full ingredients need to be labelled in a way that meets legal labelling requirements. It stands to reason that there will be a market for cheap, full ingredient labelling software programmes to be developed that are designed for small businesses and it will be interesting to see what emerges.
Many small food businesses will not have the knowledge, training or experience to know how to label foods with full ingredients in a way that meets legal requirements so support from Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) is going to be crucial to making sure these smaller businesses can meet the requirements of the law, once its contents and exact requirements are known.
It was pleasing to see that, when declaring the results of their consultation on allergen labelling for PPDS foods, the FSA clearly recognised this was a crucial prerequisite and that significant resources would be needed to help businesses meet the full labelling requirements. What these resources and support systems will look like is not yet known but will become clearer once the exact content of the legislation is known.
Once the exact requirements of the forthcoming legislation are known, food safety consultancies will also have a significant role in assisting their clients in accurate labelling of PPDS foods. Consultancies, such as STS, will need to incorporate checks on the labelling of these foods into our regular client audits and provide advice and guidance on how to get it right. Consultancy advice will need to be provided both before and after enforcement of the legislation starts in 2021 to ensure clients are fully supported and compliant.
Exactly how businesses will get from the current position regarding provision of allergen information to full ingredient labelling on foods prepared, wrapped and sold on the same premises will be clearer once the exact content of the legislation is known and once the FSA has issued guidance on how they intend to support businesses in achieving the required changes. However, it is safe to say that food businesses of all sizes will already be thinking about how this will affect them and some may already have started to formulate how they intend to implement the changes required.
Do you need help with your allergen management or would like us to assess your current provisions? It’s better to be proactive when it comes to a legislation change such as Natasha’s Law, so you aren’t caught out. Get in contact with a member of our team today