October marked an important step in the improvement of food safety in the UK – Natasha’s Law. We outline what the new law means and how it could affect food businesses.
On 1 October 2021, the law for labelling allergens on pre-packaged food changed. Natasha’s Law requires food businesses to provide full ingredient lists and allergen labelling on foods that have been pre-packaged for direct sale on the premises. It was initially passed in 2019, with a transition period of up to two years to allow businesses to prepare for the changes. While the change undoubtedly raises many questions and concerns for food businesses across the UK, Heather Hancock, former Chair of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), called it an “important step forward in our ambition for the UK to become the best place in the world for people living with food hypersensitivities”.
According to the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, 88% of the UK’s public are in favour of Natasha’s Law. And as there are around 2 million people with food allergies in the UK, this law is an important step towards ensuring millions of people can trust that the food they buy won’t harm them.
Here, we’ve outlined some of the key information you’ll need to know regarding what the new law means and how it could affect food businesses.
Why is Natasha’s Law being introduced?
It was introduced after the tragic case of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died of cardiac arrest after experiencing an allergic reaction to a baguette from Pret A Manger. Owing to a loophole in UK labelling law exempting establishments where the food is prepared onsite, the allergen was not highlighted on the packaging. Natasha’s parents subsequently campaigned for a change to the law to better protect allergy sufferers.
What kind of food does it cover?
The new law will require full ingredient labelling on food that is pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS), predominately affecting products that are prepared and packed in the same place they are sold. It will force changes in a variety of establishments such as cafés, caterers, hospitals and schools.
PPDS includes a range of different food categories, such as food that consumers select from a display, like sandwiches or bakery products, and even sausages and burgers prepared by butchers. Other examples of PPDS are free samples of food, if prepared onsite, and products at market stalls.
Another category covered by the law is food packed by one business to be supplied to another business. As this is pre-packed food, it must already have the full labelling, including a complete ingredients and allergens list.
The 14 allergens that must be clearly emphasised – such as with a bold font – are: celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, milk, lupin, molluscs, mustard, sesame, peanuts, soybeans, sulphur dioxide and sulphites, and nuts. There are also regulations governing the content, form and presentation of this information.
What foods are exempt?
Any food that comes without any packaging, or that is purchased by the customer and then packaged, is exempt. The law also doesn’t cover food purchased over the phone or via the internet. However, while the allergens do not need to be included with the food, they must be available to the consumer by other means – such as verbally.
How can businesses make sure they’re following the rules?
Any establishments selling PPDS must have acted before the October deadline. A range of sector-specific guidance has been published, which extends to bakers, butchers, mobile sellers and street vendors, event caterers, fast food restaurants and educational institutions.
Support is available from the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which has created a hub on its website to help businesses and establishments properly understand how the new law affects them. Companies can use the hub to check if the food they sell is covered by the law and how the information must be presented. It also provides a PPDS toolkit, featuring an introduction to the changes, technical guidance, labelling checklists and a webinar for food businesses, among other resources.
How is Natasha’s Law being enforced?
The regulations will be enforced by local environmental health departments, with transgressions potentially resulting in financial and reputational repercussions, or even criminal prosecution. Establishments found to be breaching the law could be issued with a £5,000 fine for each instance of non-compliance. This means it’s crucial that businesses check if they produce PPDS food and ensure they comply with the new requirements.