Food businesses urged to embrace Natasha’s law

In two years’ time Natasha’s law will come into effect which means that food businesses will need to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packaged foods for direct sale (PPDS). Ben Gardner, CEO of food safety experts the Navitas Group, argues that businesses should act sooner rather than later to end the allergen labelling confusion that puts customers at risk.

From 1 October 2021 food that is pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS) will have to clearly display the name of the food and a full ingredients list with allergenic ingredients emphasised. The new law, announced in June this year, follows the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who suffered a fatal allergic reaction in 2016 and a subsequent Food Standards Agency (FSA) consultation on the issue of allergen labelling.

The legislation has been introduced in England and is expected to follow in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to create a UK-wide consistency on how allergens are labelled across the food industry, especially with regards food freshly prepared and packaged in a food outlet for direct sale (PPDS). While what exactly constitutes PPDS is still somewhat of a grey area and additional guidance from the FSA is eagerly awaited, there’s no reason for businesses to hang around when it comes to complying with the new legislation.

Already many foodservice businesses are being proactive and are getting to grips with allergen management in their kitchens and that’s certainly very welcome news. Others, however, are concerned about a perceived difficulty in complying with full ingredient labelling and the costs involved. Yet, becoming compliant is straightforward and not prohibitively expensive even for smaller businesses.

Putting cost considerations aside for a moment, research previously conducted by Navitas has highlighted how the existing food allergen labelling regulations put customers at risk. At present food classed as PPDS — food made on site and then put into packaging before being offered for sale to the customer — does not need to have a full ingredients label with allergens highlighted. Instead, it’s expected that customers themselves will ask staff about possible allergens and that staff will have received sufficient training around allergen awareness to answer such queries.

Worryingly, our research found that almost half (48 per cent) of those who said they look for allergen information when eating out were not fully aware of the different labelling requirements around food freshly prepared on site and packaged for direct sale (PPDS) and pre-packaged foods bought in, which require full labelling.

While 52% of people who look for allergen information did understand the different allergen labelling requirements, 23% thought that the labelling requirements were the same and 25% were unsure whether the rules between the two types of packaged food differed or not.

The FSA believes that full ingredient labelling for foods PPDS will deliver a significant improvement on current practices, and greater consistency by following the same labelling system that consumers are familiar with, as found on bought-in packaged food and our insight again confirms the need for this approach. Over half (53 per cent) of respondents who look for allergen information said they tend to look for such information on a label in the first instance, while only 24% said they would ask staff first.

There is also likely to be increasing pressure from customers themselves for foodservice businesses to comply well ahead of the end of the implementation period. We discovered that over 80 per cent of those who look for allergy information when eating out expect kitchens to have up to date technology and systems in place to minimise the risk posed from allergens.

It’s clear that implementing an allergen labelling system and investing in training should be high on the priority list of any food business right now – not in a 12 or 18 months’ time. Getting a system in place takes a matter of hours and staff can be up to speed using it in a day or so. Cost, should not be a hurdle either. For a stand-alone allergen labelling solution, we’re talking about far less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day.

So our message to food businesses is act now! Compliance is actually easier and cheaper than many in the industry think. There is no alternative. What price providing reassurance to your customers and ensuring their safety?

By Ben Gardener, Navitas

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