The UK Food Information Amendment 2019, also known as Natasha’s Law comes into effect from 1 October 2021 but what does it mean for food businesses?
Why is the law being introduced?
The amendment was brought about as a result of the actions of a lobbying group led by the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse following her tragic death in July 2016. Natasha, who was extremely allergic to sesame, died after she bought and ate an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette from a Pret a Manger (“Pret”) store at Heathrow airport which had failed to disclose the existence of sesame on its packaging, the sesame seeds being baked into the dough of the baguette. Natasha suffered a fatal anaphylactic reaction to the hidden seeds. The baguette had been made on the premises of Pret’s store at Heathrow but under existing regulations Pret had no obligation to set out allergen advice on its packaging.
What are the amendments?
Currently, businesses which sell foods known as pre-packaged for direct sale on the premises (“PPDS”) (i.e. food which is packaged at the same place it is offered or sold to consumers and is in packaging before it is ordered or selected) are not obliged to provide any allergen information on the packaging.
Under the amendment these businesses will be required to ensure that there is a label on the food packaging which displays a full ingredients list with allergenic ingredients being emphasised within that list.
The new requirements, which will apply in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, will include food selected by consumers themselves (e.g. from a display unit) as well as products kept behind a counter and some food sold at mobile or temporary outlets. Under existing regulations it already applies to food packed by one business and supplied to another. It does not, however, extend to PPDS food sold by means of distance selling, such as food which can be purchased over the phone or on the internet.
Examples of PPDS food
PPDS food can include the following:
Sandwiches and bakery products which are packed on site before a consumer selects or orders them.
Fast food packed before it is ordered, such as a burger under a hot lamp where the food cannot be altered without opening the packaging.
Products which are pre-packaged on site ready for sale, such as pizzas, rotisserie chicken, salads and pasta pots.
Burgers and sausages pre-packed by a butcher on the premises ready for sale to consumers.
Foods that are pre-weighed and packed such as cheese or meats from a delicatessen counter or baked goods from an in-store bakery.
Samples of cookies given to consumers for free which were packed on site.
What needs to be on the label?
The label needs to show the name of the food and all the ingredients contained within the food with 14 allergens considered to be the most potent and prevalent allergens being emphasised within it. The 14 allergens to be emphasised on the label are celery, cereals containing gluten (such as barley and oats), crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs and lobsters), eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs (such as mussels and oysters), mustard, peanuts, sesame, soybeans, sulphur dioxide and sulphites (at a concentration of more than ten parts per million) and tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts).
The allergenic ingredients within the food, which includes all processing aids as well, e.g. flavourings or preservatives, must be emphasised on the list every time they appear in the ingredients list. They must be easily visible, clearly legible and not obscured in any way. The allergens can be listed in bold, in capital letters, in contrasting colours or underlined.
It is also good practice to include allergan advice statements on the product label to explain how allergan information is presented on the label, e.g. “Allergen Advice : For Allergens, see ingredients in bold”.
If there is a risk of a food product being affected by allergen cross-contamination the label should also include one of the following:
May contain X;
Not suitable for someone with X allergy.
Preparing for the introduction of the new amendment
Food businesses should be reviewing whether they produce PPDS foods and if they do, what labelling will be required on these products as from October 2021. This will involve a detailed review of all foods currently produced and sold in a pre-packed format including a detailed review of all ingredients that are contained in each of the products. This review should extend to any foods sourced from a third party. This will necessitate the need to have detailed discussions with all suppliers to ensure their products as sold to the food business for onward sale to a consumer complies with the new requirements. It will no longer be acceptable to refer to an ingredient as, for example, “spices” as this would not offer sufficient detail to enable a consumer who may be allergic to a particular type of spice to have confidence that the food did not contain the allergan product. Food businesses will be expected to provide accurate food labelling information across all sites and these labels will need to be regularly updated as new products are listed as recipes can change.
An important part of preparation for the introduction of the amendment will involve food businesses ensuring that staff are adequately trained in relation to food allergans. Food allergans and knowledge in relation thereto is the responsibility of all employees and it is essential therefore that detailed allergan management systems are put in place and that staff have up to date allergan awareness training. Steps should also be taken to ensure that cross-contamination with allergans is kept to an absolute minimum, including in particular the storage of raw ingredients containing food allergans. A review of cleaning procedures within food preparation areas should also be undertaken to ensure that cross-contamination is kept to a minimum. Training should be thorough and detailed so that all staff understand the importance of Natasha’s law, what it means and crucially, the potential consequences that can occur should an allergan not be correctly labelled in a PPDS food.
Penalties and offences
Failure to comply with the requirements on the labelling of allergenic ingredients is a criminal offence and may result in a criminal prosecution being brought against the food business operator (“FBO”). The FBO is defined as “the natural or legal persons responsible for ensuring that the requirements of food law are met within the food business under their control”. Any person convicted of an allergens offence will be liable to payment of a fine unlimited in amount, the court to decide on a case by case basis the amount thereof.
The Food Standards Agency estimates that there are currently between 5 and 15 fatalities every year in the UK associated with food allergies. However, with one in four people now living with allergies in the UK this statistic was set to rise if steps were not taken to provide consumer with more detailed and clearer information regarding allergans contained within food. It is hoped that the new amendment will provide greater confidence to consumers as regards the ingredient contents of food products and help to ensure that tragic deaths like Natasha’s become a rarity or even better a thing of the past. It is therefore very important that food businesses take the new amendment very seriously and ensure their businesses are fully compliant.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.