However, almost a month in and there have been reports that a number of businesses are still not complying with the new rules.
In fact, an investigation by the Independent found that many of the smaller outlets surveyed were actually ‘so risk averse they are refusing to serve food to anyone who declares an allergy or asking customers with allergies to sign a waiver before they eat’ – despite advice not to do so from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Approximately 2% of adults and 8% of children in the UK have a food allergy – equating to approximately two million people, according to the Anaphylaxis Campaign. Besides losing out on this large customer base, the ramifications of failing to conform are huge.
The UK Food Information Amendment, also known as Natasha’s Law, was named after 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died in 2016 from anaphylaxis after eating a baguette that contained sesame seeds not listed in the ingredients, meaning she wasn’t aware that it was dangerous to eat.
Pret A Manager (where the teenager purchased the baguette) suffered heavy reputational damage and after a similar second instance occurred, the café chain was even taken to court.
Now a legal requirement enforced by local environmental health services, with compliance monitored during their regular inspections, businesses could also face fines of up to £5,000 per instance of non-compliance. For many, this could mean closure.
The amendment affects any business that sells prepackaged for direct sale (PPDS) food, no matter how big or small, location, situation or product offering, including (but not limited to) bakeries (pastries, bread, rolls), coffee shops, takeouts and home delivery (snacks, fast food) and butchers (sausages, pies, flans). It also affects event caterers, street food vendors, restaurants and pubs and even schools, colleges and nurseries.
The rules are clear
You must understand the full ingredient list for your products and what allergens the product does, or may, contain.
You must also be able to inform your customers of the risks around exposure, and do everything possible to avoid any risk of cross contamination in your preparation areas, for example, by using different oils to fry different products and not using the same utensils to serve two different dishes.
This is a tall order and often cannot be avoided. In this case, the FSA says businesses have a duty to inform customers that “you can’t provide an allergen-free dish”. However, this does not provide producers with ‘an out’ to ‘play ostrich’ about the new law.
Adhering to the law is not as straight forward as just printing a new label, which now needs to fit to the new size guidelines from the UK government. It also includes staff training, relooking at technologies at hand and checking your supply chain.
“Following the new regulations isn’t just a matter of ticking boxes – it could save a life,” said Mike Hardman, marketing manager of catering and hospitality supplier Alliance Online.
“However, labelling all ingredients can certainly be a challenge, especially for small businesses that lack the resources to spend time labelling their foods. Plus, in small premises, it can be harder to avoid cross-contamination.”
All ingredients must be listed – not just the main ones – and any allergens must be shown in bold print or another colour. Any foodstuffs that are packaged in the same place they are displayed or sold to customers are considered PPDS foods.
In particular, 14 of the most common allergenic ingredients must be highlighted in any labelling, including:
- Cereals containing gluten
- Molluscs (including oysters and mussels)
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (for concentrations above 10 parts per million)
- Tree nuts
This might seem like an overwhelming task, especially for small, independent businesses that may lack the resources to spend time labelling foods.
However, Alliance Online said there are a number of things you can do to make the process faster, easier, and more cost-effective.
Check your supply chain
Be sure to trace your ingredients back to their original source, so you can fully understand the processes they have been through to avoid any potential cross-contamination issues before ingredients arrive on your premises. This will go a long way to ensure that the ingredient label is 100% accurate.
Staff awareness and training
Your staff should receive specific training on Natasha’s Law to ensure your business is following the rule. Any lax moment or misguided step could end badly for all.
The training should highlight the importance of clear, accurate labelling. Thankfully, there are a wealth of free and detailed resources available to help businesses with their mission, including the UK Food Labelling Resource, a non-profit information group that has leveraged its connection with the UK’s leading nutritional researchers and legislation specialists.
If your staff prepare, handle or package the food before it goes on sale, they should also have a comprehensive understanding of how to avoid cross-contamination of ingredients. Implement a system that will allow staff to track and showcase all ingredients in every type of food they prepare. Batch preparation can be an effective system that reduces the risk of contamination, and also makes the process more efficient.
“Fortunately, there are a number of solutions that can make the workload a bit easier. Batch prepping will speed up the process and make labelling more efficient, and also helps to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Be sure to use colour-coded, labelled equipment and follow strict hygiene protocols in food prep and storage areas to further reduce the risk,” said Hardman.
“Not only will thorough training on the new law ensure they understand their new responsibilities, but as your customers are likely to have questions about allergens, it will enable them to offer a higher standard of service, too.”
There are a number of modern tech solutions that can make the labelling process much faster, along with options that can assign bold lettering to allergen ingredients to ensure customers can easily and instantly spot potential allergic reaction-inducing ingredients. You can even personalise your labels with your logo and other images, helping make your products look more appealing and really giving your customers confidence in your commitment to their welfare.
“Food businesses can also take advantage of ingredient labelling machines, which allow you to print clearly legible allergy information at the touch of a button. These offer a relatively cost-effective solution, especially when you consider the potential cost of receiving a fine for breaching the law. Plus, you can use them to add your logo to your products, which will strengthen your brand.”