The new legislation has been dubbed ‘Natasha’s Law’ after the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse in 2016.
The new allergen regulations will be introduced by the end of this summer and are expected to be in force by summer 2021.
They follow a consultation earlier this year, which proposed a number of different options for tightening the rules. The government says that full ingredient labelling received “overwhelming” support.
While industry groups like the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have welcomed the change, some smaller businesses are concerned that the new regulations will be difficult to implement.
Pre-packed food and drink prepared off-site needs to be clearly labelled with an ingredients list. But if you’re making pre-packed food on-site for direct sale, you simply need to make sure that allergen information is given in writing.
This doesn’t need to be a label with a full ingredients list – it can be on a menu, chalkboard or information pack, according to the Food Standards Agency.
It can also be a written notice that details how customers can find the information, like a sign that tells customers they should speak to staff.
15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse was allergic to sesame. In July 2016, she bought a baguette from Pret a Manger that didn’t specify it contained the allergen. She suffered a fatal allergic reaction, and since her death, her parents have been campaigning for a change to the law to better protect allergy sufferers.
Out of four options, including ‘ask the staff’ labelling on products, the government says it “received overwhelming support from consumers for full ingredients labelling, with more than 70 per cent of individuals backing this option.”
Businesses will need to label products prepared and packaged on-site with a full ingredients list. The example the government gives is a packaged sandwich or salad made by staff earlier in the day and placed on a shelf for purchase.
The new law will come into force in summer 2021, which the government hopes will give businesses enough time to prepare for the change.
Heather Hancock, Chair of the Food Standards Agency, said: "Whilst it’s impossible to eliminate the risks entirely, we believe this change will mean better protection for allergic consumers."
The rules won’t apply to Scotland and Wales, who will wait to see the impact on the rest of the UK before deciding what to do. But food and drink businesses elsewhere will need to spend time working out how best to implement the change.
Speaking to ConvenienceStore.co.uk, Vince Maloney, a Budgens retailer in Surrey, said: “Yes, it’ll cost a bit more for suppliers or those with food to go, but labelling is something that needs to be done properly.”
Welsh retailer Andrew Johnson was more hesitant: “It’s a really difficult issue, but as a small store with only two people working in the business, with two young girls to look after, the prospect of every food-to-go item having to be labelled with allergy information is a big undertaking.”
UKHospitality has also suggested that food could still be subject to mislabelling, and that the new law will encourage an ‘over-reliance’ on labels.
Following tragic cases like Natasha’s, it’s clear that the consequences of mislabelling food products are severe.
Your staff should already be clued-up on allergens and how to communicate them to customers. The rule change means that over the next two years, you should encourage and support training to make sure there’s no chance of errors and mistakes when it comes to labelling in 2021.
Technology moves quickly. ConvenienceStore.co.uk mention a shopping app called Ubamarket that customers can use to scan a product’s barcode, which instantly tells them whether it contains any allergens.
Can apps like this help businesses come 2021? Implementing new technology is unfortunately costly, but making sure your systems are up to scratch will be important.
For example, linking up a database of food products and ingredients to the way you print labels will help make sure that the correct information is transferred easily. And TheCaterer.com discusses a cloud-based tool called Andromeda, which aims to help takeaway and delivery businesses label their products with allergen information already available on their websites.
It’s a good idea to keep an eye on any further technological developments over the next two years.
Businesses ahead of the rule change who implement it correctly will encourage customers to choose them over their rivals.
The unfortunate fact is that there are two million allergy sufferers across the country – and many find it difficult to buy food in shops and restaurants with confidence.
So, by establishing your reputation as a business that listens to the needs of allergy sufferers, customers should trust you and will be encouraged to come back again and again.
Keep in mind that public liability insurance can cover you if someone suffers an allergic reaction after consuming your products.
It won’t cover you if you’ve been negligent and not followed food hygiene or labelling regulations. But if you’ve followed the rules and a customer has a reaction to something that didn’t need to be disclosed, public liability insurance can cover the resulting claim and compensation costs.
What do you think about Natasha’s Law and how will you be preparing to implement it in 2021? Let us know in the comments below.
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