For England-based businesses working in the food industry, Natasha’s Law will bring essential changes to food labelling regulations as of October 2021. The purpose of this new legislation is to protect the estimated 2 million people diagnosed with food allergies in the UK. It’s hoped that Natasha’s Law will prevent severe reactions and deaths caused by a lack of clarity and insufficient labelling on food products across the nation.
On average, ten people in Britain die every year from food-induced anaphylaxis. However, it’s believed that out of a further 1500 asthma-related deaths, a significant percentage could have been triggered by food allergies.
This piece will discuss Natasha’s Law, the food regulations currently in place in the UK, and the impact that Natasha’s Law will have on UK-based food businesses. We’ll also look into how sandwiches are currently labelled, and how Natasha’s Law will help to protect people from preventable injury or death.
What is Natasha’s Law?
As of October 2021, any business based in England must clearly label all foods packed and produced on their premises with a complete list of ingredients. This legislation will be legally enforced under Natasha’s Law.
“‘Natasha’s Law’ will be introduced to protect allergy sufferers and give them confidence in the food they buy.”
On October 1st, 2021, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) will publish industry guidelines to support business as they adapt to these legislative changes.
In July 2016 Natasha Ednan-Laperouse suffered a fatal allergic reaction at just 15-years-old after eating an olive, artichoke and tapenade baguette purchased at Pret-a-Manger in Heathrow Airport. Natasha had a sesame allergy and wasn’t aware that sesame seeds had been pre-baked into the products bread.
After eating the baguette, Natasha collapsed onboard her flight, dying of anaphylaxis shortly afterwards. Natasha’s tragic death, and thousands more throughout the UK, could have been avoided if legislation had been put in place guaranteeing that all pre-packaged foods sold to the public must be labelled with a full ingredient list.
The fact that the packaging for this baguette contained no allergen information reassured Natasha that it was safe, which unfortunately resulted in a severe allergic reaction and her subsequent death.
Following this tragic accident, Natasha’s family passionately campaigned for increased transparency around UK food labelling requirements. The result of this campaigning is the upcoming law, which will provide robust legal guidelines for all businesses that prepare and serve food in England.
What law is already in place?
The Food Information to Consumers (FIC) passed legislation on December 13th 2014 requiring allergen labelling on pre-packaged foods to be given more clarity and emphasis. The same legislation introduced a mandatory requirement for allergen information to be provided on non-pre-packaged foods. This included foods sold by bars, restaurant, and cafés.
The purpose of this legislation was to give allergenic ingredients more prominence on product labels, offering consumers more clarity and safety before they complete a purchase. The legislation gave food businesses a choice on how they emphasised allergen-advice; one example included printing the information in bold.
Although many companies offered voluntary advice statements in light of the 2014 legislation, this was not a legal requirement. Additionally, freshly made, non-pre-packaged food does not legally require a full ingredient list on product labels. So, from a legal standpoint, Pret a Manger was not required to provide this information.
Pret a Manger has signs throughout their UK stores prompting customers to speak to staff if they require additional information concerning product ingredients and allergy information. However, this can still put allergy sufferers at risk, as they may not notice the signs, and could be given the wrong information if staff are not fully-trained on all products and allergens.
Many UK-based food businesses have already taken measures to improve the clarity of their food labelling. Those who have not taken action are urged to consider undertaking improvements before the implementation of Natasha’s Law. This will help to protect consumers and help them to make safe choices.
UK Food allergies statistics
With no cure currently available for food intolerance or allergy, those who live with these conditions must observe a strict avoidance diet. This can be difficult for people as their choices limit where they can eat. This can be dangerous for younger people, who can feel compelled to put themselves at risk to ‘fit in’ with their peers. The following statistics offer an overview of the current food allergy climate in the United Kingdom.
- It’s estimated that 2 million people in the UK are currently living with some form of diagnosed food allergy.
- Over 600,000 (1 in 100) of these people have coeliac disease.
- These figures exclude people with food intolerances.
- Annually, roughly ten people a year die from food-induced anaphylaxis.
- Those that suffer severe reactions require emergency help from trained medical professionals, usually via injectable adrenaline.
- It’s believed that some of the 1,500 asthma deaths each year are triggered by food allergies.
- For high-risk individuals, trace amounts of a food allergen can trigger fatal or near-fatal symptoms.
- The majority of people who suffer near-fatal reactions or death had no idea that they were at risk. Additionally, those who are at risk find the unpredictability of living with food allergies daunting.
- Young adults and teenagers are classed as particularly ‘at risk’ of suffering severe reactions.
- Many people with food allergies are asthmatic, which adds further complications and can make allergic reactions more severe if unmedicated.
How will my business be affected by Natasha’s Law?
As of October 2021, Natasha’s Law will only legally apply in England. It will not be legally required in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. That said, once the impact of the legislation is apparent, it’s likely that the rest of the UK will follow suit.
If you currently run a food business in the UK, allergens should not be disregarded; It’s vital that any information about food allergens is transparent. Reliance on verbal information can place your customer’s at unnecessary risk.
What if a member of staff accidentally provides incorrect information that leads to a severe allergic reaction or death? Or, if a customer fails to ask for information and makes the assumption that food is safe, who is at fault? Clearly listing all ingredients is a way to protect both your business and your customers from avoidable harm. This information also provides a safety net and reassurance for anyone living with food allergies.
Delis and Café’s
Up until October 2021, it’s not a legal requirement for cafes and delis to label ingredients on the pre-packaged food that is prepared on-site. This applies to delis and cafes that make food on their premises each day.
This includes ready-made sandwiches, paninis, baguettes, salads, wraps, and other freshly made items of food. However, we urge all cafe’s and delis to start updating their package labelling and to provide clear signs that point customers in the direction of trained staff should they have any queries regarding allergen information.
This can prevent severe reactions and death and should not be disregarded. When Natasha’s Law comes into practice, all ingredients on individual product packaging must be labelled. Any cafe or deli selling pre-packaged for direct sale (PPDS) food must legally provide this information by October 2021.
Pubs and Restaurants
Although not directly affected by Natasha’s Law, we recommend that all pubs and restaurants provide allergen information for their customer’s. This information can either be printed within your restaurant menu or dictated verbally by fully-trained staff.
We cannot emphasise the importance of fully training your restaurant staff on all food ingredients and allergens, especially after the tragic death of Owen Carey in 2017. Owen was misinformed by a member of staff from the ‘Byron’ burger chain regarding a menu item that had been cooked using milk. There was no indication on the restaurant menu that the item he ordered contained dairy products. Unfortunately, Owen died due to an allergic reaction shortly after consuming his meal.
As with Natasha’s death, this incident could have been avoided entirely if clear product information was published, and staff had been fully-trained on all menu items that contain allergens.
As a pub or restaurant owner or manager, it’s in the best interests of both your business and clientele to take allergen information seriously. This places you at a competitive advantage, increases the trust that your customer’s place in your business, and can help to reassure people living with food allergies when they visit your premises.
As with restaurants, takeaways are not affected by Natasha’s Law from a legal standpoint. However, following the 2014 FIC legislation, they are recommended to provide allergen information either verbally or in writing.
From a legal standpoint, takeaway meals are classed as ‘distance selling’, meaning that allergen information must be available both at point-of-purchase and point of delivery. This information has to be available in writing on your takeaway premises, and in written form at the customer’s request.
As a best-practice rule, all pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants, and delis should provide up-to-date allergen awareness training for their staff. They should keep all staff informed of menu changes and legislations, and share allergen awareness updates for any menu items that undergo recipe changes immediately.
How are Sandwiches Currently Labelled?
As mentioned earlier in this guide, pre-prepared sandwiched that are prepared on premises do legally require an ingredients or allergens label. However, relevant signage that urges customers with allergies to request information from staff should be provided.
Over-the-counter sandwiches that are prepared in front of the customer do not require labelling until Natasha’s Law is put into practice. However, supermarket sandwiches are required to publish a full list of ingredients on their packaging throughout the UK.
The 14 Allergens
Although customers may be intolerant or allergic to other ingredients, the following 14 allergens must be declared as by current UK food laws.
- Cereals containing gluten (oats and barley)
- Crustaceans (crabs, lobster, prawns)
- Molluscs (oysters and mussels)
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (for concentrations above ten parts per million)
- Tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews, macadamias, and pistachios)
What will Natasha’s Law help to do?
Natasha’s Law is a welcome update to food labelling regulations in the UK. Not only will this legislation prevent severe reactions and deaths that can be avoided, but it will also reassure and protect the 2 million people living with food allergies across the UK.
This new legislation means that food businesses of all sizes will legally have to implement some sort of food labelling system. Although national chains can afford the luxury of electronic labelling systems, smaller companies may have to create handwritten ingredient lists that indicate any allergens as well as listing all ingredients for each product.
The challenges that Natasha’s Law could present include staff-training on ingredients and labelling, the expenses related to training and labelling, and the time it will take to label individual products. Small businesses could struggle with the costs of implementing all of these factors. However, ultimately, lives will be saved, and the level of awareness around the importance of food allergen information will be prevalent across the UK.