As anyone in hospitality and catering knows, it’s extremely important to ensure customers have access to accurate allergy information, so they can make informed decisions. However, stringent new regulations have created additional responsibilities for food businesses — and many retailers have already been caught out.
Almost a month after Natasha’s Law came into effect, there have been reports that a number of businesses are still not labelling the ingredients in their products. An investigation by the Independent found that many food outlets it visited were still not providing ingredient information on pre-packaged food. Not only does this put customers at risk, but businesses that are found to be in breach of the new law could face penalties of up to £5,000 (Northamptonshire Chambers).
Here, catering and hospitality supplier, Alliance Online, explains the ins and outs of the new law, and shares the key steps you need to take to ensure your business isn’t caught out.
What is Natasha’s Law?
Natasha’s Law is an amendment to the Food Information Regulations 2019 that came into force in England, Scotland, and Wales on 1 October 2021. The amendment stipulates that all food manufacturing businesses must a provide full ingredient list with clear allergen labelling on all food that is pre-packed for direct sale (or PPDS for short). 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 ten parts per million)
- Tree nuts
The amendment is named after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who tragically died after suffering an allergic reaction to sesame seeds in a pre-packaged sandwich. The packaging did not contain any allergen information and the product description did not mention the seeds, meaning Natasha was not aware that it was dangerous to eat.
It’s hoped the law will prevent a similar tragedy from happening again by ensuring that consumers have access to clear, detailed allergy information. Not only could this save lives, but for the estimated 2 million people in the UK who suffer from a food allergy (NARF), the new regulations should make dining on the go safer, simpler, and more inclusive.
What does your business need to do next?
If you are a business that produces pre-packed for direct sale food, then you’ll need to take the appropriate action to make sure all foods are clearly and accurately labelled before going on sale.
This might seem like an overwhelming task, especially for small, independent businesses which may lack the resources to spend time labelling foods. However, 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. This will help to avoid potential cross-contamination before ingredients arrive on your premises, and you can be confident that your ingredient labels are accurate.
Staff awareness and training
Your staff should receive training on Natasha’s Law, so they understand exactly what your business needs to do, and what they can do to help ensure your business is following the rules. This training should highlight the importance of clear, accurate labelling. There are resources to help you with this on the Natasha’s Law website.
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.
There are a number of modern tech solutions that can make the labelling process much faster, including instant printers that can be used to create accurate labels at the touch of a button. These days, it’s possible to buy appliances that come with a wireless tablet and a Bluetooth printer, such as the DayMark MenuPilot, which allows you to create and print thermal labels without ribbons, ink, or other mess.
Furthermore, the MenuPilot labelling machine can assign bold lettering to allergen ingredients to ensure customers can easily spot potential allergic reaction inducing ingredients within any of your meals, as required by the new law. You can even personalise your labels with your logo and other images, helping make your products look more appealing.
Mike Hardman, Marketing Manager at Alliance Online says:
“Following the new regulations isn’t just a matter of ticking boxes — it could just save a life. 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.
“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.
“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.
“Lastly, ensure staff receive thorough training on the new law. Not only will this 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.“