New resources have been made available to help businesses prepare before new regulations come into effect on 1 October 2021 across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The new regime will require all food pre-packaged for direct sale on premises, in addition to packaged food sold on the shelves of grocery retailers, to carry allergen information on the label.
Rebecca Sudworth, director of policy at the FSA, said: “We know this is a challenging time for food businesses, but we encourage them to check if they are affected by this new law and what they need to do to meet the requirements.
“It’s important to get it right – not just for their business - but for the millions of people in the UK living with a food allergy or intolerance. Everyone deserves to be able to make safer choices when they buy their food.”
The allergen labelling regulations were updated in the wake death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse from an allergic reaction caused by consuming a baguette bought at a Pret A Manger outlet in 2016. At the time, allergen labelling for such items was not mandatory.
While the bulk of the new rules will mainly apply to food packaged on site in cafés and restaurants, burgers and sausages packaged by a butcher in premises for sale will also be included. Prepacked for direct sale food provided in schools, care homes or hospitals and other similar settings – such as cafeterias in factories – will also require labelling.
Vending machine allergen risk
The health of consumers with food allergies could be put at risk by food and drinks purchased from vending machines, according to the trading standards service of Torfaen County Borough Council.
An investigation of 10 businesses in the Torfaen area found serious failings in the provision of allergen information for hot drinks dispensed from vending machines. It found that 50% of business were not providing consumers with statutory food allergen information, as required by the Food Information Regulations 2014.
This report highlighted how food and drink that is not pre-packed and is sold from vending machines could fail to meet the legal requirements for allergen information and allergen hygiene.
Commenting on the report, Anaphylaxis Campaign chief executive Lynne Regent said: “We commend Torfaen Trading Standards for undertaking this important piece of work and highlighting the potential risks to consumers with allergies from non-prepacked vended products.
Allergic consumers need to be on their guard when purchasing from vending machines and if adequate information cannot be provided about allergens, don’t take the risk. Any concerns should be reported to the local trading standards so they can be investigated.”
Commenting on the campaign, Natasha Allergy Research Foundation chief executive Tim McLachlan added: "We need better labelling so that people with food allergies can eat prepacked foods with confidence.
"We know this is a difficult time for the food and hospitality industry, but we encourage them to take action now to comply with Natasha’s law which will add transparency, give confidence and in turn prevent more tragedies. This is beyond labelling, it is about life and death.”
In depth information
More information on what products and businesses are covered by this new law can be found on the FSA’s website.
Meanwhile, Alexis Guest, group technical manager at Dalziel, will outline his approach to effective allergen and pathogen management in a dry-clean production environment in his presentation at Food Manufacture's annual Food Safety Briefing webinar on 7 October.
Risk management in an age of disruption will be the overall topic of the 90-minute, free-to-register event, which features a range of high profile speakers, including Darren Davies, head of the Food Standards Agency's National Food Crime Unit.
The webinar, which is sponsored by Thermo Fisher Scientific, will also address challenges surrounding fostering a food safety culture within factories and implementing effective detection and inspection systems.
Consumers in the dark over allergen labelling
With just a year until Natasha’s Law comes into effect, consumers are still unaware of the change in law, according to YouGov research commissioned by the British Standards Institution (BSI).
Two thirds of respondents (64%) said they were unaware that there was going to be a change of law to highlight allergens. BSI also found that 30% avoided eating at outlets that failed to label allergens.
Richard Werran, Europe, Middle East and Africa director for food and retail supply chain at BSI, said: “Our survey highlights both the concern and the appetite from consumers for more information and greater transparency, with one in three avoiding outlets that fail to label allergens.
“We’re encouraging organizations today to reach out for support on food safety to ensure their staff are properly trained and independently certified when it comes to the identification of ingredients and the management of allergens and labelling ahead of Natasha’s Law coming into force this time next year.”