From 1st October 2021, fish and chip shops in England, Wales and Northern Ireland must provide full ingredient and allergen labelling on foods that are pre-packed for direct sale.
Similar changes are expected to be introduced in Scotland by Food Standards Scotland. Failure to comply with the requirements may result in a criminal prosecution and a fine of up to £5,000.
In 2019, the government ruled that stronger laws were needed to protect those with allergies and give them greater confidence in the food they buy when eating out. It follows the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse in 2016, who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette.
The reforms cover labelling requirements for foods that are pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS). The Food Standards Agency (FSA) defines PPDS as food that is “packaged at the same place it is offered or sold to consumers and is in this packaging before it is ordered or selected”. For example sandwiches, salads, tartare sauce or desserts made by staff earlier in the day and put on a shelf or display for customers to select.
To make it simple, think of it as any food you have prepared that is already wrapped and which cannot be altered without opening the packaging.
If you’re still unsure, the FSA has developed a food labelling tool that will help you identify the type of food your business provides and the allergen labelling requirements.
You should already be familiar with the 14 allergens as they are the same ones that need to be identified if they are currently used in a dish you sell. But to recap they are:
PPDS foods will have to clearly display the name of the food along with a full ingredients list. Allergenic ingredients must be emphasised in a way as to ensure clear legibility, for example in bold, italics or a different colour.
There is a minimum size for text to comply with labelling legislation. A minimum font size where the x-height is 1.2 mm or more must be used where the labelling surface is 80cm2 or more. A minimum font size where the x-height is 0.9mm or more must be used where the labelling surface is less than 80cm2.
The FSA refers to food that can be purchased over the phone or on the internet as “distance selling” and the requirement for a full list of ingredients does not apply. However, businesses selling PPDS food this way will need to ensure that mandatory allergen information is available to the consumer before they purchase the product and also at the moment of delivery.
The FSA requires businesses to provide allergen information:
If you’ve not yet thought about how the changes will affect your business, you’re not alone. Despite being given two years to prepare for the legislation, industry research by electronics company Brother has found that just 20% of food businesses are.
With just a few months until Natasha’s Law comes into effect, acting now is in your best interests. You will already have your allergen information to hand, now you’ll need to supplement this with the full list of ingredients for any PPDS products, which you can find either on the side of the packaging or by speaking to your suppliers. The next step is to decide how you’re going to produce your labels.
If you’ve only got one or two PPDS foods then you may well decide to handwrite your labels, however, there is the potential for human error and what happens if you run out or there is a last-minute substitution of one ingredient for another?
A more accurate and less time-consuming option way to create allergen-safe labels, especially if you sell several PPDS foods or have multiple sites, is to invest in a food labelling software system. This uses a database of ingredients alongside your own supplier information and a label printer to create bespoke labels you can print out on demand.
As well as allergen data, you can also add use by/best before date, prices, barcodes, branding – almost any additional information. Some solutions also offer a live database of ingredients, which means any changes in ingredients automatically flag up changes in allergens in real time – helping to keep on top of any recipe reformulations your suppliers might make in future. There are lots of solutions available from companies such as Nutrics, Brother and Planglow and many offer free trials – another reason why you should take action now so you have plenty of time to find the right one to suit your business.
In addition, some of these systems have features that go beyond just allergens and can help manage recipes and menus, monitor costs and waste as well as analyse nutrition and calories – it’s entirely up to you how deep you want to go.
By taking steps now you’ll also have enough time to train your staff in creating allergen safe labels and to refresh their understanding of which foods commonly cause allergic reactions because you simply can’t cut any corners here. The consequences of mislabelling food can be as severe as death, as was the case for Natasha.
There are plenty of organisations that offer allergen training, for example, High Speed Training runs an online course for £20 which includes information on Natasha’s Law and which is endorsed by the Institute of Hospitality, while the NFFF offers Level 2 Allergens Awareness for Caterers priced at £11.40. There’s also a free allergen online course available from The Food Standards Agency.
Make sure you continually refresh your allergen training and that new starters undergo a course too.
Finally, constantly review your allergen information to ensure it is current and accurate as suppliers do revise their formulations.
Try not to see this as an added burden or cost to your business, but instead as an opportunity to be transparent with your customers because they are more likely to trust a business that pays attention to allergens.