Natasha’s law: new guidance for food businesses on allergen rules

Written on 3 Aug 2020

Foods businesses – from pop-ups to coffee shop chains – selling food pre-packaged for direct sale must prepare for new allergen rules from 1 October 2021. The FSA has published Guidance to facilitate that process.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published Guidance on new allergen labelling laws on food that is prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) at outlets such as coffee shops. The change in the law, known as "Natasha's Law", will come into effect from 1 October 2021. Although the Guidance is not binding, it will inform enforcement authorities as to how to apply the new laws, and should therefore be given proper consideration by food business operators.

What will change under Natasha's Law?

Currently, food businesses can provide consumers with allergen information for PPDS food in a range of different ways, including orally. From 1 October 2021, Natasha's Law requires that PPDS have the name of the food and a list of ingredients directly on the packaging or label. If the food contains any of the 14 allergens, they must be emphasised in bold, CAPITAL LETTERS, contrasting colours or underlined.

What does the guidance tell us?

Slightly surprisingly, PPDS is not defined in the legislation. However the Guidance indicates that the FSA considers PPDS foods to be those that meet the following criteria:

  • The food is presented to the consumer in packaging which is completely or partially enclosed in a way that makes it impossible to alter the food without opening or changing the packaging.
  • The food is packaged before the consumer orders it.
  • The food is packaged in the same place it is sold. This includes food packaged by a food business on the same site where it is sold, or food sold from temporary or moveable premises (such as a food truck).

Whether a food product is PPDS must be assessed on a case by case basis. The Guidance offers some examples of PPDS food:

  • Boxed salads placed into packaging by a food business and later sold from the same premises.
  • Cafés giving away packaged samples of cakes made on the same premises.
  • Foods packaged and taken by the same food business to their market stall to sell.
  • Foods that are pre-weighed and packed, such as cheese from a delicatessen counter.

Food businesses that operate restaurants will be relieved to know that the guidance confirms that PPDS food does not include made-to-order food or food that is packaged in a way that the food can be altered without opening or changing the packaging (such as a hot dog served on a cardboard tray).

Planning for compliance

Failure to comply with the allergen rules is a serious matter. Enforcement action by Trading Standards, including criminal prosecution, is possible. Reputational damage can also be very serious, as was the case for Pret A Manger following the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse's, after whom the new law is known. It is therefore important that food businesses take steps early on to make sure they get it right. This should include the following:

  1. Food businesses should carry out an audit of food products at all premises to determine which products could qualify as PPDS and take advice on any foods where it is not clear whether or not those foods would be classed as such.
  2. Where PPDS foods have been identified, identify any allergens that the foods may contain, including any risks of cross contamination in the supply chain.
  3. Consider how PPDS foods can be effectively labelled. Review and update internal protocols and training handbooks on how to label PPDS and manage potential risks from allergenic foods. This may include a review of your hazard analysis and critical control point programme.
  4. Train staff on the new allergen information rules. Ensure internal procedures are in place to monitor compliance and, if necessary, report and correct any areas of non-compliance.

For advice on how to prepare for the new allergen information rules, please contact one of the experts identified below, or your usual Osborne Clarke contact.