Pre-packaged foods prepared on the premise where they are sold are not required to display allergen information on pack. In fact, as it stands, food businesses are only required to provide such information if requested.
However, new legislation announced today (25 July) will reform ingredients labelling laws in the UK. As of mid-2021, businesses will be legally required to include full ingredients labelling on foods made and pre-packaged on premises for direct sale.
Named ‘Natasha’s Law’, the ruling aims to protect the two million food allergy sufferers living across the UK.
The Pret Effect
The legislation is named after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a teenager who suffered a fatal allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette in 2016. The coroner who presided over her inquest raised concerns that current legislation is not adequate and “future deaths could occur unless action is taken”.
In January this year, environment secretary Michael Gove launched a consultation on proposed changes, comprising four proposals: full ingredient list labelling; allergen-only labelling; ‘ask the staff’ labels on products; and promoting best practice to businesses.
More than 70% of consumer respondents supported the adoption of full ingredients labelling. This was also the Food Standards Agency’s recommendation.
“We want the UK to become the best place in the world for people living with food hypersensitivities. The impact of food allergy and intolerance on quality of live can be as great or even greater than almost all other foodborne diseases,” said chair of the Food Standards Agency Heather Hancock.
“Whilst it’s impossible to eliminate the risks entirely, we believe this change will mean better protection for allergic consumers.”
Pret a Manger has voiced its support of Gove’s most recent announcement, highlighting the company’s proactive measures to limit allergen risks.
“We are pleased that the government has chosen to support full ingredient labelling,” said a Pret spokesperson. “As part of Pret’s Allergy Plan, full ingredient labels are now in over 60 Pret shops as part of our nationwide rollout.
“Before we took this step, we ran a number of pilots to confirm that this approach would be safe, practical and effective. Thanks to the dedication of many Pret Team Members, we have been able to show that full ingredient labelling is operationally possible in small kitchens when proper care is taken.”
Is 2021 soon enough for allergy sufferers?
UK Allergy organisations have similarly welcomed the legislation, with CEO of Allergy UK Carla Jones confirming the charity is “delighted with the news”.
“This move towards full ingredient labelling for pre-packaged direct sale food will improve the lives of the allergic customer and is warmly welcomed here at Allergy UK.”
CEO of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, Lynne Regent, said her organisation also believes this is “the right step forward to protect individuals with severe food allergies”.
However, with the law due to be enforced two years from now – five years on from Natasha’s death – will this be soon enough for the UK’s two million-strong allergy sufferers?
“The sooner the law is set in place, the better for all sufferers,” co-CEO and co-founder of food Spoon Guru, Markus Stripf, told FoodNavigator. Spoon Guru provides transparency services for food labelling in retail.
However, according to Stripf, the right balance is required to allow businesses enough time to conform.
“An Act could come into force immediately, but for every food business in England and Northern Ireland that sells pre-packed foods to comply with the new law, we need to allow some time.
“Granting two years will provide enough time to enact what is required from the new law and to implement these changes thoroughly.”
Solutions for Retail Brands (S4RB), which supports the law, has also acknowledged the work ahead for retail outlets and their suppliers.
“The need for more effective labelling surrounding allergens is clear and it reflects wider consumer demands to understand more about the ingredients in the products we are buying. I have always felt it to be a strange anomaly that packaged foods made and packaged on-site have not had to have the same stringent ingredient and allergen declarations as we’ve taken for granted on most pre-packaged foods for many years,” said S4RB’s managing director James Butcher.
“New legislation on pre-packaged food labels will pose challenges for retailers though, particularly given the circumstances of the new law and potential consequences for any mistakes.
“Ahead of the introduction of Natasha’s Law, it is essential that retailers work closely with their suppliers to ensure they can meet the implementation deadline in mid-2021. Companies should already know what is in these products in order to comply with current legislation so mid-2021 is a generous timescale so those companies unable to comply should look in the mirror as to why they don’t understand the make-up of their products today.”