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Natasha’s law tackles sandwich labelling

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Sandwich bars and cafes on the front line for allergen labelling under new legislation

New legislation will require direct sale food businesses to label all pre-packed products with a full list of ingredients highlighting any allergens, in a move that will affect many small cafes and sandwich shops.

This marks a major change for food outlets, as current regulations mean that food made on the premises for direct sale does not need to be labelled, with customers expected to ask staff for allergen information.

The new legislation – The Food Information (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2019) – is due to come into force on 1 October 2021.  It was introduced following a campaign by the parents of 15 year old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who died on board a plane after experiencing a severe allergic reaction to sesame seeds in a baguette she bought at Heathrow’s Pret a Manager outlet.  In line with current regulations, there was no allergen labelling on the packaging of the baguette, as food prepared in local kitchens, or for business-to-business sales, are exempt.

The coroner at Natasha’s inquest criticised food retailers who were operating factory-style outlets but taking advantage of an exemption intended to provide relief for small, local kitchens, describing it as an attempt to evade the spirit of the legislation.  Known as Natasha’s Law, the new regulations amend the Food Information Regulations 2014 and introduce key changes for food outlets.

Once in force, any food that is prepacked for direct sale and supplied directly to the consumer or to a mass caterer in a business-to-business sale must have a list of ingredients and the name of the food placed directly on the package or on a label attached to the package.  The ingredients must be listed in order of quantity and any of the 14 prescribed allergens highlighted.

Under the new regulations, there will be an exemption for packaging or containers with a surface area of less than 10cm2 and for distance sales, where the customer is not in the same place, such as sales made over the internet or telephone.

Said Sean Byrne, company law specialist with Coventry-based Solicitors Band Hatton Button: “We are now in a transition period for the next two years.  This will allow businesses to implement the new regulations, but we expect to see further changes in the law, in response to the increased awareness over allergens and the dangers they pose.  Businesses need to get up to speed swiftly, recognising that this is not just about red tape, but could potentially safe someone’s life.”

He added: “Information is set to be published shortly by the Food Standards Agency with practical information for those in the sector.  Food businesses involved in direct sales will need to ensure compliance through labelling and signage, and also through staff training, to keep allergen management at the forefront in their premises.”

The 14 allergens that need to be declared are:

celery, cereals containing gluten – including wheat, rye, barley and oats, crustaceans – such as prawns, crabs and lobsters, eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs – such as mussels and oysters, mustard, tree nuts – including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, soybeans, sulphur dioxide and sulphites at a concentration of more than ten parts per million.

Web site content note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.