New Allergen Regulation: Natasha’s Law
From the 1st October 2021 food businesses will have to change the way they label prepacked food for direct sale (PPDS). This new legislation, named Natasha’s Law, will help protect allergy sufferers and help them make safer, more informed choices when eating out.
The new labelling system will have to clearly display:
- The name of the food; being both informative and descriptive of the true nature of the product
- All ingredients must be listed under the header ‘Ingredients’ which will include all compound ingredients, as well as ‘may contain’ information from suppliers ingredient lists
- Most importantly, all allergenic ingredients need to be emphasised in bold or italics within the ingredients list
A label example can be downloaded here, which can be used as it is or adapted. Make sure all labels can be easily seen on the outside of the packaging and are not obstructed.
Food businesses are currently legally required to inform customers of the allergens included in their food. Allergens are a type of antigen that evoke an abnormally vigorous immune response which the immune system fights off as a perceived threat that would otherwise be harmless to the body. Allergens cannot be destroyed through cooking, washing or sanitizing, which is why businesses need to make their customers aware of them as they can be harmful and in some cases life threatening.
There are 14 allergens which businesses need to highlight if they are included in their products, these are:
- Cereals containing gluten (for example barley and oats)
- Crustaceans (for example prawns, crabs and lobsters)
- Molluscs (for example mussels and oysters)
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)
- Tree nuts (including, but not limited to; almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews etc.)
The new allergen legislation will apply to food that is prepared and packaged before it is ordered/sold by staff within the same food business. It also includes food products which cannot be altered without being opened or changing the packaging. The prepared food is then either put; on a shelf, in a refrigerator or a hot cabinet (hot holding) ready to be purchased and consumed.
However, it will not apply to food that is made to order, for example when consuming food in a restaurant, or takeaway. These outlets will still need to be able to provide allergen information on request before purchasing, either by having it available in writing or by ensuring food handlers and service staff are adequately informed to enable them to appropriately advise customers when ordering or dropping off the delivery.
Prepacked for direct sale food (PPDS) may consist of the following:
- Sandwiches which are made at a café or restaurant and packaged ready for sale, before they are ordered or selected by a customer
- Food which is made and packed before it is ordered and then stored in temperature controlled units, such as a refrigerated or hot display unit and is not altered before sale
- Meat products which are prepacked on site by a butcher at the business before they are sold
- Food that is made by a business but is sold at a market by that same business
- Products produced and packaged in a supermarket such as pizzas, rotisserie chicken, baked goods and pre-weighed and packaged cheese and meats
- Baguettes where the end of the paper bag is folded, twisted or rolled over to seal it
- Food wrapped in Clingfilm
Foods that are not included consist of, but are not limited to:
- Loose food which is not packaged
- Pre-packed food which is packaged in a different location outside of the business, e.g. by a supplier, manufacturer, food brand etc.
- Food packaged at the customer’s request
- Food ordered online or over the phone, allergens in each dish should however be made evident in the menu or when ordering or delivered
- Pots/sachets of sauces which are less than 10 cm square in size do not need to have the full ingredients list on them, however they should still include the ‘Contains’ statement which shows if there are any allergens in them. Additionally a laminated sheet with the ingredients of each sauce listed at the station where the sauces are collected from could work well.
This legislation will also cover prepacked food which is sold within schools, care homes and hospitals.
Firstly businesses need to understand what food on their menu comes under the new legislation. The Food Standards Agency has a useful tool to help businesses identify PPDS products which can be found here: allergen-ingredients-food-labelling-decision-tool
Once the foods have been identified, the business needs to create a labelling system. The label must include:
- The full ingredients list including compound ingredients, which are the ingredients that are a product of more than 1 ingredient. For example if labelling a sandwich, bread would be the compound ingredient with the ingredients used to make the bread listed after it in brackets.
- The allergens within the ingredients list need to be highlighted either in bold or italics.
- Any food additives used must be listed as well, using the name of their functional class, e.g. antioxidant or preservative.
- Sulphites used as preservatives and are present in amounts greater than 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/l will need to be declared as an allergen.
- Flavourings must be listed as well.
- Under the ingredients list, it is good to add any precautionary allergy information from the suppliers or manufacturers ingredients used in the product.
- The label’s font size must be a minimum size where the x-height is 1.2mm or more. If the products packaging surface is less than 80cm squared, then the font’s x-height can be reduced to 0.9cm.
The only time the compound ingredients list is not required is when it makes up less than 2% of the product. However any engineered nanomaterials used as ingredients including in compound ingredients, need to be clearly indicated with ‘nano’ in brackets after its name on the list.
Ingredients lists need to be stored in an easily accessible please for all staff, such as in a central computer system or folder at the point of sale. Furthermore, these lists need to be reviewed and updated regularly and suppliers are legally obliged to inform customers if the ingredients of their products have changed, in case the allergen information has changed as well.
A process for how to turn these ingredients lists in to labels needs to be established, this could be done using computer software to print the labels or they could be hand written. Even though using hand written labels increases the risk of error, if/when there is a power cut or electricity problem the computer software could be temporarily unavailable so hand written labels would need to be used. If writing the labels by hand, it is important to ensure they are clear and easily to read as well as the information being accurate and up to date.
Additionally, staff need to do regular training and testing on allergens to ensure they possess the most up to date knowledge to inform their customers. It would be beneficial for all food handlers, especially those involved in food preparation, to complete Food Hygiene Training at either level 2 or 3. This will give staff an understanding of safe food practices from the point of storage, through to preparation and kitchen hygiene. Additionally staff need to be aware of this new allergen related legislation and additional training should be completed about Natasha’s Law, including what food is included and the business’ system for ensuring these foods are labelled correctly.
Even when your PPDS products are labelled correctly, staff need to be vigilant to the risk of allergen cross contamination; when preparing food, storing it or displaying it at the point of sale. It is good practise to have a separate area for allergen food preparation, separate storage for allergen ingredients as well as separate utensils and equipment for making allergen products.
Keeping a clean and tidy kitchen can also help stop the risk of allergen cross contamination by teaching staff to clean effectively and thoroughly especially after using allergen ingredients. For example if a mixing bowl is used to make a cake which contains nuts, it shouldn’t then be used to make a nut-free cake as well. The bowl needs to be cleaned effectively before the next use along with any chopping boards and utensils that have been used as well. By implementing practises like these it will help protect customers from having an unexpected reaction as a result of poor kitchen practices.
Further sector specific guidance from the Food Standards Agency can be found here:
- Mobile and street vendors
- Event Caterers
- Fast food and takeaway restaurants
- Schools, colleges and nurseries
- Restaurants, cafes and pubs
If you have any further questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org