Natasha’s Law and mandatory allergen labelling
What is Natasha’s Law?
Natasha’s Law is the name given to the regulations that came into force on 1 October 2021 and provide new requirements for the labelling of allergens in certain foods. These regulations apply across the entirety of the UK.
The law is named for Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered a fatal anaphylactic reaction after consuming a sandwich which did not display any specific allergen information but contained hidden sesame seeds baked into the bread.
Under Natasha’s Law, any business producing prepacked food for direct sale is required to label it with the name of the food and a full ingredients list that emphasises allergenic ingredients.
Food business operators must therefore consider whether Natasha’s Law is applicable to them and, if so, what they are required to do in order to comply with its provisions.
Does Natasha’s Law apply to my business?
Natasha’s Law applies to businesses that produce food that is ‘prepacked for direct sale’ (hereafter ‘PPDS’). This is defined as foods that are packed before being offered for sale by the same food business to the final consumer.
This definition includes two separate requirements which can be considered in turn. In order to be considered PPDS, the food in question must be packed before being offered for sale. Typical examples of such foods would be prepacked sandwiches in a café, or fast food packed before it is ordered, such as burgers under a hot lamp, where the food cannot be altered without opening the packaging.
This means food that is packed at the customer’s request is excluded from the provisions of Natasha’s Law. This exclusion would typically apply to a fish and chip shop where the food is displayed for sale and only packaged once it is ordered.
The second requirement is that the food in question must be both packed and offered for sale to the final consumer by the same food business. Food that is packaged by one food business but sold by another is not considered PPDS, and is therefore not covered by Natasha’s Law. The typical example of this would be food that is packaged at a factory and then sold to retailers, who in turn offer it for sale to final consumers. Such food is subject to its own allergen requirements.
This second requirement also clarifies that food sold via distance communications, such as food purchased online by consumers, is also excluded from the definition of PPDS. Such foods are already subject to the separate allergen labelling requirements.
What information must be on the label?
Where Natasha’s law applies, the food package or label must display the name of the food and an ingredients list that emphasises allergenic ingredients.
The law states that the name of the food displayed on the package or label must be either its legal name, or failing that its customary name, or failing that its descriptive name.
Taking each of these in turn: some foods have names which are legally defined. The law specifies certain names must be used for foods which meet certain conditions. For example, you must call a product ‘instant coffee’ if it is a solid coffee extract (such as coffee granules), contains at least 95% coffee, and contains only natural substances created during the coffee extraction process. A product cannot be named instant coffee unless it meets these conditions.
If the food in question does not have a name that is legally defined, then the label should display the customary name of the food. Customary names are names that, in time, may come to be accepted by consumers as the name of the food without the need for further explanation. Examples of customary names would be ‘Yorkshire pudding’ or ‘Bakewell tarts’.
If neither a legal name nor a customary name applies, the label may give a name which provides a description of the food. This can also include a description of how the food should be used. Such names should mention ingredients that give the food its main characteristic, or any details of the food’s structure or form that clarify what it is. Pictures of the food do not contribute towards meeting the requirement that a food has an adequate descriptive name.
The label must also display a full list of ingredients which emphasises allergenic ingredients. There are 14 allergens which must be emphasised:
- cereals containing gluten (such as barley and oats);
- crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs and lobsters);
- molluscs (such as mussels and oysters);
- sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million); and
- tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts).
Emphasising can be through using bold type, capital letters, contrasting colours or underlining.
Businesses should also be aware that it may be necessary to clarify that a certain ingredient is an allergen, for example, tahini paste should be labelled as “tahini paste (sesame)”, and whey should be listed as “whey (milk)”. Businesses should ensure that their labelling provides consumers with clear and uniform understanding of whether allergens are present.
There are some PPDS foods for which it will not be necessary to list ingredients, for example, fresh fruit and vegetables that have not been peeled, cut or otherwise treated. However, it will still be necessary to adhere to other requirements, including the need to indicate the presence of any allergens.
Businesses should also consider precautionary labelling, providing voluntary information about the unintentional presence of allergens (this often appears as ‘may also contain’ or ‘not suitable for’ labelling). This is not a legal requirement but is strongly recommended by the Food Standards Agency.
Precautionary labelling can be a complex area, and will involve a thorough risk assessment and an understanding of the practices of all of your suppliers. Specialist advice should be taken before embarking upon precautionary labelling.
What Natasha’s Law means for businesses
Businesses which are subject to Natasha’s Law can face legal action if they do not abide by its provisions. The Food Standards Agency has provided a helpful tool to aid businesses in determining whether these provisions apply to them, however, this tool is not exhaustive, and the typical examples we have given above should be considered as guidance only.
Business practices can vary wildly, and each business should consider these rules and how they may apply to their own specific business practices in coming to a conclusion as to whether these rules are applicable to them, and whether their practices are in line with these provisions. If businesses are in doubt over this, we would recommend that they seek legal advice on this matter.
With additional reporting by Ross Simpson.