If you’re in the food or catering industry, then chances are you’ll be all-too-familiar with landmark labelling legislation coming into force this October. At least, I hope you are. Because Natasha’s Law is set to shake up the entire sector – and businesses need to be prepared.
What is Natasha’s Law?
From 1 October 2021, the UK Food Information Amendment – also known as Natasha’s Law – will require businesses to provide full ingredient lists and allergen labelling on all food that is prepackaged for direct sale (PPDS). In other words, food that is packaged on the same premises where it is offered or sold to customers.
It covers food that customers select themselves, as well as pre-wrapped items kept behind a counter and some food sold at mobile or temporary outlets – think preprepared salads, baguettes, sandwiches, pasta pots etc. Under the new regulations, these types of PPDS items must clearly display the name of the food and a full ingredients list ordered by weight. The 14 major allergens must also be emphasised on the label e.g. in bold, italics or capitals.
So why the big change? The new legislation is the result of a campaign led by the parents of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse. Natasha tragically died after suffering an allergic reaction to an undeclared ingredient in a prepacked baguette. The inquest into her death identified a major loophole in the food labelling rules, which meant that businesses making and selling fresh products prepacked on their premises didn’t have to provide allergen information on the packaging.
Following the inquest, the government announced an overhaul of the labelling laws to better protect the estimated two million people who suffer from food allergies. The move will affect a variety of businesses – from sandwich shops and cafes to school catering companies and major supermarket chains.
What can businesses do to prepare for Natasha's law??
Of course, change on this scale presents significant challenges – we’re not talking about a quick fix here. As is often the case, getting the right tools and processes in place is the key to success.
If you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to establish good relationships with your suppliers. You’ll need them to provide detailed ingredient information and notify you promptly of any changes. Even the slightest tweak to an ingredient could have huge implications so communication is crucial. You can only comply with the law if all parts of your supply chain work together.
On a practical level, consider how you will produce the necessary food labels. Handwritten labels aren’t exactly ideal so you’ll need to think about the type of printer and labels you require. This will depend on the food being offered and the size of your operation, so it’s worth doing your research. For example, standard labels may turn black if the packaged item is warmed in the oven before sale.
Staff training is also essential. Employees need to know what to do every time a new item is added to the menu or there’s a change to a recipe. It’s vital that they understand the consequences that inadequate labelling can have for both customers and the business.
But while these are good starting points, they’re not enough. Manually checking ingredients across every PPDS item isn’t really practical, especially where larger chains are concerned. And this is where technology can be a real lifesaver – literally.
How technology can help you comply with Natasha's law
If you can afford it, the most effective way to maintain accurate ingredient and allergen information is with the help of specialist software. Conduct a quick search online and you’ll find plenty of digital food management and labelling solutions on the market. Many of these will automatically update nutritional and allergen details across your various systems, saving valuable time while ensuring information remains reliable and consistent.
You may also want to consider using a digital management platform (mpro5 is a good example!) to confirm that staff are following the correct protocols. For instance, you can request that employees complete a digital checklist or logbook to show they’ve read and understood a new recipe. These types of automated processes will help with compliance while reassuring head office that the appropriate steps are being followed.
I’m not saying that complying with Natasha’s Law will be easy. In my last article I talked about the existing challenges surrounding food labelling and supermarkets being fined for out-of-date food. The introduction of Natasha’s Law amplifies the importance of accurate labelling even further.
But with the right tools and technology, the task becomes much more manageable. And at the end of the day, anything the food industry can do to help consumers make safer food choices and prevent future tragedies is really what it’s about.
You can read more about the changes to food labelling laws on the Food Standards Agency website.