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Allergy Awareness Week – companies have a duty of care

Last year, a new law surrounding allergen labelling came into force in the UK. With effect from 1 October 2021, all Pre-Packed for Direct Sale (PPDS) foods must now include a full-length list of all the ingredients on the label with allergenic products emphasised and highlighted.

Last year, a new law surrounding allergen labelling came into force in the UK. With effect from 1 October 2021, all Pre-Packed for Direct Sale (PPDS) foods must now include a full-length list of all the ingredients on the label with allergenic products emphasised and highlighted.

Whilst the new legislation – Natasha’s Law – has been in place for over six months now, it remains important as ever that food businesses understand how crucial allergen labelling is, and how it can even save lives – particularly as this week marks Allergy Awareness Week.

You will no doubt have heard of the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse in 2016.

Natasha’s Law is named after the 15-year-old, who suffered a fatal allergic reaction on board a flight after eating a baguette that she had bought from Pret-a-Manger at Heathrow Airport.

Natasha had a severe sesame allergy. The label on the sandwich did not specify that sesame seeds had been pre-baked into the bread. She collapsed and died despite best efforts by passengers and crew to revive her.

Tragically, this is not an isolated incident.

In 2014, just two years prior, nearly one-fifth of emergency hospital admissions were due to some sort of allergic reaction.

Over 20% of the UK are affected by one or more allergies and 1 in 1,000 of the general population risk suffering from an anaphylaxis-type reaction.

It is estimated that there are two million people in the UK with a food-specific allergy. An average of ten people a year die from food-induced anaphylaxis, but it is believed that a further 1,500 asthma-related deaths may be related to food allergies.

So you can understand just how much of a life-or-death matter allergen labelling and food safety is.

Some reports say that thousands of deaths could have been prevented, if this legislation had been in place earlier.

Before Natasha’s Law came into effect, only supermarket sandwiches had to list ingredients and allergens. If a product was made to order or made on the premises no label was needed, if there was a sign nearby prompting customers to ask about allergens.

Thankfully, that is no longer the case. But the onus is on food and beverage businesses to fulfil their legal requirements and look after the health of their customers every day.

Here is a reminder of what is required.

There are fourteen allergens that must always be clearly labelled. These are:

  • Celery
  • Cereals containing gluten, such as barley and oats
  • Crustaceans such as prawns, crabs, and lobsters
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Lupin
  • Milk
  • Molluscs, such as mussels and oysters
  • Mustard
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame
  • Soybeans
  • Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if the sulphur dioxide and sulphites are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)
  • Tree nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, and macadamia nuts

This law has been quoted as the single most important priority for food retailers, with research showing that 88% of the public fully support the regulations. Natasha was reassured by the fact that the packaging of her baguette contained no allergen information but, sadly, this is what lead to her death.

Whilst national chains might be able to afford the luxury of electronic labelling systems, smaller companies with lesser budgets must create handwritten ingredient lists indicating allergens as well as listing all ingredients for each product.

It is no easy feat doing this for every food product and can certainly prove challenging for some businesses. Implementing staff training on ingredients and labelling will be costly and time-consuming, but this is something that all companies need to take very seriously.

Doing so will avoid any legal issues which could result in unlimited fines, a decline in company reputation and profits. More importantly, it will keep valued customers safe.

Natasha’s Law is not the only legislation to affect food and beverage businesses.

With effect from this month (April 2022) a new Government mandate now requires large restaurants chains to display calorie information for dishes, in a bid to help the public to make healthier choices when eating out.

Almost two-thirds of adults in the UK (63%) are overweight and obesity-related conditions cost the NHS nearly £6.1 billion each year. Ministers hope that these new rules will deliver considerable benefits over the long term by reducing obesity and related demand on health services.

The Calorie Labelling (Out of Home Sector) (England) Regulations 2021 will require food businesses with over 250 employees to display calorie information.

This information must be displayed at the ‘point of choice’ for the customer, such as on menus, menu boards, online menus, and food labels. Guidance on the number of calories the average adult needs per day, also needs to be shown.

It is important to consider that these new regulations impact many facets of a business, from health and safety protocols to HR procedures including recruitment strategies and training.

This new bill increases responsibilities for employers and demand on hospitality staff to ensure compliance with the regulations. They must ensure all information is accurate and may need to ensure that healthier options are provided for customers.

Similarly, employees may need further guidance and training in this area to meet all requirements, so HR should ensure there are resources and dedicated training time available to train staff on the new rules and put together the necessary information.

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