We look at the new rules on food labelling coming into force next year, and when additional information will have to be provided, particularly in relation to allergens.
In 2016, Natasha Ednan-Laperouse suffered a severe allergic reaction after eating sesame seeds in a baguette purchased from a high street food outlet. Natasha did not know that there were sesame seeds in the baguette because the packaging did not say so – and nor was it legally required to, the baguette having been made and packaged on the premises where it was sold.
Following the publication of a joint consultation by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the previous government announced on 25 June 2019 that a new law, known as Natasha’s Law, would be tabled to address the way in which similar food products are labelled. On 5 September 2019, legislation was passed which will change the way in which businesses in England need to label food products which are made and packaged on the premises where they are sold. The new rules will come into effect on 1 October 2021. Separate equivalent legislation is planned in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Where we are now
The government is in the process of updating its existing technical guidance to provide clarity on the new rules. The FSA has opened a public consultation to give stakeholders in England, Wales and Northern Ireland the opportunity to comment on the proposed changes. Businesses and private individuals have until 6 March 2020 to do this. Details relating to the public consultation, including the consultation document and the technical guidance document, can be accessed via the FSA’s website here. We view this consultation as an excellent opportunity for food business operators of all sizes to make their views known, and we recommend that operators take this opportunity to influence the regulatory landscape.
Current legislative framework
The law currently divides food products into three groups depending on where and when they are prepared.
- Pre-packed products: (examples include supermarket sandwiches, salads, and ready meals) These products are produced in facilities, such as factories, separate from the sales premises before being shipped to stores for sale. The law requires that pre-packed products be labelled with a full list of ingredients on packaging, with emphasis being placed on information relating to the 14 main allergens.
- Over-the-counter products: (examples include sandwiches and salads) The law does not require products to be labelled at all if they are made in front of you. This places the onus on the consumer to make enquiries about allergens before purchase.
- Pre-packed for direct sale products: (examples include sandwiches and salads prepared on the seller’s premises) Similarly, where products are prepared on the premises from which they are sold, the producer is not currently required to label them with a full list of ingredients or to provide allergen information on the packaging. Again, the onus is on the consumer to make enquiries about allergens before purchase (although signage needs to be present advising them to do so).
From 1 October 2021, food business operators who sell pre-packed foods for direct sale in England must provide directly on the packaging or on a label attached to the packaging of their goods, the name of the food and a full ingredients list, with allergens emphasised (for example in bold, italics or a different colour).
The law on over-the-counter products is not changing. Nevertheless, we advise businesses selling over-the-counter products to foster a culture of pro-active conversations with customers about allergens.
Businesses should consider how these new provisions will affect their operations and start to plan for change. Following the current consultation, we expect updated technical guidance to be published, and operators should familiarise themselves with this. Operators who sell pre-packed food for direct sale should consider taking legal advice to ensure compliance with the new regulations.