New UK food labelling regulation raises product recall risk

The UK is requiring full ingredient and allergen labelling on all food made on premises and pre-packed for direct sale from October 2021, increasing the risk of product recalls for the food and drink industry.

The rules - known as "Natasha's Law" follow the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse (opens a new window) from anaphylaxis after she ate sesame in a baguette. Natasha ate an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette bought from a large fast food chain in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in July 2016. She began to feel ill during a British Airways flight, and suffered a cardiac arrest. Despite her father administering two EpiPen injections, she died later the same day. A food labelling loophole had left Natasha unaware that the baguette she ate contained sesame seeds, which she knew she was allergic to. The sesame was baked into the dough, but the ingredient was not listed on the packaging.

The number of hospital admissions caused by food allergies has increased threefold (opens a new window) over the past 20 years, according to the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA). In the UK, an estimated 2 million people are living with a diagnosed food allergy, and 600,000 (1 in 100) with coeliac disease. These figures from the FSA exclude those with food intolerances such as lactose intolerance.

Natasha's law comes into effect from October 2021 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It will require all food retailers to display full ingredient and allergen labelling on every food item made on the premises and pre-packed for direct sale. Previously, foods prepared on
the premises in which they were sold were not required to be individually labelled with ingredient lists. Food businesses will now need to check whether they produce prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) foods and what labelling they will be required to label their products.

The new law applies to foods packaged on the same site at which they are sold before being ordered. Foods pre-packaged elsewhere already require full ingredients labelling, with allergens emphasised in the list (for example in bold, italics or a different colour).

Products that will now need to be labelled include pre-wrapped sandwiches, cakes, and salads, fast food that’s already in packaging before a customer places their order, and supermarket items such as cheeses and meat from the deli counter that are already wrapped and ready to be served, as well as some products packaged and sold at mobile or temporary outlets.

Taking action

Food businesses are expected to provide accurate food labelling information across all sites. Labels should be updated as new products are listed, as recipes can change. Suppliers should also provide precautionary allergen info if necessary. Food businesses are responsible formaintaining strong communication with the supplier, who has a legal obligation to provide the exact ingredient composition of any foods bought from them. Food businesses must ensure proper allergen management systems are in place and staff have up to date allergen awareness training and understand the importance of Natasha’s Law.

Product recall cover

Mislabelling is a major cause of claims. Mislabelled fodd and drink products clearly pose a bodily injury risk and need to be recalled. Businesses are covered for the extensive recall and destruction costs along with any loss of income due to adverse publicity affecting sales. We do see our food production clients and their packaging suppliers as facing a higher risk as a result of this new legislation.

Law enforcement

The FSA has noted that except where circumstances require immediate action, local authorities responsible for enforcing the law are being advised to take a proportionate and risk-based approach to breaches of the law. The FSA is advising that minor errors are dealt with through extra guidance and support with the changes, particularly during the early months.

The regulator is trying to be flexible with an industry already under strain, so it is unlikely that it will issue fines straight away. Over the last 18 months cafes and restaurants have had to deal with a raft of new legislation because of the pandemic, faced huge losses during periods of closure, and had to make significant changes to the way they operate to cope with changing customer habits. However, food labelling is a hugely important issue for a growing number of consumers. The FSA is likely to expect cafes and restaurants to show that they are at least making an effort to sort out their labelling and comply with the law before the end of the year.

The FSA has made tools available to help the industry understand which products are covered by the new rules, labelling guidance and sector-specific advice on its online PPDS Hub (opens a new window).