Natasha’s Law, which requires retailers to list all ingredients on pre-packed for direct sale items, will come into force on the 1st October 2021. The law stipulates that any of the fourteen allergens present in the PPDS item will need to be emphasised.
The legislation is named after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a teenager who tragically died from an allergic reaction to sesame seeds in a Pret a Manger sandwich in 2016. With 44 per cent of British adults suffering from allergies, it is hoped that Natasha’s Law will prevent further fatalities from occurring in the food-to-go sector.
While the aim of Natasha’s Law is necessary and straightforward, the practical side may prove a challenge for companies. The food-to-go sector is diverse, and Natasha’s Law will affect different stores and retailers in different ways.
While stores such as Pret and Greggs already have preparations for Natasha’s Law underway, small businesses may find it more complicated to implement. At Pret, for instance, training for 9,000 of their staff, as well as new labelling technology, has been introduced since 2019.
In contrast, small businesses that do not have the resources for such measures have expressed concern at the expense of new software, printers and staff training. Angelo Fichera, who owns a Sicilian-inspired micro-bakery in Dorset, said:
“For small businesses, with little knowledge, it’s not easy or cheap to implement such high standards of training and software solutions. The training for the staff can take several working hours with a huge cost for the business.”
Likewise, Mr Fichera pointed out that a software package for labelling could cost hundreds of pounds a month. “However, it definitely helps to manage all recipes and at the same time, it is a great help with food cost control.”
Some have speculated a lack of efficacy of labels in preventing allergic reactions. Managing director of bakery chain Oddies, Lara Oddie, has expressed concern over the risk of cross-contamination in open kitchens, which may not be communicated clearly by the labels. Similarly, there seem to be no answers to the risk of malfunctioning printers, or human errors in labelling.
Director of the British Sandwich & Food to Go Association, Jim Winship, pointed out the difficulties of consumers relying purely on labels:
“There are serious concerns if consumers rely totally on labels for allergen information. If they ask for advice about a specific allergen, the business can warn them if they use that ingredient.”
The timing of Natasha’s Law may prove challenging, too. It represents yet another change to the way business is run after a year and a half of constant closures, reopenings, and organisational reshuffling in order to adhere to coronavirus safety measures.
Despite the logistic challenges, there are clear benefits to Natasha’s Law. Labelling systems provide transparency for consumers that can lead to healthier product ranges. As Mr Fichera pointed out:
“I think Natasha’s Law will force some businesses that are not being clear about ‘hidden’ ingredients, such as preservatives and enzymes, to either remove them or at least declare them.”
Most importantly, Natasha’s Law should help the food-to-go industry become safer and more accessible to those with serious allergies, and hopefully put an end to preventable allergic reactions and fatalities.