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Know your labels - countdown to introduction of allergen changes

  • 09 March 2021 09 March 2021
Know your labels - countdown to introduction of allergen changes

“It’s important to get it right – not just for their business - but for the millions of people in the UK living with a food allergy or intolerance. Everyone deserves to be able to make safer choices when they buy their food.”[1]

With just over six months until changes to allergen labelling laws come into effect, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has provided new information and resources to help businesses prepare[2] and also to assist young people in managing their allergies. The consequences of incorrect or absent labelling can be fatal, so businesses in England will need to carefully consider their food safety and labelling management systems ahead of these changes.

What are the key changes?

The Food Information (Amendment) (England) Regulations (FIR 2019), which come into force on 1 October 2021, will require the packaging or labels of prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) foods sold in England to display the following information clearly:

  • name of the food;
  • full ingredients list; with
  • allergenic ingredients emphasised – for example, in bold, italics or a different colour.

PPDS food is packaged before the consumer selects or orders it and is in packaging which meets all of the following criteria:

  • the food must be fully or partly enclosed by packaging; and
  • the food cannot be altered without opening or changing the packaging in some way; and
  • the food must be ready for final sale to the consumer.

Any food that is not in packaging when it is ordered, or is loose and is packaged after being ordered, is not included. The requirements in respect of other non-prepacked foods are unaffected by the changes.

All food products sold through distance selling (such as over the internet or by telephone) already require allergen information to be provided before food is ordered and when it is delivered. This will not be affected by the new regulations.

The changes follow the tragic death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse from an allergic reaction caused by a baguette which did not require allergen labelling. The Regulations will apply in England but, as far as we are aware, changes will also be made in parallel regulations coming into force at the same time for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Top tips for managing allergens[3]

  1. Suppliers. Build good relationships with suppliers so you are able to keep updated on any product or ingredient changes quickly.
  2. Keep menus small and simple. Review your ingredients and minimise allergenic ingredients wherever possible.
  3. Review your cooking processes. Use separate preparation areas and equipment where possible to avoid cross contamination.
  4. Only keep one allergen matrix.
  5. Staff training and communication is key. Staff must be suitably trained and tested in allergy awareness and how to respond to an allergy sufferer's questions. Keeping records of this training will also be key in the event a business ever needs to evidence the training.
  6. Front & back of house dialogue. Communication is essential.

Speak up for allergies

In tandem with the above, the FSA has recently launched its "Speak up for allergies" campaign, to encourage young people with food allergies to speak up when eating out[4].

Living with a food allergy can affect people in different ways but for teenagers and young adults with a food allergy, navigating the new experiences that come with these stages of life can bring about extra risks.

Research shows that children and young people are at a higher risk of experiencing food allergy reactions. While many are confident about managing their food allergy in general, they are less likely to tell a café or restaurant about their allergy, particularly if they have eaten a meal from the same place before.

The FSA has provided some helpful guidance for this potentially vulnerable group, reiterating: "Never assume a meal will be safe, as ingredients can change".

Don't ignore your labels

Increased awareness of the complex allergen issue, and the seriousness of the potential consequences as a result of non-compliance, has resulted in greater regulatory scrutiny. The regulatory changes being introduced will bring increased obligations for food businesses, with those failing to meet those obligations risking enforcement action, including improvement notices, prosecution, significant fines under the sentencing guidelines, and reputational damage. Indeed, updated guidance from the FSA states that failure to comply with allergen labelling provisions may result in immediate prosecution without the previous serving of an improvement notice[5]. Businesses should therefore take heed and ensure they are familiar with and ready for the changes.

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Authors: Rod Hunt, Partner, and Luisa Lister, Professional Support Lawyer


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