It has been just over two years since Natasha’s Law came into force. Allergen labelling is now regularly discussed and public awareness and debate about the issue has increased. But what has it meant for food businesses?
Earlier this year the FSA released the results of a survey taking a closer look at how Natasha’s Law had impacted businesses, local authorities and consumers. The findings made for interesting reading:
- 42% of consumers said they had seen an improvement in the availability of allergen information on PPDS products (food items that have been processed and prepackaged on the premises they are to be sold)
- 24% of food businesses reported they were not fully compliant with all labelling requirements
- 72% of food businesses had started to apply precautionary allergen labelling to their PPDS foods and 17% had started to sell their previously PPDS foods as non-prepacked
- 75% of local authorities reported they believe further action is needed to improve compliance, including general training
- 51% of food businesses reported their costs had increased due to the PPDS labelling requirements
That nearly a quarter of food businesses surveyed have confessed to non-compliance with the law, and 72% of these businesses have resorted to using precautionary allergen labels on prepackaged food, is telling. It is evident that significant efforts are needed from both food businesses and regulatory bodies.
Common factors contributing to non-compliance likely include a lack of awareness of labelling requirements, a limited understanding of the regulations, and concerns about the associated implementation costs. It is essential to note none of these factors would serve as a valid defence in the event of legal action by local authorities.
A breach of the allergen labelling requirements is a criminal offence and upon conviction can result in a fine. More serious breaches can result in fines into the hundreds of thousands for larger businesses, or even a custodial sentence. Even minor breaches are likely to result in significant fines given the subject.
Natasha’s Law is being taken seriously by governing bodies. This was demonstrated by the FSA and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs making £1.5m of funding available for 2022 and 2023, with the aim of helping local authorities cover the enforcement costs.
So now more than ever, businesses must ensure they are in line with the law – or they could find themselves embroiled in a crisis situation.