Natasha’s Law has come into force in a bid to better highlight the most common allergens on food labelling.
Named after a teenager who died of anaphylaxis after eating a Pret A Manger baguette before a flight from Heathrow Airport in 2016, the law has been designed to protect the UK’s two million allergy sufferers from eating potentially lethal ingredients in some foods.
So what does Natasha’s Law mean in practice - and which food allergens will it cover?
Here’s everything you need to know.
What happened to Natasha Ednan-Laparouse?
Natasha Ednan-Laparouse was a 15-year-old from Fulham, London who was flying to Nice for a family holiday at the time of her death.
Before catching her flight from Heathrow Airport on 17 July 2016, she bought an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette from the Pret A Manger in Terminal 5.
Unbeknownst to Natasha, the baguette contained sesame - an ingredient she was allergic to.
According to the 2018 inquest into her death at West London Coroner’s Court, she had been “reassured” by the absence of any specific allergen information on the product.
During the British Airways flight, Natasha developed an allergic reaction which led to a cardiac arrest. She died in a hospital in Nice later that same day.
The coroner concluded Pret A Manger’s allergen labelling on its pre-packed products was inadequate and called on both the sandwich chain and the government to take action to prevent future deaths.
It led the then-Environment Secretary Michael Gove to launch a review into food allergy legislation, which resulted in the adoption of what has been known throughout the process as Natasha’s Law.
Natasha’s family described the introduction of the law as a “bittersweet moment”.
“We are delighted that people with food allergies will now have great protection through improved labelling and we know in our hearts that Natasha would be very proud of a new law in her name,” said her parents, Nadim and Tanya Ednan-Laperouse.
“However, the new law also reminds us that Natasha’s death was completely avoidable.”
Natasha’s parents now run the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation - set up in the wake of their daughter’s death - which campaigns to prevent and end allergic disease.
How does the new law work?
From Friday 1 October 2021, all UK food outlets selling food that is pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS) have been required to provide full ingredient lists with clear allergen labelling.
PDDS is a term which covers food that is prepared, pre-packed and offered or sold to consumers on the same premises - be that at a bricks and mortar cafe, a mobile coffee shop or even a school canteen.
Food products falling under this category include sandwiches, bakery products and fast food items.
14 major allergens will now be labelled clearly on these food products, including:
- cereals containing gluten – including wheat, rye, barley and oats
- crustaceans – such as prawns and lobsters
- molluscs – such as mussels and oysters
- tree nuts – such as almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts
- sesame seeds
- sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)
This requirement closes a previous loophole which meant PPDS food sold outside of a supermarket did not have to carry any allergy information on its labelling.
Natasha’s Law does not extend to food that is not in packaging or is only packaged after it has been ordered. In these instances, allergen information still needs to be provided but this can be done by other means, for example verbally.
It also does not apply to foods sold over the phone or online.
Products which have been pre-packaged elsewhere are already required to provide full ingredients labelling which emphasises allergens.
Local authorities will enforce the law with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) advising them to treat “minor errors” with extra guidance and support during the law’s early months, rather than penalties.
Are businesses ready?
However, shoppers with allergies may have to continue to be vigilant when buying PPDS food, research by retail organisation GS1 UK has suggested.
A survey of 500 employers and employees by retail trade body GS1 UK found 81% of food business owners felt unprepared in the run up to the start date for Natasha’s Law.
While 75% of chains said they were in a good position ahead of the introduction of the new allergen rules, just 51% of small, independent businesses and 61% of medium, independent businesses were in the same position.
“One of the biggest concerns surrounding Natasha’s law is whether businesses will be able to quickly and accurately get up to date allergen information – especially smaller businesses whose ingredients may change daily,” said Chris Tyas, chair of GS1 UK.
“Yet the research shows that these small businesses are the least prepared.
“It is vital that the whole food supply chain has the ability to capture and access the full range of allergen data to implement the requirements of Natasha’s law. To comply successfully we believe the continued digitalisation of the supply chain is much needed.”
Kate Nicholls, CEO of trade body UKHospitality said the out-of-home food sector supported Natasha’s Law and was working with the FSA to ensure the law was “clear for food businesses, customers and enforcement bodies”.
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