You may have noticed that I have been writing one of these articles every month...I’m hoping to keep going all year, and when I planned the articles I thought of “food and festivals” for June, in preparation for the Summer season of events and activities. But here we are, still mostly confined to our homes and almost, if not all, events that characterise the Summer, cancelled. However, as more and more businesses in the hospitality industry start offering takeaway and pick-up of pre-packed foods, perhaps this is the right time to talk about food labelling after all.
Food labelling has come under the spotlight following the sad case of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died on a flight after eating a Pret-a-Manger sandwich. Despite being packaged, the sandwich was not required to be labelled with allergens because it was produced on the premises from which it was sold and was therefore not considered “pre-packed.” Following this tragedy, the Government has acted to improve the labelling on food packaged on-site and “Natasha’s law” will come into force in October 2021.
What are the food labelling requirements and where do they apply?
The food labelling requirements derive from EU law and are directly applicable. As is the case with all EU law, there is implementing UK legislation which must provide at least the same protections as the EU directive.
Food is any substance packaged or not, processed or not, that would reasonably be expected to be ingested by humans. The labelling requirements do not apply to pre-packed foods or food supplements, foods with health claims and medicines (which are regulated elsewhere.)
The specifics are specific indeed. The requirements set out the font size, use of language and the nature of the surrounding packaging (so as to limit distracting factors.)
The information provided must be accurate, easily visible, clearly legible, easy to understand and directly on the packaging.
The label must include: the name of the food, the list of ingredients, specific requirements for special additives such as caffeine or sweeteners, the quantity of some ingredients, net quantity, shelf-life, special storage condition requirements, name of the food business operator, provenance in some cases, instructions for use (if not obvious), nutritional information (some is mandatory, other is optional) and allergen information.
The list of allergens that must be identified are:
- Cereals containing gluten
- Seasame seeds
- Soya beans
- Sulphur dioxise or sulphites above 10mg/kg concentration
Alternative lists are forbidden.
The effect of Natasha’s law is that, from October 2021, it will be necessary for any food business that pre-packs food for direct sale to provide the statutory allergen information on the packaging. The food standards agency has noted there is no legal definition of “pre-packed for direct sale” but will use food that is prepared and packaged on the premises as a working definition.
There is a fine line between prepared-to-order and pre-packaged in some “fast food” and “pop-up” style outlets, but in the interests of safety and ensuring compliance, it is advised to provide allergen information as widely as possible.
Penalties for non-compliance
A breach of food labelling regulations is a criminal offence, prosecuted by local authorities and county councils. Food businesses and individuals are liable to unlimited fines. In addition, food businesses may be subject to personal injury claims for negligence and/or product liability in cases where harm is caused following ingestion of a wrongly labelled product.