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A recent, and very well attended, online meeting, organised by the BSA in conjunction with the Café Life Association, heard the latest on the introduction of Natasha’s Law, the allergen law change that comes into force in October 2021.

 Why the new law is necessary

The meeting started with Tim McLachlan, chief executive of the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, explaining the circumstances leading up to the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who died following a catastrophic allergic reaction on a flight to Nice having bought a baguette at Heathrow Airport.

Tim McLachlan explained why the new law is necessary, pointing out that fundamentally it is simply about life and death. In the region of two million young people in particular have allergies - a six-fold increase in recent years - and although many allergens survive for less than an hour after ingesting, even the use of injectable epinephrine (medication that acts on the whole body to shut down the allergic response), may not work for some people. He then went on to explain the meaning of the useful acronym “DEF” – D for danger, E for exclusion and F for facts – when it comes to allergen awareness.

Allergens in food can be poison to some people, so accurate labelling is absolutely essential and this will become law in October 2021.

 FSA involvement

Representing the Food Standards Agency, Michael Wight reported that there are ten deaths a year, in England and Wales, of people with food allergy intolerance and this is entirely avoidable.

Food pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS) must be labelled correctly, and menus must also have full information on products and ingredients. This is particularly challenging when recipes or suppliers change, he pointed out. Therefore, staff must also be trained to be able to give customers full information on allergens and websites must also give accurate information. A brief discussion on label and type size, and whether labels can be hand-written (they can), followed.

Michael Wight added that the October 2021 law changes will be complicated and challenging but that good communication is absolutely essential. The FSA has launched a Safer Food-Better Business initiative which is now available at https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/safer-food-better-business

All 14 allergens are listed in the PPDS rules, and online training for retailers is now available, and the FSA will continue to publish sector-specific materials and tutorials.

Under Natasha’s Law, pre-packaged food made on site by staff will be treated the same as food products made off-site. That means all ingredients must be listed on the label and carry allergy warnings as appropriate. The new rules should simplify the situation for consumers.

 Freshly made sandwiches

As long as the sandwich isn’t being freshly made in front of you, the label should show all of the ingredients. If the sandwich is freshly made to order for you, however, the new legislation will not apply since it is assumed that there will be face to face contact and, if there are concerns about allergens, that a conversation will occur between staff and customer.

These outlets will still need to display signage, telling customers to ask for information on allergens. Cross-contamination could also be an issue in these circumstances and food caterers have an important obligation to ensure the food they prepare is safe for consumption, the meeting highlighted. This extends to understanding which products contain allergens, as well as taking steps to prevent cross-contamination at all stages of production.

Assured Advice from the BSA can be found at www.sandwich.org.uk

Full technical guidance can be found at https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/media/document/fsa-food-allergen-labelling-and-information-requirements-technical-guidance_0.pdf

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