‘Food-to-go’ allergy labelling: what you need to know

The pandemic had a huge impact on the hospitality industry and the UK public’s eating habits.  

Unable to enjoy a pub lunch or dinner at a restaurant, many of us got much more familiar with online or app-based delivery services!

Pivoting in the pandemic

Many enterprising cafes, caterers, pubs and restaurants, unable to trade during the lockdowns, started to offer takeaway and/or delivery services – some doing so for the first time.

It’s been heartening to see how the hospitality industry adapted during this adversity, and lots may choose to continue offering take-out options alongside dining in.

However, for those that offer pre-packed food for direct sale (PPDS), the rules on food labelling are about to change.  For those new to offering PPDS, there’s a lot to get to grips with.

Compliance with Natasha’s Law

Following the tragic death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, after she ate a baguette containing sesame seeds that weren’t mentioned on the snack’s label, Natasha’s Law is coming into force this autumn.

From 1 October 2021, all PPDS food and snacks will need labelling that shows:

  • the name of the item

  • full ingredients list

  • all allergenic ingredients emphasised in bold, italics, CAPITALISED or underlined

Currently, it is not mandatory for these to appear on a product’s label and allergen information can be provided by any means, including verbally by staff.

The new rules put the onus on the retailer to provide allergy information, rather than on food allergy sufferers or their families to seek it out.  

What type of foods and eateries are affected by Natasha’s Law?

Put simply, if you sell PPDS foods – snacks or meals that were made and packaged on the premises where they are sold – then the packaging needs to include the above allergy information.  Common examples are cafes selling prepacked sandwiches or salads.

Exceptions and grey areas

However, there are some exclusions and grey areas that will make it confusing for some business owners to know whether they need to take action to prepare for Natasha’s Law, or not.

Takeaways (in-person collection or deliveries): the new rules don’t apply to takeaways, but takeaway menus should still feature allergy information.  Staff should be aware of allergens in ingredients and be able to answer customer enquiries about allergens.

Sandwich/salad bars: shops that sell snacks that are made to order in front of the customer when they’re ordered are not covered by the new PPDS law and these products do not then need to be labelled with full ingredients.  Again, staff should be aware of ingredients containing allergens and menus should contain allergy information.

Food stalls/vans: if the food is being made to order for the customer to take away, then its packaging doesn’t need to include allergy labelling.  But if you also sell pre-made snacks like sandwiches then these would need to comply with Natasha’s Law labelling.

Dinner kits/heat-to-eat: if you sell products for customers to assemble and/or cook themselves later then these are required to have a full ingredients list and allergen labelling.

Pubs/restaurants offering a ‘food to go’ service: Again, staff should be aware of allergy information and menus should contain it.  If the product is a sealed container and won’t be altered, it will require full ingredients labelling.

Pubs and restaurants generally: although not affected by Natasha’s Law, all pubs and restaurants should be upping the ante on making food allergy information more readily available to diners.  Sadly, high-profile deaths are not limited to pre-packed snacks.  In 2017, Owen Carey died after receiving incorrect allergy information from a staff member at a branch of burger chain, Byron.  Owen was allergic to milk and unknowingly ate a product that had been cooked using buttermilk.  There was no information on the restaurant’s menu to say that the dish contained dairy products.

In all cases, it’s best practice for staff to be fully briefed on products containing allergens and, ideally, ask customers if they have any food allergies when they order.  Menus should contain allergy information too, even if not required by law.

If you’re unsure whether Natasha’s Law applies to your business, contact the Food Standards Agency for advice.