Research shows that there are over 2 million food allergy sufferers in England alone.
The severity of these allergies varies dramatically. While many people can handle their intolerance of certain foods without much worry or impact on their daily lives, others have to be incredibly careful about avoiding ingredients that could cause serious harm.
Food safety labels and allergen lists are key to keeping allergy sufferers safe from accidentally ingesting or coming into contact with the foods they are allergic to. There are plenty of health and safety laws in place to ensure that this information is readily available to those who need it, and it is the responsibility of all businesses in the catering and food industries to adhere to these regulations to keep customers safe.
A new piece of legislation that is coming into effect in the coming months is to do with PPDS - food products that are pre-packed for direct sale to customers. These changes to existing food labelling laws have come as the result of several incidents in the past where correct labelling could have prevented major harm and even death to an allergy sufferer, so it is incredibly important that guidance is followed.
This article includes information on what products fall under the PPDS description, what the new food labelling regulations actually entail, and what businesses need to do to comply.
PPDS stands for pre-packed for direct sale and refers to food products that are packaged and sealed before they are selected or ordered by a customer. These products must have been packaged on the same premises or site as they are being sold, such as sandwiches or salads that are prepared in a kitchen, boxed up and then sold to customers over the counter.
Products are also classified as PPDS if they have been packaged in one location and taken by the same business/provider to a temporary point of retail such as a stall, marquee or mobile sales vehicle, where they are then sold to consumers.
The packaging around a PPDS item can either be fully or partially enclosing it, but must be sealed so that the food product cannot be altered with opening or affecting the packaging. This ensures that no additional allergens can come into contact with the food after it has been correctly labelled and before it has been sold.
PPDS legislation does not apply to foods that have been packaged by the retailer after they have been selected by a customer but before they have been sold. In these cases, ingredients and potential allergens will be listed elsewhere and should have been consulted before the purchase.
In June 2020, the Food Standards Agency published a new set of food labelling requirements which will be brought into effect on the 1st October 2021. These update the Food Information Regulations 2014 with a new amendment for England which is known as ‘Natasha’s Law’.
The PPDS food labelling requirements are named ‘Natasha’s Law’ after the case of a fifteen-year-old girl named Natasha who ate a Pret a Manger sandwich at Heathrow Airport in July 2016. Natasha was allergic to sesame seeds, which had been baked into the bread but not included as an allergen on any of the sandwich packaging. She died of anaphylaxis shortly after eating the sandwich, which prompted a legal movement to improve the way that prepackaged food is labelled so that similar events are avoided in the future.
Natasha’s Law guidance states that all food products that are pre-packed for direct sale must include a list of all the ingredients present somewhere on the packaging. Any allergens present in these ingredients should be made particularly obvious so that consumers have the best chance of avoiding any ingredients that might be harmful.
Article 9(1)(c) of the Food Information to Consumers (FIC) regulation states that any of the fourteen following allergens must be declared on a product’s packaging if it is present:
If a PPDS product has any of the above allergens present this must be made clear on the packaging along with a list of all other ingredients.
After 1st October 2021, any food business selling PPDS products that are found not to be complying with Natasha’s Law will face serious legal consequences.
At the moment, Natasha’s Law is only set to be enforced in England, but Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are all expected to follow suit once the changes have been put in place. Any food, catering or hospitality business that sells PPDS products will be affected by the new food labelling regulations and is advised to take action before the cutoff date of the 1st October so they have time to prepare.
Cafes or delis in England are likely to be the most affected by these new food labelling regulations, as these are the places where food is most often prepared on site and then packaged for sale in the same location. Smaller businesses may struggle to find a time and cost-effective way of labelling their products, but it is essential if you want to comply with the new food labelling laws.
Restaurants and takeaways are unlikely to be affected by Natasha’s Law, as these food establishments rarely sell PPDS products. It is still important however that you ensure all allergies are labelled as clearly as possible for everything you are serving, as well as checking verbally for any food allergies when a customer is ordering.
Natasha’s Law states that all PPDS food must clearly display the following two pieces of information on its packaging:
If any allergens are present in the ingredients then the new food labelling legislation dictates that these allergens must be made clear by either putting the words in bold, increasing their size or changing the font so that they stand out. This is so anyone looking at the ingredients for allergens cannot miss them and therefore won’t accidentally buy something they are allergic to.
Either the legal name or the customary name of the food product must be displayed clearly on the label or packaging. Some foods have certain legal names as dictated by EU or UK food law, such as ‘butter’ or ‘jam’, and some must contain a certain percentage of an ingredient to legally be classified as a certain kind of food.
Food may also be labelled with its customary name, which is a name that has come to be accepted by customers as the name of the food and requires no other description to let people know what it is. Examples of this include ‘Yorkshire pudding’ or ‘caesar salad’.
More information about legal food names can be found here.
Businesses may also choose to put a description of the food product under its name to provide more information about what is present. This can be particularly useful if the packaged food has a lot of different components, such as a salad or a sandwich.
Below the food name must be a full list of product ingredients, with any present allergens highlighted in a way so that they are visible and obvious.
It is the responsibility of the food retailer to ensure that ingredients lists are up to date and that any changes to recipes are reflected in the ingredients lists on their products. All food suppliers are legally obligated to give a full, detailed list of ingredients that are present in any product they sell to a business, so you will be able to get all the information you need from there.
It is recommended that labels for PPDS products are printed digitally to avoid human error and bring consistency to the labelling system. The text on these labels must be a sufficient size so that it is readable for those with visual impairments, and in a font that is clear and legible.
An allergen is any substance that causes an allergic reaction. When an allergen is detected, the body views it as a foreign or dangerous substance and produces an antibody in response that leads to varying levels of allergy symptoms.
All kinds of substances can be recognised as allergens, such as dust, pollen and certain kinds of material. Food allergens are particularly common, with some of the most common allergens being nuts, dairy, eggs and types of fruit.
Natasha’s Law is a new piece of food labelling legislation that is being brought in in October 2021 to ensure that all pre-packed for direct sale food is labelled with a list of all of its potential allergens. It is named after a fifteen-year-old girl who died in 2016 after consuming a sandwich with an allergen in it that led to anaphylactic shock and death; an incident that would have been prevented if the food had been individually labelled with its ingredients.
Any item of food that has been put into packaging before it goes on sale in the same location is included in PPDS legislation. This can include sandwiches that are prepared, packaged and sold on the same premises, packaged samples that have been prepared on the premises and then given away, food that has been made by an operator and taken to their own market stall to sell, or any food prepared, packaged and served at a smaller counter or retail unit within a larger retailed, like a supermarket that has deli, meat and cheese counters.
It can initially be confusing trying to understand what products are classed as pre-packed for direct sale and what you actually need to disclose on their packaging, but if you’re a food business that prepares and packs its own food then you need to get up to speed before October 2021. Correctly labelling allergens can save lives, and the extra effort needed to ensure that you are complying with Natasha’s Law is essential in staying up to date with relevant health and safety requirements.
If you’d like to find out more about the rules and regulations that affect food packaging and labelling, check out our range of Food Allergy online courses that cover everything from catering hygiene practices to allergy awareness training.