29th July 2021

Doing without… food labelling

A new law highlights the importance of knowing what goes into the food we eat.

By Eleni Chalkidou
Director of Communications, Chartered Trading Standards Institute
Putting a robust process in place ahead of changes will ensure less surprises further down the line

Traipsing through a gargantuan supermarket, my eight-year-old boy-wonder Achilles in tow, searching for guacamole, is certainly not my idea of an adventure.

When Achilles first asked for “quakeemolee”, there was no doubt I’d be buying creme fraiche, lemons and avocados to make it myself – but the shop assistant put a spanner in the works when he muffled: “If there are no avocados on the shop floor, we have none left!”

Achilles leads the way and eventually we find ourselves in what appears to be the Mexican food aisle looking at Old El Paso Squeezy Guacamole Sauce. There are few things in life I consider incredibly excruciating but reading food labels is one of them. Don’t get me wrong; I am well aware that we are very lucky in the UK, especially around food labelling, as we have some of the best laws in the world in this area.

If you are alcohol-intolerant like myself you have to check everything before you eat it to ensure it has no alcohol, as even the smallest amount could make me very ill indeed. As a child I remember being violently sick every time after communion to the point where the priest declared me possessed by the devil. Well, maybe so.

In the past this meant if an item did not have ingredients displayed, I just would not buy it. But now change is coming. Natasha’s Law, also known as the catchy UK Food Information Amendment, is on the way and according to these new rules, PPDS (Prepacked for Direct Sale) food will need to clearly display the name of the food and a full ingredients list, with allergenic ingredients emphasised in for example bold, italics or a different colour.

The amendment was brought about following the actions of a lobbying group which was led by the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a teenager who died after suffering an allergic reaction to an undeclared ingredient in a prepacked meal. The Government confirmed that stronger laws are necessary and will be implemented to protect those with food allergies.

This is likely to have a major impact on SMEs. Do I expect there to be more businesses seeking additional support from local TS services? Yes. What about an increase in complaints from members of the public if FBOs are non-compliant? Yes, that too. So as a business, how do you ensure you are Natasha’s Law ready by October 1?

Putting a robust process in place ahead of changes will ensure less surprises further down the line. Making a list of your suppliers and auditing products and ingredients can go a long way but the way this information is retained and transferred onto labels will be crucial.

To avoid accidental human error a point could be made that investing in the correct software which is fully compliant and can integrate with label printing processes may be a good idea but certainly training staff and educating them so they are fully aware of Natasha’s Law will be of paramount importance. Perhaps it is even worth appointing a food allergen champion for ongoing training and compliance.

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