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Natasha’s Law – What it Means for Your Food Business

It is unlikely you won’t have heard about Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, the teenager who tragically died from anaphylaxis after eating a Pret a Manger baguette. Unknown to her, the baguette contained sesame seeds, to which she was allergic, and she had a severe reaction which sadly killed her.

Before pointing the finger at Pret-a-manger, it should be made clear that they acted entirely within the law. Currently, any products made fresh in house do not have to contain specific allergen advice on the packaging as any consumer who might have any concerns can ask an employee in store for the relevant allergen information.

However, Michael Gove has brought forward legislation to tighten the current laws on packaged food items. All pre-packed items, including those made fresh in store, will have to carry a full list of ingredients in order to provide further protection for allergy sufferers. This would include ‘hidden ingredients’ such as bought in sauces or condiments used in the food. Businesses will have to ensure they are fully compliant with these changes by summer 2021, when the laws will come into full effect.

The legislation has been brought forward partly due to a successful campaign by Natasha’s parents. Losing a child is an unthinkable tragedy and nobody would blame them for lobbying for the law to be changed, however, is changing the law reasonable and is it realistic to implement?

Whilst transparency in business is always essential, the new laws will place a significant burden on food establishments. Businesses currently work under very stringent food hygiene laws and to impose a law which requires a 100% guarantee that there has been no allergenic cross-contamination of a product prior to sale is risky, especially to allergy sufferers themselves. There can never be an absolute guarantee due to the amount of ingredients that pass through a kitchen in any 24-hour period, however thorough the cleaning procedure is.

Once products are out on the shelf, there is also no control over who handles any given item. Hypothetically, somebody with peanut traces on their hands could handle several pre-packed food items, leaving enough peanut residue to cause a reaction from an individual with a severe peanut allergy who might subsequently pick it up. Though this is an extremely unlikely scenario, it is just one external factor over which there is no control.

Businesses should, of course, take their share of responsibility in giving the public as much information as is sensible and relevant but it is not unreasonable to expect that the onus should also be on the allergy sufferer (and those looking after them) to exercise due care in their decision making when purchasing any food items.

However, there is another angle from which this can be approached and one the FSA and Defra might consider investigating. According to Allergy UK, a Mintel report produced in 2010 found that ‘44% of British adults now suffer from at least one allergy and the number of sufferers is on the rise, growing by around 2 million between 2008 and 2009 alone.’ Not all these allergies will be food related but a very significant number will be. Therefore, it follows that it would be judicious to carry out an in-depth analysis for this exponential rise in food allergies. Such a study would help to expose root causes and could enable additional regulation to be applied at foundational level, thus proving to be a greater help to allergy sufferers and it could even be the means of preventing allergies developing in the first case.