Enhanced allergen labelling requirements to be implemented by 2021

A new law requiring food businesses to include full ingredient labelling on food prepared and sold on site will be introduced by the summer of 2021.

An estimated two million people in the UK are living with a diagnosed food allergy and, as a result of the recent tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who died after suffering an allergic reaction to a shop-bought baguette, the labelling requirements in respect of food allergens have been brought into sharp focus.

This article will look at how the law in this area is set to change.

The current law

The current law on allergen information to be placed on food packaging or otherwise passed to the customer is complex and the allergen information provided largely depends on how and where the product is made, and where it is subsequently packaged and sold. In summary, the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulations (EU FICR) list 14 major allergens and stipulate how food businesses must label the foods they produce containing those allergens. In respect of food prepared and sold on the same site (which is the case at several food chains), the law requires food business operators to make information available to customers about the 14 allergens listed in the EU FICR.

The law allows for a food business operator to make that information available to customers “by any means the operator chooses”, including verbally, subject to it being made known to the customer (for example, via on-site signage) that they can obtain the information in that way. The Food Standards Agency reports that over 50% of young people suffering from a food allergy avoid eating out due to difficulties associated with obtaining basic allergen information and it is thought that ‘light touch’ regulation is to blame.

Consultation

Towards the end of January this year, the government launched a consultation on proposed amendments to the current legal framework for allergen information labelling information, with the focus on foods packed on the same premises from which they are sold. Running from January to March this year, the consultation proposed four different potential options for reform of the law. The consultation involved input from young adults who suffer from allergies, healthcare professionals, food businesses and local authorities.

The four different options put forward under the consultation were:

  • The production of best practice guidance
  • Application of “ask the staff” labels
  • Application of a name of the food and allergen information ticket
  • Provision of full ingredients labels.

Over 70% of participants voted for full ingredient list labelling as opposed to the more relaxed alternatives. The Food Standards Agency also backed this option and the government intends to proceed with this option by way of amendments to the Food Information Regulations 2014, with the changes coming into force in 2021, requiring full ingredient labelling for food made and sold on the same site.

It is already the case that some food businesses around the country have started to improve their labelling practices. The government are now encouraging all businesses to do the same so they can ensure they are compliant with the new law by summer 2021.

Read other items in Health, Safety and Environment Brief - September 2019