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Concerns grow over industry’s readiness for new allergen menu rules

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Four in ten people across the food industry have never heard of Natasha’s law despite the new legislation coming into effect from 1 October.   

Research from global standards firm  GS1 UK shows that 80% of food operators feel unprepared for the new regulations coming into effect.

Around 50% more chain and franchise employees had heard of Natasha’s law than those in small independent food businesses. 

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Natasha’s law will require all food businesses to provide full ingredient lists and allergen information on foods pre-packaged for direct sale in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It follows the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse after she suffered an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger baguette. 

The study of businesses – which include food manufacturers, wholesalers, grab-and-go retailers – found that 80% of chains and franchises welcome more definitive and explanatory packaging whereas this figure was less than half amongst small independent businesses (39%).  

What’s more, one fifth of small independent businesses feel the new legislation is coming in too soon and does not leave enough time to adapt, whereas just 2% of food chains and franchises held this view.  

Small, independent food businesses boomed during the Covid-19 pandemic, with an estimated 44% of all food businesses launched during lockdown being home-based.

Often selling though social media, fears have arisen that many are not registering as food businesses meaning local authorities cannot check hygiene and food standards. 

Only 48% of employees in small independent businesses have heard of Natasha’s law and are the least likely to have heard the new regulations when compared to employees in other businesses, potentially posing a major health risk to customers.

There is a stark difference when compared to the 79% of employees from chains and franchises who were aware.  

In total, 86% of business owners said it should be compulsory for food packaging to detail all possible allergens.

The research showed that chain and franchise businesses are much more likely to be putting in place measures to help navigate the changes and be compliant come 1 October.  

Yet, despite there being agreement across the board concerning the implementation of the new regulations, just over half of small and medium sized businesses have taken steps to be in a good position ahead of the new law.

Alarmingly, only 39% are providing training on types of allergens and more than one in five say that they are awaiting further training and guidance. 

Getting ready for new legislation takes time and money and 67% believe there should be more financial support from the government to help businesses with the transition.   

Six in 10 business owners are now worried about allergic reactions happening at their property - yet four in 10 do not feel 100% confident that they could answer a customer’s questions about allergens within their food items. 

This is further compounded by previous GS1 UK consumer research, which showed that 60% of sufferers do not feel comfortable asking about allergens in dishes when eating out and would rather ‘take the risk’ instead.    

Over half of those surveyed said the new law will lead to money being needed to be spent on changing packaging and crucially 50% said they would need to get more information from suppliers and find a better way to collate such information. 

The new regulations will pose problems and challenges for businesses across the supply chain. The results show that 79% of chain and franchise owners would change suppliers if current suppliers cannot provide the correct allergen information.  

Chris Tyas OBE, chair of GS1 UK and former acting director of Food Supply and chair Food Resilience Industry Forum, commented: “One of the biggest concerns surrounding Natasha’s law is whether businesses will be able to quickly and accurately get up to date allergen information – especially smaller businesses whose ingredients may change daily. Yet the research shows that these small businesses are the least prepared. 

“It is vital that the whole food supply chain has the ability to capture and access the full range of allergen data to implement the requirements of Natasha’s law. To comply successfully we believe the continued digitalisation of the supply chain is much needed.  A recommendation that is also at the heart of the recently released National Food Strategy.”  

Social awkwardness leaves two-thirds of sufferers uncomfortable asking about menu allergens

Tags : Allergensresearch
Andrew Seymour

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