What you need to label and what you don’t: guidance for Food Outlets, Shops and Cafes
On 1 October 2021, the requirements for Prepacked for Direct Sale (PPDS) food labelling changed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It’s expected that Scotland will soon follow suit.
The new labelling requirements – known as Natasha’s Law – require all ingredients to be listed on the packaging of Pre-packaged for Direct Sale food.
The measures have been introduced to help protect consumers by providing potentially life-saving allergen information on the packaging, and to make ‘grab and go’ food safer for the thousands of people living with food intolerances and diseases such as coeliac disease.
But who does it affect, and what do you have to do?
What is Natasha’s Law?
Natasha’s Law was established following the death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered a fatal allergic reaction caused by a pre-packaged baguette which had sesame seeds baked into the dough. At the time, the baguette did not require allergen labelling.
Natasha’s Law legally requires ANY retailer, producer or re-seller to provide the FULL ingredients on Pre-packaged for Direct Sale food, with ingredients that can cause an allergic reaction (such as wheat, nuts and eggs) highlighted in some way.
This information must be provided on a sticker or label on the food itself, it’s not enough to have it listed alongside it.
Who does it affect?
Simply put, it affects anyone who either produces pre-packaged for Direct Sale food or sells it on.
If you sell pre-wrapped sandwiches or cake, or boxes of sausage rolls for example – anything that the consumer can ‘pick up and pay’ – these must be pre-labelled with every ingredient.
It could also affect you if you sell food from a display unit, keep products behind a counter, and even some food sold at mobile or temporary outlets.
If you buy in food that is already pre-packaged by the food producer and are literally putting it on your own shelf, it is the producer’s responsibility to label the goods, but your responsibility to check it has been done.
What exactly is classed as Pre-packaged for Direct Sale food?
Pre-packaged for Direct Sale food is that which is packaged at the same place it is offered or sold to consumers.
It is a single item that is ready to be picked up by a customer in its packaging and taken straight to the till, and which won’t be altered in any way during the buying process.
The most common examples are pre-packaged, ready-to-go sandwiches, or slices of wrapped cake.
If you prepare sandwiches on-site first thing in the morning and put them in the display case for sale that day, then all of these will need to be fully labelled.
Similarly, if you are buying in sandwiches from a supplier, then these should already be labelled.
What isn’t classed as Pre-packaged for Direct Sale Food?
Any food that is loose, not already packaged or not yet created (e.g. a made-to-order baguette).
So loaves, buns and rolls displayed loose on the shelf in a bakery or carved cooked meats in a delicatessen or hot counter wouldn’t fall under the requirements of Natasha’s Law.
Food made to order or food requested from an open display (e.g. a hot sausage roll) and then placed into packaging doesn’t count either.
Food is also not classed as PPDS if it does not have any packaging at all, or can be changed without opening the packaging, for example a fresh cake served on an open plate or a baguette on an open cardboard tray.
Do I need to update the label if the consumer asks for extra ingredients to be added to the food?
The food must always be labelled to reflect its ingredients when it is first packed.
After it has been packed and labelled, if you then remove it from its packaging at the request of the customer to add further ingredients, you wouldn’t then need to label it again to reflect the changes.
However you should provide information in some form in relation to allergen information relating to the additional ingredients.
Do I need to label food displayed under protective domes?
If the food under a dome is a single item in packaging (so a prewrapped flapjack for example), this would be classed as PPDS food, and so would require labelling.
If you have a large cake under a dome however, where the intention is to slice it up and serve loose on a separate plate, this would not be classed as pre-packaged for direct sale food.
So what do I need to do in order to comply?
The first thing you should do is look at the whole of your food offering, to understand what foods you are legally required to label.
If you’re buying food in that is already pre-packaged for direct sale, the food producer should have already done this.
For food that you produce and package yourself for direct sale, you’ll need to find a way of labelling them that works for you.
Most food producers are looking at an electronic label maker as a quick and easy way of creating stickers to attach onto packaging.
These aren’t overly expensive and more importantly, they create a consistent result that is less prone to human error than handwritten labels for example.
For smaller producers, handwritten labels may be the most cost-effective answer, however this can quickly become time consuming and leaves you more at risk of inconsistencies … not to mention it requires someone with neat handwriting!
What about the rest of the food on display?
Whilst there is currently no legal requirement to label or display the ingredients for food that doesn’t fall into the PPDS category, many food producers and retailers are choosing to do so.
As consumers get used to seeing full ingredients on ‘grab and go’ food, it’s reasonable to think they will expect the same visibility on loose, display food.
Printed Price Tags and Food Tags are a common sight in Cafes, bakeries and delicatessens in Europe, but they’re starting to increase in popularity here in the UK.
Displaying ingredients (especially the main allergens) at point-of-sale through Food Tags has a number of benefits:
- It allows customers to make an informed choice without asking a member of staff for help
- It reduces the risk of human error, for example of a staff member being unsure about ingredients or forgetting to mention a potentially life-threatening allergen
- It gives you a consistent approach across the whole of your offering, giving customers greater confidence.
For further information on Natasha’s Law, including allergen specific guides for individual producers, see the Food Standards Agency.