Natasha's Law fresh olives

A mystery shop revealed 60% of independent convenience stores selling pre-packaged foods were in breach of the newly introduced allergen labelling requirements known as Natasha’s Law.

Natasha’s Law was implemented on 1 October, requiring businesses who prepare and pack fresh food for direct sale on site to list all ingredients on the packaging with allergens highlighted.

The legislation was named after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after suffering an allergic reaction from a Pret a Manger baguette.

Visits to 23 stores across London, Liverpool and Manchester between 1 and 4 October found 60% of the 15 retailers selling lines affected by the legislation were not compliant with Natasha’s Law.

The most common breach was part-baked or produced from scratch on-site bakery lines that had been bagged up but not labelled correctly.

Natasha’s Law: new food allergy legislation now applies to stores

Other breaches included home-made salad pots and bagged-in-store confectionery. Both symbol and unaffiliated stores were found to be non-compliant.

When presented with betterRetailing’s research, Jon Shayler, chief operating officer at food allergen expert Erudus, said the results were “unsurprising”.

He told betterRetailing: “Businesses haven’t had much time to focus on the law because there’s been a perfect storm of Covid-19, Brexit and delivery issues.

“The larger operators have had headroom, but the smaller independents are still fighting for their lives and they’re not coming up for air to look at the legislative changes. The Food Standards Agency could do more, but businesses are trying to ensure they are able to trade above everything else.

“Due to shortages, retailers who could only get ingredient A from one wholesaler can only get ingredient C from another supplier, so everything is changing.”

EXCLUSIVE: Stores at risk as Rollover packaging still not Natasha’s Law compliant

Shayler added that businesses visited by Erudus a day after Natasha’s Law came into force said they were unaware of how to be compliant. Stores found selling non-compliant lines face “unlimited fines” and prosecution for offences ranging up to corporate manslaughter.

Advising on how retailers can still prepare, Shayler added: “It’s about education for staff. For example, you can’t just swap butter for butter as there’s a 1% chance it might have something different.

“Get information from your wholesalers and have a recipe-building tool where you can get accurate information on ingredients and allergens.”

Supplier failures

betterRetailing also uncovered examples of manufacturers failing to ensure all of their packaging was compliant in advance of the 1 October deadline.

Messages from symbol groups seen by betterRetailing claimed that hot-food-to-go supplier Rollover had failed to rollout new packaging before the deadline and was instead sending out non-compliant packaging with separate updated stickers that stores were expected to apply themselves.

Several retailers warned Rollover’s decision to send out non-compliant packs rather than apply the new labels themselves would increase the chance of potentially fatal mistakes being made in stores.

Natasha’s Law affects all categories

One warning from a major symbol group, sent on 28 September, claimed it would be up to two weeks before Rollover successfully updates all of its packaging to be Natasha’s Law-compliant.

Asked to comment on the claims, Rollover owners Pilgrim’s Food Masters said: “With the exception of two lines, Rollover packaging has been printed and is being despatched in full accordance with Natasha’s Law.

“On these two lines, due to the pandemic, there were higher level of stock so labels are being despatched with the packaging in order for stores to comply with the legislation at point of purchase.”

The company said it was sending out non-compliant packs with labels as it “avoids the financial and environmental impact to us and our customers of writing off perfectly good packaging stock”.

Natasha’s Law explained

The law applies to all food lines packaged by staff in store except fresh fruit and vegetables. Products must be labelled with full ingredients and the 14 main allergens highlighted in bold, italics or another colour.

The main allergens are: celery, cereals containing gluten (such as barley and oats), crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs and lobsters), eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs (such as mussels and oysters), mustard, peanuts, sesame, soybeans, sulphur dioxide and sulphites (at a concentration of more than 10 parts per 1,000,000), and tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts).

Read more Natasha’s Law articles and advice for retailers