If you’re vegan, coeliac or perhaps require your food to be Halal, you know how much of a pain it can be to identify and confirm that the food you’re buying meets your dietary requirements, right? Now, imagine being in a position where if you were to accidentally eat food that didn’t meet those requirements, it could make you severely ill or even kill you in some cases.
Switch out those dietary requirements for severe food allergies, and this is exactly what thousands of people are currently facing every day. The inadequate display of ingredient information on a food item that was Pre-Packaged for Direct Sale (PPDS) led to the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse in 2016, resulting in the passing of Natasha’s Law, which will officially come into force from October 2021.
Although the law is aimed at businesses who make and sell PPDS food items, there is certainly also a lot to be considered by restaurants, takeaways and other venues that prepare and serve food to order...
What Is Natasha’s Law?
Natasha’s Law is an amendment to UK Food Information requirements, which will make it the legal responsibility of every business selling PPDS foods to provide full ingredient lists on their packaging. This is to ensure that every ingredient that could potentially cause any kind of allergic reaction is clearly listed, and risk to your customers is therefore minimised.
Natasha Ednan-Laperouse’s death in 2016 came as a result of an anaphylactic reaction to sesame seeds which were not listed as an ingredient in a Pret A Manger baguette, a tragedy which the new law aims to ensure will never occur again.
Businesses who fail to comply with Natasha’s Law, and do not adequately list all of their ingredients on PPDS food items will be committing a criminal offence from October 1st, and may face financial penalties as a result… although personally we think the moral duty to keep your customers safe is a far more important concern.
Which Hospitality Businesses Will The Law Affect?
Any coffee shop, deli, bakery or other business selling sandwiches, pies, snacks or cakes for example, that are made and packaged onsite MUST list every ingredient used in the process, so as to ensure that customers have full access to any allergen information that may be required. This also applies to pubs, bars, street food vendors and any other business selling pre-packaged food made by hand.
If you’re a restaurant, takeaway, pub etc that only serves table service or takeaway food cooked to order, you do not need to list every ingredient on your menu. The new law is aimed specifically at PPDS foods which are then sold off the shelf or from a refrigerator.
However, it is essential for these ‘cooked to order’ businesses to understand that the introduction of Natasha’s law has undoubtedly re-highlighted the importance of previously passed allergen legislation. Venues serving food prepared to order have been required to display ingredient allergen information for the past seven years, but are these businesses doing enough to ensure that tragic cases such as Natasha’s are avoided in the future, be it from a PPDS sandwich or a meal cooked in a restaurant?
What Should ‘Cooked To Order’ Venues Be Considering?
Currently, ‘allergy information’ for cooked to order meals can be as little as one line of small print at the bottom of an A4, telling allergy sufferers to ‘please ask a member of staff’ for ingredient information. Customers are expected to trust entirely in the knowledge of staff in a high pressure and high turnover environment, which presents a number of challenges.
Firstly, the risk of human error is very real. Staff turnover is high right now, resulting in a constant need for expensive and time consuming re-training or updating of allergen sheets, during a period in which time is most definitely money. If you’re a table service/takeaway venue, you need to be considering the quality of this training, as well as the potential consequences for your customers if it’s rushed, or your staff cannot readily access the correct information.
Additionally, not only is staff turnover high, but there is also just a general shortage across the industry. Pair fewer staff with an influx of business as lockdown restrictions end, and your customer experience is at a real risk of taking a hit! This is a vital consideration for hospitality businesses right now, particularly independents, and with food allergies continuing to rise among the UK population, time spent relaying allergy information to customers is only going to increase.
So, What Do You Need To Do?
If you sell PPDS food - You need to ensure that you are fully aware of ALL ingredients in your PPDS items, and that you are listing them clearly and completely on your packaging. Whether it’s peanut oil in which an ingredient is cooked or sesame seeds in a particular bread, it MUST be on the packaging.
With the pandemic having created a large shift towards digital menus and online ordering even for PPDS items from cafes, delis and bakeries etc, we highly recommend listing them here as well, to back up the information on your packaging. Why not provide additional online ingredient and allergen resources on your website too? That way, you know you’ve done your moral duty to ensure the safety of your customers, your business is covered, and you’re sure to see people returning time and time again.
If you serve table service or takeaway food ‘cooked to order’ - While you don’t need to provide full ingredient lists, you should consider listing full allergen information on your menu itself, to free up your staff. This improves the experience of your customers in two ways: 1. They have the allergen information they need readily available without having to wait for a member of staff to be free, and can begin making decisions about their order, and 2. Your staff can continue serving and interacting with customers in alternative ways that enhance the service, which in the current hospitality climate, can only be considered as a good thing!
We may be biased (wink), but you should also take your menu digital and away from the usual printed options. Again, this enables your customers to access the fully listed allergen information that you’ve added to your menu instantly, without having to wait for staff to be available. You can also avoid the expense and headache of having to re-print every menu if 1 minor allergen change is made, and updates can be made in one place and applied to multiple items at once… unless you’re using a PDF menu that is.
Of course these suggestions pose logistical issues, as most online menu systems don’t provide the capabilities to list allergens in this way, which is exactly why we created our new EMenu allergen filters, to give you the support that you need at a time when you need it most! You can now label allergen information down to every last ingredient via our system, and display it clearly and aesthetically to your customers directly on your digital menu.
Your customers can also then filter through to cater for their allergy, for example by selecting that they are allergic to peanuts, and everything containing that allergen will be automatically removed from your menu! These filters also work for dietary requirements such as vegan, coeliac and Halal, so not only do your customers feel catered for and looked after, but their experience at your venue is also smoother, more efficient, and we bet you they’ll be back for more!
This feature is currently available for free with your EMenu, and we can have your menu built for you within 24 hours. Get in contact today, and we’ll resolve this headache for you.