Between late January and early March this year, the Food Standards Agency conducted a welcome open consultation on the proposed updating of their Allergen Labelling Technical Guidance, which was perhaps overdue a review anyway, but was also more urgently required in order to reflect new allergen labelling requirements for PPDS foods (i.e. Pre-Packed for Direct Sale foods) — popularly known as Natasha’s Law.
The FSA have today published a summary of stakeholder comments and their own responses to each, which you can read here.
And they’ve also published the revised document — Food Allergen Labelling and Information Requirements: Technical Guidance — which you can read here.
The bulk of the Guidance is divided into three parts — Guidance for Businesses providing Prepacked food (Part 1), non-prepacked food (Part 2) and PPDS (Part 3).
I had restricted myself to submitting a single comment concerning the draft reasoning for the requirement of gluten free oats to be emphasised (namely: “… as the product will still contain some gluten”), which I felt potentially misleading to coeliacs who can tolerate GF oats. I’m glad that this was taken on board and removed, with a clarification that the reason GF oats must be emphasised is because all oats, irrespective of gluten status, are considered ‘top 14’ allergens — a point many manufacturers continue to get wrong:
I know one issue of long-standing concern among the food allergy community was the allowance in the guidance for the expression “may contain (traces of) nuts” to cover both tree nuts and peanuts. This has now been removed, but does not appear to have been replaced by anything new, despite the stakeholder response summary suggesting wording had been ‘altered’. I imagine anyway that Precautionary Allergen Labelling guidance is an entirely separate issue — ‘may contain’ versus ‘does contain’.
There seems to be welcome clarification on another common source of confusion, concerning whether coconut, chestnuts and (especially, in my view) pine nuts are allergens covered in the ‘tree nut’ grouping. Whether or not they should be is the subject of another argument, but they presently are not, and I’m glad to see the guidance articulate that emphasising such ingredients is wrong:
However, most of the comments submitted to the FSA regard PPDS foods, and it is interesting to read through those concerns on pages 9–10 on the response document. The most valid ones relate to the consumer being able to identify what is and what is not PPDS, and whether there is a risk that an unlabelled product which technically qualifies as a non-prepacked food might give a false sense of security to the purchaser — essentially what the Ednan-Laperouse family fell victim to. This all looks set to be addressed through information campaigns in the run up to the deadline for the implementation of the legislation (October 2021).
My feeling on reading the actual Part 3 of the Guidance re: PPDS is that the FSA have done a pretty good job in keeping it brief. There’s a reasonably clear and brief definition of PPDS for instance:
Following that there’s a three-point flow chart to ‘test’ whether or not a food is PPDS, and some examples too. While there are still possible sources of confusion, for instance with regards to sites and premises, I suspect the vast majority of real-life cases will be straightforward, but a few may not be …
The Guidance gives the example of a hot-dog served on a cardboard tray as non-PPDS, because “it is packaged in a way that the food can be altered without opening or changing the packaging” — a long squirt of tomato ketchup would do it — which as per clause 90 appears to be the test for what does and doesn’t constitute “pre-packaging”. I can’t imagine the consumer understanding or even bothering to attempt to understand the subtle distinction here, and I wonder whether it will merely result in some food providers changing the way they prepare and present food for sale to avoid full labelling, rather against the spirit, one might argue, of Natasha’s Law.
Nevertheless, this guidance, to me, seems to lay the foundation from which food service providers can start to implement the required changes, and the FSA can build to inform the allergic, intolerant or coeliac consumer. No doubt over the coming year we’ll begin to see how it moves forward.