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From the start of October 2021, new legislation came into force requiring food businesses and manufacturers to include a full list of ingredients on pre-packed food to better inform and protect allergy sufferers, equating to 20% of the UK population. This new law follows the death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died following an allergic reaction after inadvertently eating a Pret a Manger baguette containing sesame seeds.
Despite these new regulations passing into law, as many as eight in ten businesses are unprepared for Natasha’s Law. Further research found that only 48% of employees in small independent businesses have even heard of Natasha’s law spelling out the need for education across the UK’s food and manufacturing businesses.
The new law is a huge step forwards for consumers, helping to alleviate concerns for huge numbers of at-risk individuals up and down the country. However, those food retailers which have been unable to prepare find themselves facing reputational as well as financial consequences with fines up to £5,000 per offence should they fail to comply. Failure to meet these new requirements could see employees lose their jobs or even risk the survival of the business.
Despite this being consumer-driven legislation, for the majority of businesses, changes can be smoothly managed behind the scenes. Measures must be put in place that ensure food retailers are accurately capturing and storing all ingredient details and product catalogues as the data moves through the supply chain from suppliers to buyers. As of 1st October, all ingredients on individual product packaging must be correctly labelled. In addition to this, any café, deli or shop selling pre-packaged for direct sale (PPDS) food must legally provide this information too.
To prepare, businesses can evolve their digital strategies by implementing a Product Information Management (PIM) system. They serve to help manage large product catalogues and ingredients through a centralised hub, enabling organisations to control the product data going in and out of their systems. Products are constantly changing on a seasonal basis, increasing the importance for businesses to pay close attention to the ingredients in their items and the risk of cross-contamination through the supply chain.
With the regulations in full force, businesses need to ensure their staff are fully educated. Training is required at all levels of every business, after all compliance does not simply begin at the top of a working environment. To successfully embed this process into the business, a series of courses will be essential to this next phase of food safety regulation. Whether it is online, one-on-one or in a group environment it is vital employees can share thoughts and ideas of how to make food safety a priority going forward. From here, businesses can introduce training into every employee’s induction to make it a standard routine for every individual in the impacted industries.
There are several online learning providers available which provide courses to educate businesses around the rules and regulations of food labelling and catering when it comes to food allergies. Access, a business software solutions company has created a series online course to teach individuals on the upcoming legislation. By offering additional support and training, both employees and businesses will be protected against the risks of neglecting allergens.
For businesses, their reputation will be top of the list when it comes to supporting the community of allergy sufferers. Social media and digital marketing play a pivotal role in the way brand images are formed, and consumers aren’t afraid to offer unfiltered and raw feedback if they feel a business has wronged them – especially when their health is at risk. 39% of customers only trust brands if they have interacted with them on social platforms, making it critical for all fine food retailers to evolve their communication strategy to ensure that customers have all the information they need when it comes to allergy information. Clearly and simply communicating their allergy information is an incredibly effective route to deepening customer appreciation among the millions of consumers with dietary considerations. By growing customer services and offering round-the-clock assistance to customers will help to establish a trusted status and drive loyalty.
While there are challenges along the way, the risk is far greater and too important to ignore. Not only will the legislation seek to prevent further harmful allergic reactions, but will protect the lives of millions living with food allergies in the UK. By taking action now, and implementing the measures needed to prepare for the regulations, fine food retailers can future-proof themselves against an allergy crisis that could come their way, reduce their financial and reputational risks and earn the invaluable trust of their customers.