The tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse in 2016, following an allergic reaction to a pre-packed sandwich, prompted a major change in food labelling laws.
Many of us will know the story because of the courageous campaign waged by her parents to change food labelling rules after the 15-year-old died following an allergic reaction to sesame seeds, which were an unlisted ingredient in the pre-packed baguette.
The packaging contained no specific allergen information, and therefore Natasha thought it was safe to eat.
Changes to the law, which came into force on 1 October 2021, require any business selling pre-packed food for direct sale to include full ingredients on the product label with allergenic ingredients emphasised.
This marks a big change for all caterers and organisations providing catering services, including schools.
The stakes are high. We know that food allergies are common in children, and often include eggs, milk and nuts.
It is estimated that around one in five children has some sort of food allergy, so the potential implications of getting this wrong are huge.
Children’s immune systems react in different ways to certain foods. One type of food might be safe to eat, but the body mistakes the proteins in it as harmful and responds by producing an antibody.
Some symptoms will be more severe than others, ranging from a runny nose and itchy eyes to skin reactions, breathing difficulties, nausea, and diarrhoea.
For schools with a high concentration of pupils on-site, there are serious implications, both for children’s health and their own duty of care.
I work with hundreds of schools around the country and the safety of the food they sell on site is always a major priority for them.
Although most school catering will be run by a catering contractor, that’s not to say that school leaders can simply forget about law changes like this.
Schools should be fully aware of the regulations, how they have changed and if the legal requirements are being met to the letter so that they can ask questions of their catering contractor and challenge them if necessary. It is a crucial element of sound supplier management.
There will, of course, be schools that handle their own catering, such as standalone primaries, and they may sell pre-packed food directly to pupils have to ensure that the regulations are strictly followed. Headteachers and business managers need to be across the law changes.
The regulations for England, Wales and Northern Ireland come under the Natasha’s Law legislation and schools will need to make sure that the food and ingredients they provide pre-packaged on-site meet all the labelling requirements of the new legislation.
What do the new rules say?
So, what is Natasha’s Law? Under the new rules, food that is pre-packaged for direct sale (PPDS) must display the following clear information on its packaging:
- The food’s name.
- A full list of ingredients, emphasising any allergenic ingredients.
The Food Standards Agency has published guidance about the new requirements for PPDS food, explaining that this is classed as food that is packaged at the same place that it is offered or sold to consumers.
Therefore, if schools provide pupils with food that caterers pre-pack on-site, this will need to comply with all the necessary regulations.
It applies to food that people can select for themselves or that which is offered from behind a counter.
PPDS doesn’t apply to food that is not in packaging or is packaged after the consumer orders it, or food packed by one business and supplied to another – this must already have full labelling, including full ingredients with any allergens emphasised.
All food vendors, including schools and school caterers, should already have put the necessary changes in place but it is worth recapping so that you and your leadership colleagues know what to look out for if something is amiss.
For schools, the new labelling requirements will apply to all food they make on-site and package, such as sandwiches, wraps, salads, and cakes. It applies to food offered at mealtimes and as break-time snacks. It will also apply to food the pupils select themselves or that caterers keep behind the counter.
Natasha’s Law is a catering management issue because a key aspect of maintaining food safety standards is to be able to effectively keep track of your catering and using the best tools to manage it.
There are specific catering management questions that Natasha’s Law asks, such as ‘what is the impact for trusts with multiple sites?’ and ‘how will it affect the procurement and purchasing of catering services?’ These questions should be discussed with everyone responsible for managing catering facilities within their schools.
Robust systems should be up and running along with rigorous checking of the system to ensure that any changes of ingredients used within dishes are checked against the allergen matrix, updated when required and labels amended to reflect those changes.
A tragedy was the trigger for these big changes in food safety law, a scenario that no-one would ever want to risk repeating. With these new regulations and our diligence we can all make sure that that is the case.
Ensure your catering team have the correct controls in place by asking the following:
- Have all catering staff and catering support staff received allergy awareness training? Where are the training records retained and how frequent is the training?
- Does the catering team have all staff and student allergy requirements? How do they monitor each individual ordering the food items? Do they have a picture of the person and a list of known allergens? How often is this checked and updated?
- Has an allergen matrix been made available for dishes served? This should be dated and current to the menu offering for that day/week/fortnight and should cover all items on the menu offering.
- Have all dishes been reviewed for allergen contents? Does the catering team continue to review the individual ingredients and how frequently do they do this? Suppliers may substitute ingredients or products that previously didn’t have an allergen contained so the packaging label should be crossed checked with the school’s allergen matrix and updated when required.
- Have all purchased prepackaged items been provided with the list of all ingredients, with allergen details in bold type?
- Who is responsible for checking that food allergens are managed within the catering team to comply with the current legal requirements?
The Food Standards Agency has published guidance about the new requirements for pre-packaged for direct sale (PPDS) food, available at food.gov.uk. Further advice and support are available from Judicium’s health and safety team judiciumeducation.co.uk/health-and-safety
Graeme Holland is Head of Health and Safety at Judicium Education, advising on health and safety, HR, safeguarding, clerking/governance and data protection judiciumeducation.co.uk