Allergen Law Tightening Means Insurance Should be on the Menu

Food safety legislations is being reinforced and extended, with the arrival of ‘Natasha’s Law’, which should be in place within two years and this means that insurance protection is likely to become even more relevant for food service operators.

The extension of the law follows the case of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered an allergic reaction to sesame seeds – a key allergen that was not noted on the packaging of the sandwich she ate. Right now, the law does not require this, but it soon will, with the date of introduction for the extension of the current legislation anticipated to be summer 2021.

At that point, full ingredients labelling will be required on pre-packaged food, closing a current allergen loophole. Pret a Manger – the food retailer involved in the Ednan-Laperouse case – has already adopted this practice in over 60 of its outlets and is rolling it out across its nationwide chain.

Having seen not just Natasha suffer from its food choices, the retailer is also taking other measures such as removing allergens from recipes used, upgrading staff training and installing information on handheld tablets that can become a reference point for what each dish or menu item contains. It will also be issuing a quarterly allergen report.

The actions of Pret show that there is no need to delay when it comes to this law and, in fact, businesses could be well-advised to adopt full ingredient labelling voluntarily, well ahead of summer 2021. This opinion in reinforced by DEFRA – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – which says: “Businesses do not need to wait for the law to change to do the right thing.”

Not doing “the right thing”, could result in a business facing enormous fines, legal costs and reputational damage. All of these outcomes could lead the business into insolvency or even see a director or other officer of the business imprisoned.

And, it is not all about full ingredients labelling. The UK has other allergen laws in place, as referenced here (https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/allergen-guidance-for-food-businesses) and these include legally declaring if any of 14 named allergens are present in the recipes of food served.

Claims in this area can be true, fraudulent or ill-advised. Whichever scenario applies, any resulting court case comes at a high cost to the pocket or company bank account and so legal expenses insurance could be viewed as essential-to-have.

Other insurances that should be in place are public liability cover – in case any member of the public is harmed by undeclared allergen-bearing food, or perhaps food poisoning. Employee liability protection is needed by most businesses as a legal requirement.

The odds of escaping an issue are not really stacked in the food business’s favour. Around, 4,500 people in the UK are admitted to hospital with food allergy-related issues every year and each 12-month period sees around 10 food allergy deaths. One-in-twelve children are affected by food allergies or intolerances, as are two per cent of adults.

With the spotlight firmly on allergens, it is essential to act, so matter where your business sits in the food-retailer chain. If you need assistance getting the right insurances and health and safety systems in place to protect your business, please get in touch.