Will new food labelling rules reduce product liability claims?

13 October 2014

As everyone in the industry knows we are in the midst one of the biggest food labelling revolutions in a generation and the tide of change shows no signs of abating.

On December 13 The Food Information to Consumers Regulations (EU Reg. 1169/2011) come into full force, requiring allergy information on non-packaged food for direct sale. The new rules build on current labelling provisions and stipulate a format for size and content of information, including nutritional values ,allergens and other prescriptive data. The 14 allergens that must be labelled are: peanuts, nuts, milk, soya, mustard, lupin, eggs, fish, shellfish, molluscs, cereals containing gluten, sesame, celery, and sulphur dioxide.

Most food producers will have already made provisions for the changes with a command structure to ensure compliance. But there are also variations to grasp about how the rules work. Delis, for instance, can display information on signs rather than individually labelling each item. Catering outlets can use menus to display mandatory information or simply inform the customer verbally. And there is a grace period for products already on the shelf by December 13…until they are sold. 

As well as helping those at risk from allergens the new measures should reduce product liability claims.  However  as consumers will rely on what they read, there’s a clear risk from incorrect labelling and accidental contamination. So where firms get the labelling wrong, they will need to print new labels quickly or use stickers to over-label non-compliant packaging. Even complimentary items need to be labelled. 

From the insurance aspect, mislabelling risk will lead to an increase in  losses from both recall and public liability claims. It is important to point out her though that these policies are only triggered by bodily damage or injury to consumers (such as an allergic reaction) and food producers/retailers may need to extend their protection to non-damage covers such as financial loss for incidents that do not lead to such damage, but still result in a loss 

To avoid potential problems it seems that a robust but simple risk management assessment of operations would be advisable. A simple expedient might be as follows: look at the rules, look at your existing practices and analyse what you need to do to fill any gaps in compliance.

For further information, please contact Jon Miller, Head of Regional Food & Agri Practice on +44 (0)121 676 7806