Award-Winning Chef and Author, Rozanne Stevens – Focusing on the Spirit of Natasha’s Law

Rozanne Stevens is an award-winning wholefood chef, cookery tutor, keynote speaker and sustainability champion. Stevens is the Culinary Director at The Noosphere Institute, Dublin City University’s research and development facility for plant-based foods, food production and sustainability practices. 

As a food journalist, Rozanne has written over 350 food and nutrition-based columns for The Independent and is a regular contributor to Sunday Business Post, Image Magazine, The Evening Herald, Food and Wine Magazine, and The Sunday Times. For five years, she also held a primetime food and nutrition slot on Ireland’s national radio station – RTE Radio 1.

In 2011, Rozanne launched her own brand ‘The Ish Factor’ with the publication of her first cookbook ‘Delish’ in 2011. Two years later, Stephens published the second book in The Ish Factor Series titled ‘Relish BBQ and Al Fresco Food’ which won a Best in the World Gourmand Cookbook Award.

Natasha’s Law Business Conference 2021

In July, Nutritics and its partners at the UK Food Labelling Resource, will be hosting a virtual conference aimed specifically at UK food businesses that are preparing for Natasha’s Law. In anticipation of the event we caught up with Rozanne Stevens. We started by asking about her work with Noosphere Institute and zero waste kitchens, and if she believes there’s a connection between food safety and sustainability.

Food storage, food handling, and preventing food waste are all connected. I think the main connection is that the way you treat, store or handle food should start with an attitude of respect. When you store food properly and you treat it properly, it will last longer. Of course, when foods are stored properly, you’re not breeding bacteria which can lead to food poisoning. When people think of food safety, that’s often what they think of first. But allergens in food, which are naturally occurring, are very common. It should fall under the same umbrella as food poisoning. But for some reason people don’t seem to take allergens as seriously as food poisoning and that needs to change. 

At Noosphere, we work a lot with preventing food waste. I’ve had lengthy discussions with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland around HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point), which is centred around food safety. We’ve discussed how to present HACCP to make it more accessible to workers to prevent food waste. Often people aren’t comfortable with the rules in place and end up throwing out food because it’s seen as “the safest option”.” But if you have followed the rules logically and documented everything, the food should be safe. Understand the science and the systems. Use them. And that understanding comes through training and communication. 

Focusing on the Spirit of Natasha’s Law

Prior to launching her career as a chef and food writer, Rozanne studied law in her home country of South Africa. This has left her with a unique perspective on the upcoming amendment change. From this dual vantage point, Rozanne urged food businesses to look at the introduction of new laws a little differently.

When it comes to food safety laws, I think that people often just see a mansion of rules and paperwork. They only see it as a burden or something that is generating extra work for them. But they are overlooking two important elements. The first is to consider the spirit of the law. The second is to focus on your personal responsibility and  connect with your customers on a human level. 

The spirit of the law is the ‘why’ behind the laws. It is the ‘heart’ and human element.  When we understand the why, we are less inclined to look for loopholes, cut corners or, in the case of Natasha’s Law, not label certain foods. You understand the importance and gravity. What is the spirit behind Natasha’s Law? Well, it was put in place to protect a vulnerable group, allergy sufferers. If you don’t follow the law properly, it could lead to someone having a severe reaction which could be fatal. Considering the spirit of the law gives you a complete appreciation and understanding of why the law is in existence. You look beyond the obligation and the paperwork, and see the reason behind it. 

Related to that is personal responsibility and caring about what you’re doing. When I’m preparing food or if I’m working in a kitchen, I’m very much aware that I could be feeding someone’s elderly parents, someone’s child or a vulnerable person. Having this attitude transforms it from being a ‘ticking the box’ exercise and it becomes something more meaningful. We must never forget that there is an intrinsic duty of care behind the law.” 

NASA, HACCP and the Food Lifecycle

Throughout our conversation, Rozanne mentioned the role of HACCP in her academic work. HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point) refers to procedures you must put in place to ensure the food you produce is safe. 

HACCP is the gold standard in food safety, used in both the UK and Europe. It was devised originally by NASA because they had to get food safely into outer space. They had to make sure that the food they gave their astronauts was completely safe to consume.  They didn’t want to poison astronauts on space expeditions where they couldn’t get them to a doctor!

The processes used in food safety are very much in line with allergen management as it relates closely to the food lifecycle. For food businesses carrying out correct allergen management, it should start before procurement, with menu planning, training your staff and knowing your ingredients. Knowing the ingredients is about more than just creating an itemised list but understanding the allergens and nutrient content of the foods you use. Correct allergen management involves using solutions like Nutritics, inputting all ingredients accurately and having standardised menus and recipes. Training staff is also an incredibly important part of the overall process. To use a computer science term: GiGO-Garbage In, Garbage Out. You need to input the correct information for the system to work.”

The Importance of Natasha’s Law 

A seasoned culinary arts teacher, Rozanne has taught over 10,000 students and is currently running an online education platform, The Susty Kitchen Cookery Classes. She has become an industry thought leader and is often cited as a “special dietary needs expert”. We asked her about the evolution of Natasha’s Law and its importance to the food industry. 

 “It’s an unfortunate fact of human nature that we need to legislate things to get people to act within certain boundaries. It’s important that we have a body of guidelines to refer to and laws that state what is required and what is necessary. But I think that Natasha’s Law goes beyond this. It is not just a piece of legislation. I think it has created massive awareness around this important issue and has hopefully highlighted the seriousness of allergy diseases. It has also opened up an important conversation around allergen awareness. 

For some people who don’t suffer from an allergy or have loved ones that suffer with them, they simply don’t get it. They don’t take it seriously until it personally affects them. I think Natasha’s tragic story really touched a chord with everyone and it underscored the seriousness of allergen disease and the importance of proper food labelling.”

Advice for Food Businesses as They Adapt to Natasha’s Law

Throughout our conversation, Stevens spoke of the importance of respecting people’s dietary preferences, whether or not they are related to allergy diseases. She highlighted the duty of care that falls on all members of the food industry and the need to record all nutritional information accurately. For businesses in the food sector, she also underscored the importance of first aid training and knowing what to do if a customer suffers an anaphylactic shock. As a parting message, we asked Rozanne what advice she had for UK food businesses as they adapt to the law.

“Start now. And do so in a systematic way. 

I would start with your menu planning. Then look at procurement and your pantry of ingredients. Don’t be afraid of allergenic foods. I’ve seen companies that jump through hoops to avoid allergenic foods but that’s not necessary. The one caveat I’d make is for choosing gluten-free products where possible and not using peanut or sesame oil. Easy changes which equal less chance of cross-contamination. The key is to be accurate, diligent and take your duty of care seriously. Use all the tools and technologies that are available to you. Don’t make it up as you go along. It is your responsibility to provide accurate information to allergy sufferers. They are placing their trust in you.  

In many ways, the new law is about transferring an attitude you already have and adopting it to another area of your business. Most food businesses are already incredibly vigilant when it comes to clean kitchens and preparing foods safely. Now you need to take that experience and attitude, and adopt the same level of care to your allergen labelling. It’s not about reinventing the wheel. It’s simply another layer of what you’re already doing or should be doing. It’s just that now there’s a new law enacting it.”

Rozanne Stevens is one of a number of leading allergen management and labelling experts that will be speaking at The Natasha’s Law Business Conference. The 3 day event will take place on the 6-8 July. 

Click here for more information and to register your interest.