Food labels are there to give us information on what we are eating - this gives us, as the consumers, more of a choice. There are regulations that prevent manufacturers misleading food labels. Please see our advice leaflets for further information.
What is required on packaging?
- name of the Food
- list of Ingredients - Including allergens
- durability date ie best Before/Use By
- net quantity
- name and address
- special claims including origin
- nutritional information
The Name of the Food
This must take one of three forms:
- name of a product required by law, eg. milk chocolate
- the customary name of a product, eg. doughnut
- name or short description that suitably describes the product and ensures that consumers do not to confuse it with other similar products
Certain 'common' names for foods cannot be used if the percentage composition of the product does not meet the requirements. For example, a burger cannot be labelled 'Beef Burger' if the beef content is less than 62% lean beef.
The name has to describe what type of food it is, and what processes it has undergone, if any, eg. smoked salmon.
List of Ingredients
If the product contains more than two individual ingredients, a full list of all the ingredients must be given. These must be given in descending weight order as at the time of preparation. Most 'additives' must be stated in order of function and serial or specific name e.g. preservative: E220 or preservative sulphur dioxide.
Flavouring may simply be labelled as 'flavours' omitting specific names. Modified starch may simply be referred to as 'Modified Starch'
Allergenic ingredients must be identified in the ingredients list, emphasised or highlighted in a different typeset for example whey (from MILK) or couscous (wheat)
On most pre-packed, perishable goods, there will be a set of storage instructions which will guide the consumer on how to keep the product as fresh as possible and for as long as possible. These can be important for maintaining food safety eg. 'refrigerate after opening'
Use By Dates
'Use By' labels are placed on fresh produce that can deteriorate and even become unsafe to eat over short time periods eg. fish, fresh meat, meat products and milk.
Advice for consumers on use by dates:
- even if the food or drink looks and smells fine, don't use it
- the 'Use By' date can only be a valid guide if you follow the storage instructions on the packaging. For example, milk will go off a lot quicker if you do not keeps it refrigerated
- the term 'Use By' does not necessarily mean 'Eat By', if the food is suitable, it's life can often be extended by freezing it
- make sure you always follow relevant cooking/preparing/storage instructions as stated on the packaging
- beware, some products may have a specific 'Use By' date but if it is opened, must be consumed within a certain time. However, if the 'Use By' date is tomorrow, you must consume the product by the end of tomorrow
Best Before Dates
'Best Before' dates tend to appear more on more stable or non-perishable goods, such as canned, frozen and dried produce.
Advice for consumers on best before dates:
- 'Best Before' dates refer more to the quality rather than the safety of the product and indicate a date up until which a food will stay at a reasonable eating quality
- the 'Best Before date can only be a valid guide if you follow the storage instructions on the packaging. To enjoy the food at it's best, be sure to adhere to these instructions
Other dates that may be marked next to the 'Use By' or 'Best Before' dates may be the 'Display until' or 'Date Frozen' dates which are merely there to help shops with stock control and are of no relevance to shoppers.
Name and Address
The product must be labelled with the name and address of the manufacturer, packer, importer or seller of the product. This can usually be used if the consumer wishes to make a comment about the product, directly to the company.
A product must always state its country of origin if its absence could be misleading to a consumer, eg. an Italian pizza made in the UK.
This will become compulsory for the majority of products on 13th December 2016. However, manufacturers are required to provide nutritional Information if the product makes a claim such as 'low fat' or 'high in fibre'. However, if a company voluntarily decides to provide this information then it must comply with certain regulations.
The following declarations must be present and appear in the following order in the same field of vision
Per 100g or Per 100ml
- Energy - kcal/kJ
- Fat - g
- of which saturates - g
- Carbohydrates - g
- of which sugars - g
- Protein - g
- Salt - g
Recommended average daily energy allowances
Recommended average daily energy allowances
|Recommended average daily energy allowances
Age 1 to 3 years
Age 4 to 6 years:
Age 7 to 10 years:
70 kcal/kg (2000 kcal/day)
Age 11 to 14 years
Age 15 to 18 years:
Age 19 to 24 years:
Age 25 to 50 years:
Age over 51 years:
Some foods are sold in so-called 'prescribed quantities' eg. all pre-packed bread is sold in multiples of 400g. Virtually all food must display a quantity. All the information on quantities refers to 'Net Weight' ie. the weight without the packaging.
Quantitative Ingredient Declarations (QUID)
QUID declarations are made as a percentage of the ingredient or of the entire product when the ingredient or category of ingredient is:
- highlighted by labelling or picture eg. 'extra cheese'
- mentioned in the name of the product eg. 'Cheese and onion pasty'
- normally connected with the name by the consumer eg. fruit in a summer pudding
Labels such as "Low Calorie", "Diet", "High in Polyunsaturates", "Rich in Vitamins", must be clearly justified on the nutrition information. There are also specific regulations on claims, which must be adhered to.
When the item is sold to the ultimate consumer, the packaging must be completely sealed.
Labelling of Alcoholic Drinks
Alcoholic drinks, which contain more that 1.2% alcohol must be labelled as such. In fact, the specific alcohol content must be stated on the packaging in the form of "Alcohol X%" or "Alc X%". This must also be given to drinks sold in pubs and restaurants.
Labelling of Genetically Modified Foods
Genetic modification is where genes in an organism are allowed to carry information and instructions for a particular feature using biotechnology.
This technology has been used in a number of different ways to aid food manufactures and suppliers. Some of these features include an extended storage life or nutritional value of food.
The Food Standards Agency recognises that not everyone will want to buy GM foods, however carefully they have been assessed for safety. All foods that contain GM food must be labelled accordingly.
For more information on the sales, testing and safety of GM foods, visit the Food Standards Agency website.
Labelling of Organic Foods
All organic produce must only contain food, which has been farmed organically. This means not using fertilisers or pesticides, which have not been approved to be organic. It also means that the land, on which the food has been grown, has been farmed organically during the conversion period (normally two years). Only then can a product be sold as organic.
Manufacturers of organic food are permitted to use some approved non-organic products, so long as 95% of the ingredients are, in fact organic.
If the organic ingredients make up only 70-95% of a particular product, it may NOT be labelled an organic product. However, the organic ingredients may be specified on the packaging.
Labels on food sold, as 'organic' must indicate the organic certification body that the processor or packer is registered with. The labels must include a code number, and the name or trademark of the certification body may also be shown.
It is not always possible to make products entirely from organic ingredients, since not all ingredients are available in organic form.
It is now a legal requirement for food businesses and manufacturers providing prepacked and loose food, including that of alcoholic drinks to ensure that all consumers are provided with information identifying any allergenic ingredients.
Food Allergen Rules
Guidance and materials to assist food businesses in promoting, implementing and complying with the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation, launched on 13th December 2014.
You can now ask for information about 14 allergens if used as an ingredient in the food you are buying, when you eat out. The 14 recognised allergens are Celery, Cereals containing Gluten, Crustaceans, Eggs, Fish, Lupin, Milk, Mollascs, Mustard, Nuts, Peanuts, Sesame Seed, Soya Beans and Sulphites (over 10mg/kg).
You will see allergenic ingredients emphasised (for example, using bold, italics or colours) on pre-packed foods. This means all allergen information will be found on the ingredients list only.
What the new rules will mean for you if you are a food business manufacturing pre-packed food:
You will have to emphasise allergenic ingredients (for example, by using bold, italics or colours) on the ingredients list only.
What the new rules will mean for you if you are a food business selling loose food or in food services (for example school canteens, cafes, restaurants, takeaways, caterers):
You must provide information about 14 allergens, if used as an ingredient in the food you are providing or selling. You can do this on a menu, chalkboard, website or orally, but must signpost your customers to this information.
What does Pre-packed mean?
'Pre-packed' refers to any food put into packaging before being placed on sale, when all the following things apply:-
- The food is either fully or partly enclosed by the packaging.
- The food cannot be altered without opening or changing the packaging.
- The product is ready for sale to the public or to a catering establishment.
Food and Agriculture Standards Team
Telephone: 01443 425777
Fax: 01443 425301