In the guide
- Common descriptions used in catering
- Portion sizes
- Protected food names
- Other legal labelling requirements
- Good practice
- Calorie labelling
- Trading standards
- Key legislation
Note: although the United Kingdom has left the European Union, certain pieces of legislation (formally known as 'retained EU law') will still apply until such time as they are replaced by new UK legislation; this means that you will still see references to EU regulations in our guidance.
This guidance is for England and Wales
There are fewer labelling requirements for food sold from catering establishments* than for prepacked food, but any information that you do provide must be accurate and not misleading. This applies to all information, whether provided in writing (such as on a menu or chalkboard) or verbally (in response to a customer's question, for example).
[*'Catering establishments' includes restaurants, canteens, pubs, clubs, schools or similar, and mobile caterers such as fast food vans.]
Common descriptions used in catering
Only products made from complete wholetails of the species Nephrops norvegicus may be referred to as 'wholetail scampi' or 'scampi'. The term 'wholetail scampi' must not be used for products made from reformed scampi pieces; this product must be described as 'reformed scampi'.
This description can only be used where the prawns are one of three specific species of prawn listed in Defra's Commercial Designations of Fish document and are the correct size.
This description can only be used where the prawns are one of the species listed in Commercial Designations of Fish that may be described as such.
Chicken fillet and breast
These terms must not be used where the chicken has been chopped and shaped. Care must also be taken to check that you are not buying chicken with added water and other proteins, such as from another animal species or derived from milk. If your chicken should be labelled as containing other ingredients, you may break the law if you fail to make it clear to consumers that the product does not contain 100% pure chicken meat.
Sausages, beef burgers, pasties, pies, sausage rolls, etc have legal compositional requirements regarding the minimum meat content. 'Composition of meat products' has more information about the specific requirements of these foods.
A food cannot be called a sausage, pasty, etc unless it complies with the minimum meat content for that product. Products described as 'ham' should be sliced from a whole cured piece of meat from the hindquarters of a pig. Products that are from the shoulder or are 'formed', 'reformed' or contain more than 5% water by weight of the finished product must be correctly described - for example, 'Cured formed pork shoulder with not more than 10% added water'.
This description should not be used where a food has been steamed and flash roasted. It should only be used when a meat has been subjected to conventional oven cooking for at least 30 minutes at a temperature high enough to give all the characteristics of roasted meat.
This description should only be used where the product has been subject to a smoking process. Where only a smoke flavouring has been added, the description 'smoke flavour' should be used.
Vegetarian / vegan
Any vegetarian dishes must have been produced without any contact or contamination with meat, fish or seafood. This includes using separate oils for frying vegetarian dishes and careful checking of sauce ingredients. Some cheeses contain rennet, which is an animal by-product and therefore may not be suitable for vegetarians; similarly Worcestershire Sauce may contain anchovies. You should also ensure that you have separate chopping boards and utensils to avoid cross contamination.
What different people consider to be 'vegan' varies greatly and, as such, even greater care must be taken when describing dishes as vegan. To avoid complaints regarding vegan dishes it is best to avoid ingredients that involve animals in any stage of their production; strict vegans will not eat honey or eggs, for example.
Note: there is no legal definition of vegetarian or vegan.
Free from nuts, wheat, milk, shellfish
You need to provide information to consumers about which allergens each of your products or dishes contains. Particular care should be taken with food described as suitable for allergy sufferers, either via a written description or verbally. You need to exercise extreme caution, particularly in relation to nut allergic consumers who could suffer a fatal reaction from minute levels of contamination. For more information see 'Food allergens and intolerance'.
A health claim is any claim that states, suggests or implies that there is a relationship between health and a food. Common examples used in catering establishments include 'healthy', 'superfood' and 'good for you'.
Health claims can be made in any medium, including on menus, noticeboards, etc.
Health claims are permitted but should generally be avoided; only certain claims can be made and you must provide mandatory information alongside them.
For more information see 'Nutrition and health claims'.
Other commonly misdescribed food or ingredients
- 'imitation cheese analogue' described as 'cheese' on pizzas
- 'crab' when the product is made from 'crabsticks'
- 'margarine' described as butter - for example, 'bread and butter'
- 'non-brewed condiment' described as 'vinegar'
Descriptions - such as 'pancake rolls (6)' or '1⁄2 duck' - must be accurate.Back to top
The law sets maximum levels for colours in various foods, and only certain colours may be used. Some sauces, such as sweet-and-sour and tandoori spice mixes, have occasionally been found to contain excess colours. Care should be taken when making these if you use colours or mixes containing colours. More information can be found in 'Colours in food'.Back to top
Protected food names
Cornish Pasties and Traditional Cumberland Sausages are two examples of products that have been accredited with protected status. Any products using these names must comply with the compositional and/or origin requirements. More information on protected food names, including a list of UK registered names, is available on the GOV.UK website.Back to top
Other legal labelling requirements
Food containing irradiated ingredients must show a description stating they are 'irradiated' or 'treated with ionising radiation'.
Raw milk must have an accompanying description: 'Milk supplied in this establishment has not been heat-treated and therefore may contain organisms harmful to health'.
If a cheese has been made from unpasteurised milk a suitable warning should be given.
Customers must be notified of any food that has been cooked using genetically modified (GM) oil.
If you choose to give information about calorie or other nutrient content of your dishes we would suggest that you obtain advice from your local trading standards or environmental health service (depending on the arrangements in your area).Back to top
- check that the descriptions you provide are correct and match those given by your supplier (on order forms, delivery documents, invoices or on product packaging) - for example, if the supplier description is 'reformed scampi', the menu description should also be 'reformed scampi'. Check with your supplier if you are in any doubt about the accuracy of your descriptions
- remember that product specifications may change over time, so you need to keep checking
- take particular care when you change supplier
- advise customers of any changes to product descriptions. If the change is permanent, the menu will need to be amended
- always ensure that you and all employees follow the instructions supplied with any seasoning / colour. If there are no instructions, or if they are not clear, ask your supplier for further details in writing. Do not guess or rely on verbal information
From 6 April 2022, larger restaurants, cafes, takeaways, etc in England will have to provide calorie information for the food and drink that they sell. This will make it easier for consumers to make informed, healthier decisions when making purchases.
Smaller businesses, although not required to provide the calorie labelling information, are encouraged to do so.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has produced guidance on the new requirements.Back to top
For more information on the work of trading standards services - and the possible consequences of not abiding by the law - please see 'Trading standards: powers, enforcement and penalties'.Back to top
Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers
Last reviewed / updated: September 2021
In this update
Link added to DHSC guidance on upcoming calorie labelling requirements