In the guide
This guidance is for England
EU Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers contains some basic requirements that most food must be labelled with: the food name, ingredients list, a percentage quantity indication for certain ingredients (known as QUID - quantitative ingredient declaration), the net quantity, a use-by date or minimum durability indication, storage conditions, name / address of food business operator responsible for 'placing on the market', place of origin, instructions for use and nutrition information.
There are other specific additional labelling requirements, including those relating to allergenic ingredients, irradiated foods, genetically modified foods, alcoholic drinks, etc. There are also guidelines in relation to any labelling claims.
There is a general requirement that the label (and any other information, such as that given in advertisements or on websites) must not be misleading and must be accurate, clear, and easy for the consumer to understand.
The requirements cover the labelling of food that has been packaged or imported into the European Union market by or on behalf of retailers, wholesalers or manufacturers, for retail sale from premises other than at the place of packing.
What labelling is required?
The labelling requirements are complex and vary from product to product. There are certain basic requirements for all food labels. They are as follows:
- a food name. This should be the one that is required by law or a customary name. If neither of these apply, the name must be sufficiently precise to inform a purchaser in the UK of the food's true nature and distinguish it from products with which it could be confused. (Note: a brand name or fancy name can still be used provided it is not substituted for the proper name)
- a list of ingredients, in descending order, by weight
- a percentage quantity indication for certain ingredients or categories of ingredients (also known as a 'QUID' declaration)
- a use-by date or an indication of minimum durability (in the form 'best before' or 'best before end'). A lot or batch number may also be added (unless the date is sufficient to specify this)
- the net quantity
- any special storage or use conditions
- the name and address of the responsible food business operator
- place of origin, if its omission could mislead
- any instructions that are necessary to use the food
- a nutrition information declaration consisting of the energy value and the amounts of fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, salt and protein
The above is a brief summary of the requirements. There are specific rules about the details of each of these indications and the manner in which they are presented, which also need to be followed. For example:
- if your product contains any additives (such as colours or preservatives) its name or 'E' number must be preceded by the category name of the principal function of the additive in the ingredients list
- certain information (such as the name, quantity declaration and alcoholic strength) must be in the same field of vision on a label. All the information must be clearly legible and the name must not be interrupted by other words or pictures
There is a minimum font size for the mandatory information.
Some products also have specific additional labelling requirements. For example:
- jam requires a fruit and sugar (soluble solids) content declaration
- chocolate requires a percentage-cocoa-solids declaration and milk chocolate requires a percentage-milk-solids declaration
- beef is required to be labelled with specific origin and traceability information
- baby food requires a statement of the minimum age of child for which it is suitable
Other labelling requirements
Specific additional information must be included on the label if it applies to the food. For example:
- specified allergenic ingredients must be indicated in the ingredients list of prepacked food and alcoholic drinks by means of highlighting (such as a different font type or colour) unless the allergen is already included as part of the name of the food
- alcoholic drinks with an ABV greater than 1.2% need to declare their strength (percentage - volume)
- food or ingredients that have been irradiated must be declared and labelled 'irradiated' or 'treated with ionising radiation'
- food or ingredients that contain, consist of, or are produced from genetically modified organisms are subject to special labelling requirements
- raw milk that has not been heat-treated is required to be marked with a warning
- certain frozen foods must be marked with their date of first freezing
- certain reformed meat and fish products need to state that they are 'formed' in the name; added water may need to be declared if the product has the appearance of real meat or fish
- if food has had its shelf life increased by being packaged in certain gases, it must be marked 'packaged in a protective atmosphere'
- foods that contain liquorice, sweeteners, both sweeteners and sugar, aspartame, or polyols are required to have specific labelling declarations alongside the food name
- foods with a high caffeine content must be marked as not suitable for children, or pregnant or breast-feeding women
- products consisting of skimmed milk together with non-milk fat that are not specifically formulated for babies and young children must be labelled with a warning that the product is not suitable for feeding babies
- there are special rules concerning the labelling of food as 'organic'
- there are guidelines to be followed when words such as 'natural' are used
- there are guidelines to be considered concerning descriptions of foods as suitable for vegetarians or vegans
- there are special considerations relating to the use of illustrations
Nutrition & health claims
The food label may make claims about the nutritional properties of the food - for example, 'low fat' - and/or the potential health benefits consuming the food may have. These claims are controlled by EU Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods and the Nutrition and Health Claims (England) Regulations 2007 and the Welsh equivalent.
Any claims must be permitted by the Regulations. See the Department of Health guidance on Nutrition and health claims and the EU register of permitted claims for more information. The Department of Health has also produced Technical guidance on nutrition labelling under EU Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011.
If the food (or any advertising for the food) makes a claim that consuming it can treat or be a remedy for cancer, or it gives any advice in connection with the treatment of cancer this is an offence under the Cancer Act 1939.Back to top
All food must comply with traceability requirements (see the European Commission factsheet Food traceability). Some foods, such as beef and honey, have specific labelling requirements for traceability but others need to follow general guidelines to ensure that you know which supplier individual foods come from, and to whom you have supplied your goods if they go to another business.Back to top
Failure to comply may result in an improvement notice being issued, requiring compliance to be achieved. If the improvement notice is not complied with it is an offence under the Food Safety Act 1990. The maximum penalty is a fine and two years' imprisonment.
If allergen information does not comply with the requirements it is an offence under the Food Information Regulations 2014. The maximum penalty is an unlimited fine.Back to top
EU Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 laying down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing the European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters of food safety
EU Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers
Last reviewed / updated: December 2016