In the guide

Although the United Kingdom left the European Union (EU) in 2021, certain pieces of legislation (known as 'assimilated law') continue to apply until such time as they are replaced by new UK legislation, revoked or permitted to expire. This means that our guidance still contains references to legislation that originated from the EU.

This guidance is for England and Wales

Assimilated Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers states that, where mandatory labelling is required, it must be in English. It is an offence for retailers or wholesalers to supply food in the UK without English labelling.

The Regulation requires certain compulsory information, which must be in English and appear either on a label on (or attached to) the packaging, or on a label clearly readable through the packaging.

The EU version of the Regulation states that required labelling must be "in a language easily understood by the consumers of the Member States where a food is marketed", so if you are exporting food products to the European Union, labelling needs to be in the most appropriate language for the country you are exporting to.

Definition of food

'Food' is defined to include not only substances that we would normally associate with the term, but also:

  • drink
  • chewing gum and similar products
  • substances of no nutritional value, which are used for human consumption
  • articles and substances used as ingredients in the preparation of food
Back to top

Retailers' responsibilities

They must make sure that all food and drink they sell displays all mandatory information that the product requires. This must be in English, although it does not preclude also having the labelling in additional languages when some of the customers are likely to be non-English speakers.

This information should appear on one of the following:

  • a label on the packaging
  • a label attached to the packaging
  • a label clearly readable through the packaging
Back to top

Wholesalers' responsibilities

Assimilated Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 requires that if food is "intended for the final consumer but marketed at a stage prior to sale to the final consumer" it must comply with the Regulations.

Food is considered to be ready for delivery to the ultimate consumer if the packaging will not be changed prior to sale by the eventual retailer. The wholesaler must, therefore, ensure that the food complies with the Regulations unless the retailer will repackage it. For example, a wholesaler sells cans of soft drinks to retailers in trays. The cans themselves will not be altered before reaching the ultimate consumer. The soft drink is, therefore, ready for delivery to the ultimate consumer and must have the correct labelling in English.

The information on food sold by wholesalers must appear as described above for retailers. Alternatively, the mandatory information (please see 'Labelling of prepacked foods: general') can be supplied on documentation supplied previously or accompanying the food. However, if this method is used, the name of the food, durability indication, storage conditions and business details must appear on the external packaging.

The same rules apply to the packaging of food sold to mass caterers* if food is prepared in the course of a business and is intended to be supplied to the consumer in that packaging.

[*'Mass caterers' includes restaurants, canteens, pubs, clubs, schools or similar, and mobile caterers such as fast food vans.]

Where the food is not intended to be sold to consumers in the packaging (for example, where it is intended to be sold to a mass caterer), less mandatory information is required.

'Labelling of prepacked foods: general' provides information on the mandatory requirements for all prepacked foods. This applies to all food labelling in the UK, regardless of whether the food is produced here or not.

If you are considering importing food from outside the UK, you may also find it useful to look at the information on imported food on the Food Standards Agency website. This site provides information about the legal requirements affecting different types of food that you may be considering importing (not only labelling).

Back to top

Trading Standards

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

In this update

No major changes.

Last reviewed / updated: June 2024

Back to top

Key legislation

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links often only shows the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on changes to legislation can be found by following the above links and clicking on the 'More Resources' tab.

What type of feedback would you like to leave
1a-User type
2a-User type
3a-User type
4a-User type

Consumer enquiries from England, Scotland and Wales are handled by the Citizens Advice Consumer Service who can be contacted by telephone on 03454 04 05 06. Consumer enquiries in Northern Ireland are handled by ConsumerLine who can be contacted by telephone on 0300 1236262. Call charges may vary.

How many years have you been trading?
How many employees are there in your business?

Business enquiries are dealt with by your local council. Use the Chartered Trading Standards Institute's postcode finder to locate your local trading standards team.

Are you satisfied? Did this site answer your question?