In the guide

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

This guidance focuses on products that look like or imitate food but are not food. It is an offence to provide products that look like food and can cause injury or a health risk because of this.

Laws covering food-imitating products

A number of laws prevent the sale of potentially dangerous food-imitating products:

  • Food Imitations (Safety) Regulations 1989
  • EU Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures
  • EU Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 on cosmetic products (enforced by trading standards in the UK by the Cosmetic Product Enforcement Regulations 2013)

Food Imitations (Safety) Regulations 1989

These Regulations prohibit the marketing, import and manufacture of products that look like foodstuffs but that are not in fact edible. In particular they prohibit the supply of goods that have one or more of the following:

  • form
  • odour
  • colour
  • appearance
  • packaging
  • labelling
  • volume

… such that people, particularly children, could confuse them with food and put them in their mouth or suck or swallow, which may cause death or injury.

Injury can include choking, strangulation, cutting, poisoning, or even causing a child to vomit.

EU Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on classification, labelling & packaging of substances & mixtures

Under this Regulation, dangerous preparations such as detergents, drain and oven cleaners, glues, polishes, etc must not be supplied in a shape that:

  • attracts the active curiosity of children
  • misleads consumers
  • looks like packaging for:
    - food (for animals or humans)
    - medicines
    - cosmetics

EU Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 on cosmetic products

This European law states that a cosmetic product must be safe for human health when used under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use, taking account, in particular, of the following, which should not endanger the health and safety of consumers due to confusion with foodstuffs:

  • presentation (and in particular its form, odour, colour, appearance, packaging)
  • labelling
  • volume
  • size
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How to assess whether a product is safe

In order to assess whether a product can cause injury or a risk to health any appropriate harmonised European standards could be used. For example, the EN 71 series of standards covers the safety properties of toys and would be suitable to assess, for example, whether a food imitation releases a small part that could cause a choking hazard or contains a prohibited chemical such as lead or cadmium.

The following are examples of products that have been deemed to be food imitating and could cause injury or harm to health.

Relevant standard(s) Product Hazards and examination points
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties

BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elements
wooden apple  Wooden apple choking hazard

toxicity - paints
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties candle  Candle choking hazard
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties

BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elements
Christmas decoration - polystyrene lollipop  Polystyrene lollipop choking hazard
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties decorative 'I Love Chocolate' magnets  Food imitations choking hazard

magnets are easily detached and, because they attract each other, can cause serious damage when passing through the intestine (blockages, perforation of the intestine)
BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elements naphthalene moth balls  Food imitations naphthalene may cause irritation, burning and poisoning
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties decorative candle  Food imitations choking hazard

grapes break off
BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elements cooling element resembling ice cube bags. The translucent cubes contain distilled water and ethylene glycol  Food imitations the product poses a chemical risk because the liquid contains ethylene glycol, which can be toxic if swallowed
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties decorative candles  Food imitations choking hazard
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties

BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elements
Christmas decoration in the form of a cupcake made of expanded polystyrene  Food imitations choking hazard
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties

BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elements
decorative candle in the shape of a chocolate cake topped with cream and blackberries, packaged in a box with a cardboard base and a clear plastic cover, tied around with a brown ribbon  Food imitations choking hazard
BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elements shower and bath gel, wild strawberries  Shower and bath gel, wild strawberries product's detergent content represents a serious health risk (toxic pneumonia)
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties lip glosses packed in plastic mini pots in the form of little tarts (chocolate and strawberry sprinkle, cherry feast, violet fancy, etc)  Food imitations choking hazard
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties

two fragrant novelty soaps, in the shape of a cake slice, in plastic wrapping

 

Food imitations choking hazard
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Penalties

Failure to comply with trading standards law can lead to enforcement action and to sanctions, which may include a fine and/or imprisonment. For more information please see 'Trading standards: powers, enforcement & penalties'.

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Key legislation

Food Imitations (Safety) Regulations 1989

EU Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures

EU Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 on cosmetic products

Cosmetic Product Enforcement Regulations 2013

 

Last reviewed / updated: June 2018

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 may only show 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 amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

Feedback

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.

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.