In the guide

Although the United Kingdom left the European Union (EU) in 2021, certain pieces of legislation (known as 'retained EU law' and to be known as 'assimilated law' from 1 January 2024) continue to apply until such time as they are replaced by new UK legislation, revoked or permitted to expire. This means that you will still see references to EU regulations in our guidance.

This guidance is for England, Scotland and 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
  • Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures
  • 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 are not, in fact, edible. In particular they prohibit the supply of goods that have one or more of the following in such a manner that people, particularly children, could confuse them with food and put them in their mouth, and suck or swallow, which may cause death or injury:

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

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

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

Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 on cosmetic products

This Regulation 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 designated 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.

[*'Designated standards' are those approved by the Secretary of State and published by the British Standards Institution (BSI).]

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

Potentially unsafe food-imitation products
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 Magnets 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 Moth balls Naphthalene may cause irritation, burning and poisoning
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties Decorative candle Decorative candle 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 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 Decorative candles 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 Polystyrene cupcake 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 Decorative candle Choking hazard
BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elements Shower and bath gel, wild strawberries Shower and bath gel 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) Lip gloss 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 Novelty soaps Choking hazard
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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'.

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In this update

No major changes.

Last reviewed / updated: November 2023

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Key legislation

Food Imitations (Safety) Regulations 1989

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

Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 on cosmetic products

Cosmetic Product Enforcement Regulations 2013

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.

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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.

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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.

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