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Food labelling

The following guidance relates to foodstuffs that are sold prepacked directly to the consumer and lists the information that must be included on food labels to satisfy the law.

The Food Safety Act 1990

In relation to food labelling, the Act makes it an offence to sell or possess for sale food, that is

  • Falsely described, advertised or presented

or food, which is not of the

  • Nature (apples sold as pears, cheap vodka substituted for an expensive brand)
  • Substance (something that should not be in the food, for example, mouse droppings in a loaf of bread)
  • Quality (fresh milk that has gone rancid or mouldy food)

The Food Labelling Regulations 1996

These Regulations contain detailed provisions on the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs. These regulations set out what information must be provided on food labels in order to satisfy the law.

What type of foodstuffs need to be labelled?

All foodstuffs must be clearly labelled except those, which are prepacked for direct sale (for example food sold loose from the delicatessen counter of the supermarket).

How should food labels be presented on the packaging?

Labelling details must be easy to understand, clearly legible and indelible. Labels must be placed in clear view so as to be easily visible to the customer.

All labels for prepacked food or drink sold in the United Kingdom must written be in English. It is illegal to sell food labelled in a foreign language, even if it is an internationally recognised brand.

What information is required on the label?

Food labels must include the following information:

  • Name of the food (this must be a description of the food item)
  • List of ingredients (in descending order of weight)
  • Appropriate durability indication (must be expressed as a 'use by' or 'best before' date)
  • Special storage conditions or conditions of use
  • Name and address of the manufacturer
  • Origin/provenance (if failure to give particulars may mislead to a material degree).
  • Instructions for use (if it would be difficult to make appropriate use of the food without instructions).
  • Weight marking

If the food has been subject to a treatment e.g. freeze dried, frozen, concentrated or smoked, or is in a certain physical condition e.g. powdered, then the name must include an indication of the treatment or condition, if the customer could be misled by its omission.

Foods not prepacked or food prepacked for direct sale or individually wrapped only need to be marked with the name of the food.

This is only a very brief and broad overview of what is a very detailed and complicated subject. For more details on food labelling, visit Labelling and Packing (Food Standards Agency Website).

What is the traffic light labelling system?

This is a voluntary scheme that uses red, amber and green indicators to show high, medium and low levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. So if a food contains a lot of fat it will carry a red label for fat.

The scheme is voluntary and only a few supermarkets and manufacturers have said they will use it, some are adopting their own schemes.

See also

The following downloadable documents on food labelling may also be of use:

Related websites

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