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Imported food safety

Food imported into the European Union from other countries is strictly controlled. Controls are particularly strict for any animal based food, such as meat, fish, milk, eggs or food, which contains any of these. The outbreak of foot and mouth disease in cattle in 2001 may have been started by illegally imported food brought into the country without the proper checks.

We recommend that you follow the points below to help you ensure that the imported food that you buy or sell is legally imported.

The Commercial Environmental Health Team look for and will deal with any illegal food. Such food will be taken from its owners voluntarily or using legal powers, and the owners may have to pay for any legal costs and the cost of its disposal.


When you are buying animal based food look carefully at the packaging. Labels should state:

  • The name of the food in English (in the case of fish in Latin as well as English)
  • The country of origin
  • The number of the factory in which it was produced (the factory number generally has EC or EEC or CE or EU or UE before it or sometimes the first letter of the country of origin)

Try to buy food which is ready for you to sell; food you do not have to divide or repack and which has labels clearly indicating the above three pieces of labelling information.

Ask to see a veterinary certificate for each animal based food (meat, fish, milk, eggs food, which contains any of these) you buy from an importer.

If an animal based food does not have these details it may have been imported illegally. You should not buy it and should inform us about it.


Keep all the labels that may have been on the outer packaging and all invoices, receipts, delivery notes and other documents at least as long as you have the food. You may need these to be able to prove the food is legal.

Avoid buying food without labels on each item. If they are not labelled, put a label on each item, which includes the information given above.

When you import food commercially, you need to know about regulations that apply to specific products and also more general rules about things such as labelling and additives.

Failure to comply with UK and EU hygiene and safety rules could cause delay in shipments, increase costs and require action to be taken by enforcement authorities.

Further information

Further information on the commercial importation of food including live animals and products of animal origin can be found at Imports/exports - animals and animal products (Defra website)

Personal imports

The rules on bringing food into the United Kingdom from outside the European Union for personal use, apply to all food whether it was bought from a shop (including an airport) was home made, grown or produced. Different rules apply to different products.

Detailed advice on what you are permitted to bring into the UK can be found at Personal imports - what food may I bring into the UK? (Food Standards Agency)

Who to contact

Please contact us for further advice if you suspect that some food that you have for sale or have seen for sale elsewhere may be illegally imported.

Related websites

Imported food (Food standards agency website)

Contact us

Environmental Health Commercial
Environment and Regeneration
Merton Civic Centre
London Road

Telephone: 020 8545 3025