Consumers need to make confident and informed food choices based on allergies, cost, diet, or personal taste.
Anyone who is selling food or drink products must ensure the label is:
- Applied as a permanent fixture
- Clear enough to read (legible)
- Easy to see and understand (not misleading)
Members of the public have a right to know that the food they buy matches the description given on its label. Part of consumer protection rights help to prevent misleading descriptions on foodstuffs.
Any deliberate mislabelling would be a type of ‘food crime‘ and treated as criminal fraud. The law would still apply even if it does not pose any specific threat or breach the laws of food safety and hygiene.
It is an offence to ‘falsely’ advertise, describe, or present food. Food and drink labelling and packaging laws are ‘multifaceted’ in the United Kingdom. They help protect consumers against misleading descriptions and dishonest labelling practices.
As a rule, you would need to register a food business to sell food and drink products. You must also show some basic information and an ingredients list for the product. In some cases, it is a legal requirement to show certain food and drink warnings (details below).
Note: The United Kingdom applies special regulations for labelling wine and other products of the wine trade.
Food Labels when Selling Loose Products
Product labelling requirements vary for catering businesses or for those who sell food loose or package it for sale in a shop. In this case, you would only need to show:
- A name that describes the food.
- Allergen information.
- Food additives that you added.
- Certain types of food warnings (see below).
- Whether any of the ingredients have been irradiated (ionizing radiation to extend its shelf life) or came from genetically modified sources.
Note: Selling loose meat products (or those which contain mean products) to the public falls under a different set of rules in England.
Packaging Food Yourself
Some shops and catering businesses will package food themselves. If so, the packaging must be suitable for close contact with foodstuffs. The international symbol for safe food packaging is a ‘wine glass and a fork’.
Special rules apply when using ceramics, cellophane, or plastics for food packaging. You would need to have some written evidence that you complied with the regulations.
The written evidence is a ‘declaration of compliance’. A packaging supplier would provide you with the declaration. Buying foodstuffs pre-packaged for sale in the same materials also requires a declaration of compliance.
Note: You can read the ‘Materials and Articles in Contact with Food Regulations 2012’. It provides full legislation for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.
Food Assurance Schemes UK
There are several voluntary food assurance schemes that you can join. For example, Red Tractor is a leading farm and food assurance scheme providing traceable, safe food that’s farmed with care.
The Assured Food Standards symbol, and food assurance scheme members, are key. Customers know the food is produced to measurable standards (e.g. on animal welfare or food safety).
ALSO IN THIS SECTION
What Must Show On Food Labels
Certain snippets of information must be shown on food labels by law. Find out what quantity information needs to show, how to use the e mark, and special rules that apply for some foodstuffs.
Nutrition and Health Claims
Legislation covers nutrition and health claims, and supplement labelling on all pre-packed food products. Review basics of nutrition labelling and how to label products as organic food using organic certification.
Shipping Food Overseas
A guide explaining basic food regulations for international transportation from the UK. Transporters must comply with import and export rules when labelling and handling food for international transport.