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Food labelling laws

Food labelling laws require certain information to be displayed on labels or, in the case of non-prepacked foods, on labels or on adjacent notices or signs. 

All information should be clear, of a certain text size, and easy to see, read, and understand. Exactly which information is required depends on whether food is being sold as prepacked food, non-prepacked food, or prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) food. 

Prepacked food

Prepacked food is food that’s packaged by one business and supplied to another business, which then sells or provides the food to consumers. To ensure that no important information about this food is lost during this process, prepacked food must provide certain information on a label, including: 

  • the food’s name

    • the specifically prescribed legal name for the food must be used, if this exists. Some legal names are ‘reserved descriptions’, which must only be used if a food meets certain criteria (eg ‘chocolate’ must only be used to name products that contain a certain amount of cocoa solids)

    • if no legal name exists a customary name should be used (eg ‘spaghetti’ or ‘Victoria sponge’)

    • if no customary name exists, a sufficiently informative descriptive name should be used

    • any processes that food undergoes should be identified in the name (eg ‘roasted peanuts’ or ‘sundried tomatoes’)

  • a list of the food’s ingredients, unless exempt

  • allergen information - any ingredients that fall within the list of 14 allergens that must be declared by law (eg peanuts or fish) must be highlighted (eg in bold text or a different colour) in the ingredients list

  • quantitative declarations of ingredients (QUIDs), ie identifications of the percentage of a food made up by a certain ingredient - these are required when that ingredient is important (eg because it’s included in the name of the food or is often associated with the name)

  • the food’s net quantity (ie its weight or volume) - unless, for example, the food is usually sold by number or, sometimes, if its net quantity is less than 5g or 5ml 

  • how long the food can be kept for (eg a ‘best before’ date)

  • how the food should be stored (eg below a certain temperature)

  • the manufacturer’s name (eg business name) and address - whether this is the business that made the food, the business that imported it, or the business under whose name it’s marketed

  • identification of the food’s country of origin or place of provenance (ie somewhere the food is indicated to come from but which is not its country of origin) - this is only required where consumers may be misled as to a food’s origin in the absence of this information

  • nutritional information - certain information about energy and nutrient contents must be provided using the correct units

  • preparation instructions (eg to what temperature food must be heated before it’s eaten)

  • additional labelling requirements (eg informing consumers that certain products contain sweeteners or caffeine)

These requirements are important both for large businesses that package food at scale and for any small businesses that, for example, produce one food product as a sole trader that they then sell to other local businesses. 

Note that certain types of products have additional labelling requirements

For more information, read the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) guidance on packaging and labelling

Non-prepacked food

Non-prepacked food is essentially any food that’s offered to consumers in a way other than as prepacked food. For example, meals served at a restaurant or from a food truck or pre-prepared food served loose from a cabinet display (eg cakes and sandwiches). 

Such food is subject to less comprehensive labelling requirements than prepacked food. When selling such food, you only need to provide some information either on a label or in a way that’s accessible to customers (eg on a menu). This includes:

  • the food’s name

  • the presence of any of the 14 key allergens - this information may be available on request, eg on a separate menu, if a statement to this effect is included on available labels or menus

  • a QUID declaration for products containing meat

  • identifying that the food has been irradiated, if relevant 

For more information, read the FSA’s guidance on packaging and labelling

Prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) foods

PPDS foods are those that are sold in packaging to consumers in the same place as that in which they were packaged. For example, ready-made sandwiches or biscuits that are displayed packaged and ready to go. PPDS food includes food made by a business and then sold by that same business at another location (eg food made in a central kitchen and then sold at a market stall by the same vendor).

PPDS food must be labelled, with labels that include some of the information required of regular prepacked food, including: 

  • the food’s name

  • a list of the food’s ingredients:

    • with emphasis on any of the 14 key allergens included in the ingredients (as for prepacked food)

    • which may include information on the ingredients of ingredients (eg identifying the preservatives contained in chocolate chips used to make a chocolate chip biscuit)

PPDS food that’s sold by distance selling (eg via the phone or the internet) needs not follow all of these labelling rules. When distance selling PPDS food, businesses must ensure that allergen information is available before purchase and at the time of delivery, but this needs not be on a label. The information may be, for example, provided on a menu or orally. 

Note that certain other requirements apply to communications about food products. For example, the requirement introduced in 2022 for some food businesses over a certain size to display information about calories on menus. Labelling and presentation of food must also not mislead consumers. 

For more information, read the FSA’s guidance on labelling PPDS food

Food safety

Alongside compliant food labelling, it’s important that all food businesses comply with general food safety laws. For example, you must only offer food that is safe to eat, must abide by hygiene standards and registration requirements, and must take care in relation to allergens. 

For more information, read Food safety

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