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Last updated: 08.11.18

Food Labelling and Packaging Legislation in the UK: A guide for businesses

The UK has some of the most comprehensive food packaging laws found anywhere in the world, and while some will see them as excessive, they serve several very important purposes. In this article, we’re going to look at why it’s essential that food is labelled and packaged correctly, and what business owners must do if they’re to stay on the right side of the law.

Important: This is intended as an introductory guide. Full details are available on the website, including specific lists of allergens and warnings that must be present.

Why is labelling important?

First and foremost, food labelling legislation is about product safety. Many thousands of people in the UK have allergies and intolerances towards certain ingredients, and they must be able to identify any foods that contain them. In some cases these ingredients can cause mild discomfort, but in others they could be life threatening. In addition, labelling is about giving consumers a good understanding of what they’re eating, so that they can be informed about their dietary choices.

What must be labelled?

Any food being sold by a business needs to be appropriately labelled. If you’re producing the food yourself then you must label it properly, and if you’re selling it, then similarly you need to make sure you’re selling products that meet the necessary legal requirements. However, if you’re running a catering business, or you’re selling food loose, then the requirements are slightly lower. Or you simply need to have information available when/if requested.

The basics

Generally, packaging should be telling a customer everything they need to know about the food they’re consuming, from ingredients to producer details and weights. Crucially, all of this information has to be clear and easy to read. It must not be in any way misleading and it should be permanently attached to the product. Also, anyone should be able to understand what it says.

What labels must include

  • The name of the product, and all ingredients contained within. If you mention any of the ingredients in the name of the product, then you also need to include the percentage amount of it. Any potential allergens must also be highlighted in a different font or colour to draw attention. Full details of what could be an allergen is available through government documentation.
  • Certain warnings, as described by UK law. This includes certain ingredients and chemicals which are separate to the main ingredients list. Raw milk, aspartame (E951) and large quantities of caffeine are examples of these warnings.
  • Net quantity information, which will vary depending on whether the product is a solid or liquid.
  • Details about the manufacturer, packer or seller, which includes the company name and address, as well as country of origin if not the UK.
  • Storage and cooking information where appropriate. This includes things like whether or not the item should be refrigerated, and whether or not it must be cooked in order to be safe to eat.
  • Use-by or best-before date where appropriate.

It’s also very important to note that there are 12 food types that have additional special requirements in terms of labelling, which includes things like alcohol, meats, water and more. As a result it is essential that anyone involved in the labelling of products is fully educated as to the legal requirements.

Nutritional information

Certain businesses must also include nutritional information on their food packaging. If your business has more than 10 employees or turns over more than £1.4 million, then you must show this nutritional information. Those that sell direct to consumers or deal only locally are not required to do this. Nutritional information involved things such as calorie content, and the content of certain vitamins and minerals. Again, official advice should be consulted to understand exactly what information should be contained here.

Further guidance

For training on food hygiene, including the various requirements placed on pre-packaged food, then consider the Level 2 Food Hygiene certificate. Designed for both employers and employees, it covers all of the basics of food packaging law, and is recognised as an industry standard. Virtual College is pleased to be able to offer this course as an online option.

Click here to find out more.