The Food Labelling Regulations 1996

The Food Labelling Regulations 1996, as amended, govern the labelling of most types of food which is sold to ultimate consumers and catering establishments. Not all of the labelling requirements contained in the Regulations apply to all types of food and there are certain exemptions to the requirements.

General labelling requirements

It is a requirement that food to which the Regulations apply be marked or labelled with:

  • the name of the food;
  • a list of ingredients;
  • an “appropriate durability indication”;
  • any special storage conditions or conditions of use;
  • the name or business name and an address or registered office of either the manufacturer or packer, or a seller established within the European Community or both of them;
  • particulars of the place of origin or provenance of the food if failure to provide such particulars may mislead a purchaser to a material degree as to the true origin or provenance of the food;
  • instructions for use if it would be difficult to make appropriate use of the food in the absence of such instructions.

As a general rule, such particulars must appear on the packaging, or on a label attached to the packaging, or on a label that is clearly visible through the packaging.

Such particulars must be easy to understand, clearly legible and indelible and, in the case of food sold to the ultimate consumer, such particulars must be marked in a conspicuous place in such a way as to be easily visible. Such particulars should not in any way be hidden, obscured or interrupted by any other written or pictorial matter.

Where food is required to be marked or labelled with more than one of the following indications, such indications must appear in the labelling of the food in the same field of vision:

  • the name of the food;
  • an appropriate durability indication;
  • an indication of alcoholic strength by volume;
  • an indication of the net quantity as required by the Weights and Measures Act 1985 or by any Order of Regulations made under that Act.

Food names

Certain types of food (fish, melons, potatoes and vitamins) have names that are prescribed by law. Where a name is prescribed by law that name should be used as the name of the food. In such cases it is permissible to qualify the name by other words which make it more precise.

If there is no name prescribed by law, a customary name can be used.

If there is no name prescribed by law and no customary name or the customary name is not used the name used must be sufficiently precise to provide an indication of the true nature of the food.

A food name can consist of a name and/ or a description and can consist of more than one word.

It is not permitted to substitute a trade mark, brand name or fancy name for the name of a food.

Where a purchaser could be misled by the omission of an indication that a food is powders or is in any other physical condition or that a food has been dried, freeze-dried, frozen, concentrated, smoked or has been subjected to any other treatment, it is a requirement that the name of the food include or be accompanied by such an indication.

In the case of tenderised meat (i.e. meat which has been treated with proteolytic enzymes) the name must include or be accompanied by the word “tenderised”.

In the case of irradiated food the name must include or be accompanied by the word “irradiated” or the words “treated with ionising radiation”.

Ingredients

It is a requirement that the list of ingredients be headed or preceded by an appropriate heading which consists of or includes the word “ingredients”.

The ingredients should, as a general rule, be listed in descending order of weight determined as at the time of their use in the preparation of the food. However, water and volatile products should be listed in order of their weight in the finished product and there are special rules relating to concentrated and dehydrated ingredients and for foods consisting of or containing mixed fruits, nuts, vegetables, spices and herbs.

The name used for any ingredient should be a name which if the ingredient in question were itself being sold as a food could be used as the name of the food.

Any ingredient which has been irradiated must include or be accompanied by the word “irradiated” or the words “treated with ionising radiation”. In other instances where a purchaser could be misled by the omission from the name used for an ingredient of any indication which, if the ingredient were itself being sold as a food, would be required to be included in or to accompany the name of the food, the name used for the ingredient must generally include or be accompanied by that indication.

Where there is a generic name for an ingredient, for example cheese, fish or fat, that name can be used as long as the ingredient corresponds with the generic name.

In the case of added flavourings the words “flavouring(s)” or a more specific name or description of the flavouring(s) should be used.

The word “natural” can only be used if certain criteria are met.

There are specific rules relating to the naming of additives.

In the case of compound ingredients, the names of the ingredients of the compound ingredient should generally be given either instead of or in addition to the name of the compound ingredient itself.

Where water is added as an ingredient of a food it should generally be declared in the list of ingredients.

Certain ingredients need not be named. These are constituents of an ingredient which has become temporarily separated during the manufacturing process and is later re-introduced in its original proportions, additives whose presence in the food is due solely to the fact that it was contained in an ingredient of the food, if it serves no significant technological function in the finished product, additives which are used solely as a processing aid and substances other than water which are used as a solvent or carrier for an additive and is used in an amount that is no more than that which is strictly necessary for that purpose.

The following types of food do not need to be marked or labelled with a list of ingredients:

  • fresh fruit and vegetables, including potatoes, which have not been peeled or cut into pieces;
  • carbonated water, to which no ingredient other than carbon dioxide has been added as long as the name indicated that it has been carbonated;
  • vinegar which is derived by fermentation exclusively from a single basic product and to which no other ingredient has been added;
  • cheese, butter, fermented milk and fermented cream, to which no ingredient has been added other than lactic products, enzymes and micro-organism cultures essential to manufacture, or in the case of cheese other than fresh curd cheese and processed cheese, such amount of salt as is needed for its manufacture;
  • food which consists of a single ingredient, such as flour, to which no substances have been added other than those required by the Bread and Flour Regulations 1995;
  • alcoholic drinks which have an alcoholic strength by volume of more than 1.2%.

Where ingredients are added to vinegar, cheese, butter, fermented milk or fermented cream only those added ingredients need to be named in the list of ingredients as long as the heading of the list includes or is accompanied by the words “added ingredients” or other words which indicate that the list is not a complete list of ingredients.

In relation to foods which are not required to bear a list of ingredients any list that they do bear must be a complete list of ingredients.

In the case of foods which are characterised by the presence of a particular ingredient, the labelling should not place special emphasis on the presence of that ingredient, unless it includes a declaration of the minimum percentage of that ingredient in the food, determined as at the time of its use in the preparation of the food.

In the case of foods which are characterised by the low content of a particular ingredient, the labelling should not place special emphasis on the low content of that ingredient, unless it includes a declaration of the maximum percentage of that ingredient in the food, determined as at the time of its use in the preparation of the food. Any such declaration should appear next to the name of the food or accompany the name of the ingredient in question in the list of ingredients.

Appropriate durability indications

It is a requirement that most food be marked with a “best before” date, a “use by” date and any storage conditions which need to be observed if the food is to retain its specific properties until those date.

The Regulations contain specific requirements as to how best before dates and use by dates should be expressed.

Certain foods do not need to be marked with best before or use by dates. These include certain fresh fruit and vegetables, certain wines and other alcoholic drinks cooking and table salt and vinegar.

Other provisions

Specific rules apply to:

  • food which is not prepacked and similar food and fancy confectionery products;
  • small packages and certain indelibly marked bottles;
  • certain food sold at catering establishments;
  • seasonal selection packs;
  • food sold from vending machines;
  • prepacked alcoholic drinks other than Community controlled wine;
  • raw milk;
  • products consisting of skimmed milk together with non-milk fat;
  • foods packaged in certain gases;
  • foods containing sweeteners, added sugar and sweeteners, aspartame or polyols;
  • bottled milk.

Claims and misleading descriptions

The Regulations prohibit the making of certain claims in the labelling or advertising of foods and prohibit the use of misleading descriptions.

Failure to comply with the Regulations

Contravention of the Regulations is a criminal offence punishable by way of a fine. There are, however, certain defences available in relation to appropriate durability indications which have been altered and in relation to exported foods. There is also a defence of due diligence and a defence of publication in the course of business.