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.

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For more information on:

  • Appropriate durability indications
  • Other provisions
  • Claims and misleading descriptions
  • Failure to comply with the Regulations