10 October 2019
Legal requirements for products listed under food standards legislation, such as bottled water, milk, fish and meat
There are general labelling requirements for all food in the UK. There are also additional legal requirements for the labelling and composition of some high value foods. These are foods at risk of being substituted with lower quality alternatives.
The legislation provides ‘reserved descriptions’ which make sure the food meets specific compositional criteria. For example a beef burger must contain at least 62% beef, an economy beef burger must contain at least 47% beef.
If you use one of the reserved descriptions covered in the relevant regulation then your product must be made according to the defined compositional criteria.
Food compositional standards legislation in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
General labelling requirements
The Food Information Regulations (FIR 2014) set general labelling requirements for all food labels in the UK and meets all EU rules.
The regulations lay down in UK law provisions of EU law to ensure food labels are an honest representation of food and provide consistency for the industry and consumers. This includes mandatory nutrition labelling on pre-packaged food, country of origin, date marking (including date of first freezing), clarity of food information, alcohol labelling, labelling of non-pre-packed foods and allergen labelling.
There is detailed guidance on the information you must give to customers on food products and how to give it.
The Codex Alimentarius is a large international body which provides food standards, guidelines and codes of practice in the international trade of food and agricultural products.
The Codex international standards are not legally binding but are generally considered good practice. They ensure fairness in international trade and protect consumers.
Defra acts as the national contact point for the UK in Codex, for any questions email firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Best before’ and ‘use by’
The ‘best before’ date is about the quality of the food and is appropriate for the vast majority of foods. It indicates the period for which a food can reasonably be expected to keep its optimal condition (for example, it will not be stale).
The ‘use by’ date relates to the safety of the food and is the required date mark for foods which are highly perishable (likely to go bad quickly) and are likely after a short period to present a risk of food poisoning.
Read more guidance on applying date labels to food.
Changes after Brexit
The UK has no control over how food labelling changes will be enforced outside the UK. The EU has issued guidance confirming that labelling changes will need to be in place from exit day to export to their markets. You should get advice from your EU importing contact on the EU’s labelling requirements.
Find information changes to rules on labelling and composition for the following foods: