Food labelling and packaging in international trade

Import and export requirements for food labelling and packaging

If you are moving food between countries within the European Union (EU), this is not officially regarded as importation, as it's in free circulation. Your products can move freely between EU member states and will not be subject to checks at ports. However, your products must comply with current EU regulations and you must be able to provide an audit trail for your goods.

Imports from outside the EU

Traders importing food from outside the EU need to ensure that they comply with EU and UK regulations on hygiene and safety, and labelling and food composition regulations. If you fail to comply, your shipment could be detained or destroyed, and you could incur additional costs. Where foods are pre-packed outside the EU the importer must ensure the packaging complies with EU rules on food packaging. 

Food products of animal origin (POAO) can only be imported from third countries that have been approved by the EU. This includes meat and poultry, meat products, fish and shellfish, eggs, milk and other dairy products, animal fats and offal. The products must usually come from approved premises/establishments, be accompanied by a health certificate and comply with animal and public health conditions.

Certain POAO categories do not as yet have approved establishment EU list codes. They are:

  • eggs and egg products
  • snails' and frogs' legs
  • rendered fats and greaves
  • collagen

POAO can only enter the UK through a port or airport with a Border Control Post (BCP) approved for the category of product to be imported. BCPs need to be notified of the arrival of the product before its physical arrival at the port/airport. Your products must be labelled correctly and the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system must have been used throughout the food handling process. See food handling and safety: checklist for importers.

Accompanying documentation will be checked, the identity will be verified and a physical check will be carried out on a prescribed percentage of products. If your products fail any of these checks, they will not be allowed into the UK and may be destroyed. If your products pass the checks, you will be issued with a completed Common Veterinary Entry Document. From this point, your POAO can move freely within the EU. For further information on POAO see products of animal origin - international trade regulations.

Some emergency import controls are also in place for other types of food, to reduce known health risks. If these are in force, Port Health Authorities and local authorities at ports and airports of entry will usually carry out checks and sampling of imported foods. These measures may require that certain products from certain countries have to be accompanied by a health certificate and/or results of analysis for a particular hazard.

See our guide on working with the Port Health Authorities for further information.

As with all foods arriving into the UK, you must be able to provide an audit trail for your goods.

Exporting outside the EU

If you are exporting food outside the EU and intend to make it available for sale, you can contact the country's embassy in the UK to check if there are export restrictions, or any special labelling or packaging requirements. There are restrictions on food exports to the USA. Traders must register with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and must operate through a US registered agent. The new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is in force. Find information about US trade regulations.