Food law and enforcement

Overview of food regulation and legislation


There are a number of laws, codes of practice and guidance documents that regulate foodstuffs. These cover all parts of the food production and distribution chain, including:

  • production
  • processing
  • packaging and labelling
  • importing
  • distribution
  • retailing and catering

The Food Standards Act 1999

The Food Standards Act gives the Food Standards Agency (FSA) its functions and powers. The FSA aims to protect public health and consumers' interests. They also aim to ensure food businesses are not burdened by excessive or unclear regulations.

General food law

The main pieces of UK and European general food legislation are:

The EU law that continues to apply to Northern Ireland after 1 January 2021 is specified in Annex II to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Food and feed products produced in NI or placed on the NI market need to comply with EU food law. See the latest EU Exit guidance for the food and drink sector.

Responsibilities for food businesses

The main responsibilities for food businesses under the Food Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 are:

  • to ensure you do not include anything in food, remove anything from food, or treat food in any way that would damage the health of people eating it
  • to ensure that the food you serve or sell is of the nature, substance or quality consumers would expect
  • to ensure that food is labelled, advertised and presented in a way that is not false or misleading

The main responsibilities for food businesses under the General Food Law Regulation are:

  • to ensure food is not unsafe (harmful to health or unfit for humans to eat)
  • to ensure that labelling, advertising and presentation of food does not mislead consumers
  • to be able to identify your suppliers - and the businesses you have supplied to - and produce this information on demand, ie traceability
  • to withdraw unsafe food from the market and inform the authorities of this
  • record-keeping

Where the unsafe food may have reached the consumer, the food business operator must inform the consumers of the reason for the withdrawal and, if necessary, recall from consumers unsafe food already supplied to them when other measures are not sufficient to achieve a high level of health protection.

Food hygiene legislation affects all food businesses. Core European Union (EU) food hygiene regulations cover:

  • hygiene of foodstuffs and general hygiene requirements for all food businesses
  • food businesses dealing with products of animal origin
  • products of animal origin intended for human consumption
  • verification of compliance with feed and food law, animal health and animal welfare

Animal feed regulations

The main responsibilities for food businesses (placing food materials into the feed chain) under regulation on feed hygiene are:

  • to ensure feed is produced according to a permanent written procedure based on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles
  • to provide materials intended for use in animal feed to registered feed business operators
  • to be registered as a feed business operator