Food labelling and composition
Food offered to customers must be safe to eat and be of satisfactory quality.
To achieve this, food businesses need to ensure that products are accurately labelled, described and meet specific compositional standards where this applies. This is important as it allows consumers the opportunity to make informed choices about what they are buying and eating.
You can find out more on what food information needs to be provided to consumers on Gov.uk: Food labelling - giving food information to consumers.
To ensure standards are met, we carry out inspections of food businesses and investigate consumer complaints to ensure the labelling, composition, quality, advertising and presentation of food complies with regulations.
We also provide advice and information to assist food businesses comply with their legal obligations and improve their production systems. In some instances, we take samples for testing by a public analyst.
Legislation on food labelling
The Food Information Regulations 2014 (FIR) sets out what is required on your food labelling and the way in which information about the food you sell, or produce must be provided to consumers.
The regulations require that food information is provided clearly for your consumers and improve the nutrition and allergen information you are required to provide.
All food businesses must comply with these regulations and it is your responsibility to understand how these may affect you.
Food Standards Agency - Food labelling e-learning course is available for food businesses.
What mandatory labelling information is required
The FIR requires the following mandatory information to be listed on prepacked foods for the consumer:
- the name of the food
- a list of ingredients, including allergens, in descending order by weight
- the net quantity of the food
- the quantitative ingredients declaration (QUID) (where required)
- a 'use by' or 'best before' date
- traceability information such as lot number (unless the durability date labelling is sufficient for traceability purposes)
- any special storage and/or conditions of use
- the name or business name and address of the food business operator responsible for the food information
- the country of origin or place of provenance (where applicable)
- any special instructions that are necessary to prepare the food
- a nutrition declaration (where a nutritional or health claim has been displayed on the packaging, i.e. 'high fibre', 'good source of calcium' or where vitamins and minerals have been added)
- the alcoholic strength by volume where beverages contain more than 1.2% by volume of alcohol
- any required warnings such as the food containing sweeteners, aspartame, colours, liquorice, caffeine, polyols, contains genetically modified or irradiated food or raw milk.
The following links provide guidance on the legal requirements to comply with the FIR regulations:
- Food Standards Agency: packaging and labelling
- Food Standards Agency: allergen guidance for food businesses
- Food Standards Agency: allergen labelling for food manufacturers
- Business Companion: quick law guides for food and drink
Food compositional standards
There are a number of product specific regulations setting out compositional standards which apply to certain foods which businesses must follow. These standards apply to foods which consumers expect to be of a certain quality and foods at risk of substitution to a lower quality.
Some foods have reserved descriptions which can only be used where the food has a certain composition. These compositional standards apply to bottled water, bread and flour, cocoa and chocolate products, fats and oils, fish, fruit juices and nectars, honey, jams and marmalade, milk products, products containing meat, soluble coffee and sugars.
Further business guidance on food compositional standards and labelling can be found at Gov.uk: food standards labelling durability and composition.
Nutrition labelling is compulsory for all pre-packed foods subject to certain exemptions. Regulations set out the information required and the layout on the labels.
The Calorie Labelling (Out of Home Sector) Regulations 2021 require certain qualifying businesses which sell food for immediate consumption, either in a café, restaurant or other catering establishment or as take away food, to provide calorie information relating to the energy content of the food they sell to consumers. Full implementation guidance can be found at Gov.uk: calorie labelling in the out of home sector.
Additional information can be provided on a voluntary basis such as traffic light labelling.
How to calculate calories
This free menu calorie calculator allows calculation of calories per recipe and / or portion.
The Department of Health and Social Care provides technical guidance on nutrition labelling to support those businesses which need to comply with nutrition-related regulatory requirements.
Further business guidance can be found at:
- Business Companion: labelling of prepacked foods - nutrition declaration
- Brexit information: nutrition legislation information sheet
Nutrition and health claims
Specific regulations govern labelling requirements for food producers that wish to make claims about their products, such as low fat, lowers cholesterol.
Business guidance on nutrition and health claims on foods can be found at:
- Gov.uk: Guidance on nutrition and health claims on foods
- Business Companion: Nutrition and health claims
Food allergens and allergen labelling
Food businesses need to know what food allergies are and what allergen information they must provide to their consumers.
They need to:
- provide allergen information for both non-prepacked and prepacked food and drink
- handle and manage food allergens effectively in food preparation
- be aware of new labelling rules from 1 October 2021 (known as Natasha's Law) for allergen information for 'prepacked for direct sale' food
See our food allergens webpage for further information.
Durability dates on food
Most foods must be labelled with a 'best before' or 'use by' date.
A 'use by' date is required for foods that are perishable and have a short shelf life. Food after this date may present a risk of food poisoning if consumed. The law makes it illegal to sell food past its 'use by' date.
A 'best before' date indicates the period when a food can be reasonably expected to retain its best condition. However, it is not necessarily an offence to sell food products beyond their 'best before' date' unless they are not of the quality demanded by the consumer.
More information and a further explanation of 'use by' and 'best before' dates is provided by:
- Food Standards Agency: best before and use by dates
- Business Companion: date and lot marking of prepacked food
- Gov.uk: food waste and surplus food
For any other specific queries on food labelling and composition please contact us.