We often get asked “What are the food labelling requirements?” There are differing food labelling requirements for pre-packed and non-prepacked food. In this article we cover the requirements for non-prepacked food.
Food labelling legislation in the UK aims to ensure that companies who sell food, whether it be prepacked or non-prepacked, clearly communicate certain information to the consumer.
There are three categories of food:
• Prepacked – these are foods that are supplied already packed
• Non-prepacked – those sold unwrapped, eg in cafes, deli counters, bakeries or salad bars
• Prepacked for direct sale – food is wrapped on the same premises as it is sold, eg sandwiches
Although the food labelling requirements for non-prepacked food are fewer than prepacked food, you must still make sure that information give is accurate and not misleading to your customers. This applies to written information, such as that given on a chalkboard or menu, or verbally, for example in response to a customer’s question. It is therefore important that you train your staff to answer any queries as accurately as possible.
A Rose By Any Other Name…
The name of the food must be given, which seems straightforward enough, however a number of foodstuffs are commonly mislabelled. If labelling shellfish such as King or Tiger prawns, the product may only be labelled as such if the species meets the description in Defra’s “Common Designations of Fish” document. You should also be careful if selling reformed crab or scampi pieces, as the description must make this clear. Similarly, when selling chicken fillet or breast it may only be described as such if it has not been chopped and shaped. Meat products, such as sausages or burgers, have legal compositional requirements regarding the minimum meat content as laid out in the Products Containing Meat etc. (England) Regulations 2014. These regulations also cover reformed products.
Incorrect descriptions can also occur if the cooking or preparation process is mentioned. The term “roast” cannot be used if the item was steamed first then flash roasted. A “smoked” product must be exactly that, smoked and not injected with a smoke flavouring.
Take care if you want to refer to foods as fresh, local, seasonal, pure, natural or homemade. These are emotive terms when used in conjunction with food and it is easy to mislead people. The Food Standards Agency has produced detailed criteria for the use of such terms, so think carefully before using these adjectives!
A simple mistake to make is to describe margarine as butter. For example, if you sell breakfasts and include bread and butter in the description, but actually serve bread and margarine this is breaking food labelling legislation!
If portion sizes are stated, these must be accurate and clear. For example, half a chicken implies the chicken is cut down the middle and the consumer will receive one breast, one wing and one leg, not that they will receive half a chicken by weight.
Irradiated and Genetically Modified (GM) Ingredients
If any ingredients have been irradiated or are GM, this must be clearly stated. This includes food that has been cooked in GM oil.
If your products contain one of the 14 allergens this must be made clear to the consumer. In the case of nuts, it is possible to have a fatal reaction to even minute quantities, so if food has been prepared in the environment of nut products this should be stated.
Be Aware …
It is an offence to display misleading or incorrect information. The accuracy of descriptions used in catering premises is the responsibility of the business owner.
Failure to comply may result in an improvement notice being issued, requiring compliance to be achieved. If the improvement notice is not complied with it is an offence under the Food Safety Act 1990. The maximum penalty on conviction is an unlimited fine and two years’ imprisonment. If allergen information does not comply with the requirements it is an offence under the Food Information Regulations 2014. The maximum penalty on conviction is an unlimited fine!
What the Law Says
There are a number of pieces of legislation that cover the labelling of food:
• Food Safety Act 1990
• EU Regulation No 1169/2011
• Fish Labelling Regulations 2013
• Food Information Regulations 2014
• Products Containing Meat etc. (England) Regulations 2014
Time To Take Action
If you use terms such as fresh, natural or homemade in product descriptions, take a look at the guidance in the above link. Are you still happy to describe your products in this manner or is it time for a rethink?
Envesca offer the following courses, all of which include details on food labelling.