Guidance

Food labelling: giving food information to consumers

Find out the information you must give to customers on food products and how to give it.

This guidance tells you the information you must provide with food products to comply with the European Food Information to Consumers Regulation No 1169/2011 (FIC) and the Food Information Regulations 2014 (FIR).

These rules apply to you if you operate a food business, even if you give food to consumers for free. You don’t need to give food information to customers if you’re not a food business and you’re providing food for an occasional event, like a village fair.

Labelling pre-packed food

Pre-packed food is any food that’s put into packaging before being put on sale and that cannot be altered without opening or changing the packaging.

Information to display on labels or packaging

You must display the following information (mandatory information) on the product packaging or on a label attached to the packaging:

  • the name of the food
  • the quantitative ingredients declaration (QUID), where needed
  • a list of ingredients (including allergens)
  • the weight or volume of the food (net quantity)
  • a ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date
  • the name and address of the food business operator (FBO) responsible for the food information
  • the alcoholic strength by volume (as a percentage) on drinks containing over 1.2% alcohol by volume

How to display information on labels or packaging

Information on labels must be difficult to remove (indelible).

Your labelling must allow the customer to see all the following information at the same time (it must be on one side of the packaging):

  • the name of the food
  • the net quantity of the food
  • alcoholic strength by volume (for drinks containing over 1.2% alcohol)

You must print all the mandatory information using a font with a minimum x-height of 1.2 millimetres.

picture showing the x-height of a font
The x-height (6) must be 1.2 millimetres

If the largest surface area of packaging is less than 80cm squared, you can use a minimum x-height of 0.9mm.

Add information about country of origin and special storage conditions

State a product’s country of origin or place of provenance on the label if the words or pictures on the packaging imply that it comes from somewhere else. For example, if a food has a tartan wrapper but wasn’t made in Scotland, you need to put the actual country of origin on the label.

The ‘country of origin’ tells the consumer the country in which the food was produced. The ‘place of provenance’ may be a group of countries or a region within a country.

Describe on the label any special storage conditions or instructions if consumers will need them to use the food appropriately. For example, a product may need the words ‘keep refrigerated and use within 3 days of opening’ or ‘do not reheat’.

If a product has been packaged in a protective atmosphere, include the words ‘packaged in a protective atmosphere’ on the label or packaging.

Label allergens

You must give information on allergens in food. This includes substances produced or derived from allergens or used in processing the food.

Allergens are:

  • cereals containing gluten, such as wheat (including spelt and khorasan wheat), rye, barley and oats
  • crustaceans, for example prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish
  • eggs
  • fish
  • peanuts
  • soybeans
  • milk (including lactose)
  • nuts (ie almonds, hazelnuts, pistachio nuts, pecan nuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts and macadamia or Queensland nuts)
  • celery (including celeriac)
  • mustard
  • sesame seeds
  • sulphur dioxide/sulphites, if they are more than 10 milligrams per kilogram or 10 milligrams per litre in the finished product
  • lupin, including lupin seeds and flour
  • molluscs, for example mussels, oysters, snails and squid

Read the full guidance on food allergen labelling.

List the ingredients

You must put a list of ingredients (including information on additives) on the packaging of all pre-packed products except:

  • fresh fruit and vegetables that haven’t been peeled, cut or similarly treated
  • carbonated water that is labelled as ‘carbonated water’
  • fermented vinegars derived from single, basic product (such as white wine) with no added ingredients
  • cheese, butter, fermented milk or cream if its only ingredients are lactic products, food enzymes and micro-organism cultures essential to its manufacture
  • products consisting of a single ingredient where the name of the food is the same as the name of the ingredient or clearly identifies what the ingredient is (for example, peanuts or eggs)
  • products on which no side of the packaging or container has a surface area larger than 10cm squared
  • products in glass bottles for reuse that have food information indelibly marked on them and have no other labelling (for example, milk bottles)
  • any alcoholic drink containing over 1.2% alcohol by volume

You must put the ingredients list under a heading that contains the word ‘ingredients’.

If you’re not sure whether your particular food product is exempt from needing an ingredients list, contact your local trading standards office.

The name of ingredients should follow the rules set out for the name of the food. For example, you must only call an ingredient ‘jam’ if it meets the compositional standards for jam.

You must list the ingredients by weight from the most to the least that your product contains (based on the ingredient weights at the time of manufacture).

Other information in the ingredients list

Put ‘(nano)’ after the name of any engineered nanomaterial used as an ingredient.

Label foods treated with ionising radiation with the words ‘irradiated’ or ‘treated with ionising radiation’.

You must also show if an ingredient has been irradiated, even if it’s a compound ingredient (such as cheese) which has had one of its constituent parts irradiated (for example, the milk used to make the cheese).

Give a quantitative ingredients declaration (QUID)

The QUID tells a customer the percentage of particular ingredients contained in a food product.

When to display the QUID

You must show a QUID if the ingredient:

  • is in the name of the food (for example, the ‘blackberry’ and ‘apple’ in a blackberry and apple pie)
  • is usually associated with that name by the consumer (‘mutton’ in a Lancashire hotpot)
  • is emphasised by words, pictures or graphics on the label (for example, if there is a picture of blackberries on the label)
  • characterises a food and distinguishes it from products with a similar name or appearance

For example, lasagne made with pork must show the QUID for the pork because it characterises the product and distinguishes it from a lasagne (usually made with beef).

However, you don’t need to give a QUID if the ingredients:

  • have only been used in small quantities as flavouring
  • are used in varying proportions and can be labelled as fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, herbs or spices (such as in a vegetable soup)
  • already have a quantity shown on the label as a ‘drained net weight’

You don’t need a QUID for ingredients that can vary in quantity without altering the character of the food or distinguishing it from similar foods. For example, you don’t need to show a QUID for flour in a flour tortilla.

You must give the meat QUID when you sell loose or pre-packed-for-direct-sale products that contain meat and other ingredients (except in a catering environment). You must display the QUID on a label on the food or display it clearly where the customer can see it when they are choosing the product.

On pre-packed food, you must give this information either:

  • as a percentage in brackets in the ingredients list after the name of the ingredient, for example ‘pork (80%)’
  • in or next to the name of the food, for example ‘containing 80% pork’

Show the ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date

You must usually show either a ‘best before’ or a ‘use by’ date on the packaging or label of pre-packed food products.

Only show a ‘use by’ date where there is a safety issue with eating the food after this date. It’s a criminal offence to sell food that’s past its ‘use by’ date.

Read Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) guidance on date marking

You don’t need to show a ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date, but you must include a lot number on:

  • fresh fruit and vegetables which haven’t been peeled, cut or similarly treated (except for sprouting seeds and similar products, like legume sprouts)
  • wines, liqueur wines, sparkling wines, aromatised wines and similar products made from fruit other than grapes
  • drinks made from fermented grapes or grape musts
  • drinks containing 10% or more alcohol by volume
  • baked or pastry goods which are normally consumed within 24 hours of being made
  • vinegar
  • cooking salt
  • solid sugar
  • confectionery made almost solely of flavoured or coloured sugars
  • chewing gums and similar chewing products

If you’re not sure whether your particular food product is exempt from showing a date of minimum durability, contact your local trading standards office.

Show the name and address of the food business operator

You must include a business name and address on the packaging or food label of pre-packed food products. This must be either:

  • the name of the business whose name the food is marketed under (if based in the EU)
  • the address in the EU of the business that has imported the food from outside the EU

The address needs to be a physical address within the EU where your business can be contacted by mail. You can’t use an e-mail address or phone number.

Give nutritional information

You must label pre-packed food products with nutritional information if:

  • you make a nutritional or health claim on the packaging (for example ‘high in fibre’ or ‘good source of calcium’)
  • vitamins or minerals have been added to the food

You can choose to provide nutrition information on other food products.

When you provide nutrition information, you must follow the guidance on nutrition labelling.

Nutrition labelling is compulsory on most pre-packed foods since December 2016.

Tell the consumer about certain ingredients

You must tell the consumer if your product contains:

  • sweeteners or sugars
  • aspartame and colourings
  • liquorice
  • caffeine
  • polyols

Sweeteners and sugars

You must put the words, ‘with sweetener(s)’ by the name of food products containing sweeteners

You must put the words, ‘with sugar(s) and sweetener(s)’ by the name of food products containing both sugars and sweeteners.

Aspartame and colourings

To comply with the rules on labelling additives, you must put the following warnings on the label if the product contains aspartame:

  • ‘contains a source of phenylalanine’, if aspartame is named in the ingredients list
  • ‘contains aspartame (a source of phenylalanine)’ if you use the E number (E951) instead of the name in the ingredients list

Liquorice

You must tell the consumer if a product contains glycyrrhizinic acid, its ammonium salt or the liquorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Put the following words immediately after the ingredients list (or by the name of the food if there is no ingredients list):

  • ‘contains liquorice’ on confectionary or drinks that contain 100 milligrams per kilogram or 10 milligrams per litre or more (unless you have named liquorice as an ingredient)
  • ‘contains liquorice - people suffering from hypertension should avoid excessive consumption’ on confectionery that contains 4 grams per kilogram or more
  • ‘contains liquorice - people suffering from hypertension should avoid excessive consumption’ on drinks that contain 50 milligrams per litre or more (or 300 milligrams per litre if it also contains more than 1.2% alcohol by volume)

Caffeine

You must label drinks that contain more than 150 milligrams per litre of caffeine with the words ‘High caffeine content. Not recommended for children or pregnant or breast-feeding women’.

This also applies to concentrated or dried drinks that will contain more than 150 milligrams per litre of caffeine when reconstituted. It doesn’t apply to tea and coffee drinks if ‘tea’ or ‘coffee’ are in the name of the food.

Where caffeine has been added to a food product (other than a drink) for a physiological purpose, you must put the words ‘Contains caffeine. Not recommended for children or pregnant women’ on the label.

You must put these warnings in the same field of vision as the name of the food and include the caffeine content in milligrams per 100 grams or per 100 millilitres in brackets after the warning.

Polyols

You must label foods that contain more than 10% added polyols with the words ‘excessive consumption may produce laxative effects’.

Plant sterols and stanols

You must label foods with added phytosterols, phytosterol esters, phytostanols or phytostanol esters with all of the following:

  • ‘with added plant sterols’ or ‘with added plant stanols’ (in the same field of vision as the name of the food)
  • a statement that the food is intended exclusively for people who want to lower their blood cholesterol level, and a statement that the consumption of more than 3g/day of added plant sterols/plant stanols should be avoided (both in the same field of vision on the packaging)
  • a statement that patients on cholesterol lowering medication should only consume the product under medical supervision
  • an easily visible statement that the food may not be nutritionally appropriate for pregnant or breastfeeding women and children under the age of 5
  • advice that the food is to be used as part of a balanced and varied diet, including regular consumption of fruit and vegetables to help maintain carotenoid levels
  • a definition of a portion of the food or food ingredient along with with the amount of the plant sterol/plant stanol that each portion contains

You must put the amount of added phytosterols, phytosterol esters, phytostanols or phytostanol esters the food contains in the list of ingredients (as a percentage or the number of grams of free plant sterols/plant stanols per 100g or 100ml).

Distance selling

If you sell food products online or by phone or mail order, you must make the required information available for free to the customer before they buy (except the durability and freezing dates) and when it is delivered to them.

Selling food products to other businesses

You must pass on certain information about products if you are an FBO selling food products to other businesses, not to the final consumer. At the end of the supply chain, whoever is selling a food product to the final consumer must have all the information they need to provide.

Information you must give

If the food will be sold non pre-packed to the final consumer, you must provide all the information required for non pre-packed foods.

If the food will be sold pre-packed to the final consumer, you must provide all information required for pre-packed food. This applies even if the pre-packing will be done by someone else after you sell it.

If you don’t know how the food will be sold to the final consumer, you should assume that it will be pre-packed.

How to give the information

You must give the information on the pre-packaging if the packaging will not be changed before the product is sold to the final consumer.

If you’re not responsible for the final pre-packaging of the product or it is non pre-packed, you must provide the information either:

  • on pre-packaging
  • on a label attached to the pre-packaging
  • in the commercial documents associated with the food

You must send your customer the commercial documents before or at the same time as you send them the food.

Label external packaging

You must also put extra information on any external packaging that you use to supply food that meets either of the following conditions:

  • it’ll be taken out of your external packaging and sold in its own packaging (for example, a large box containing bags of potato crisps)
  • it’ll be used by a mass caterer to prepare food or it’ll be split or cut up

You must label your external packaging with:

  • the name of the food
  • the ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date
  • any special storage conditions
  • the name and address of your business

Voluntary information

Some businesses that you sell to may ask you for additional, voluntary labelling information.

Improvement notices

In most cases, an officer from your local authority may issue you with an improvement notice if you haven’t complied with food regulations. Improvement notices can’t be issued in relation to net weight contraventions, but you can be prosecuted if you break net weight rules.

You’re committing an offence and may be prosecuted if you don’t comply with an improvement notice.

You may be prosecuted (without first being given an improvement notice) if you break the rules on allergens.

An improvement notice will tell you what your business is doing wrong, what rules have been broken, how to comply and by when. It will also tell you how to appeal against an improvement notice.

You can continue to operate if you get an improvement notice, but you must do what it tells you to do within the time it specifies.

Get labelling advice

If you’re a business and want advice on labelling, contact your local trading standards office.

This guidance is for the rules in the FIC and FIR. Other rules also apply to food labelling and composition.

You can learn about how to label your food products by completing a free online food labelling e-training course

Published 27 April 2015
Last updated 29 November 2017 + show all updates
  1. Update to link to WRAP date marking guidance. Added related guides on Labelling loose food, Naming food products Country of Origin information for meat and fish, Meat Products: sell them legally in England.
  2. Removed definition of foods pre-packed for direct sale. Food Standards Agency guidance provides accurate definition.
  3. Removed: You must also put the words ‘may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’ on products that contain: allura red (E129) carmoisine (E122) ponceau 4R (E124) quinoline yellow (E104) sunset yellow (E110) tartrazine (E102) Removed "You must also follow rules on how you [tell a consumer if the food contains genetically modified (GM) ingredients](http://www.food.gov.uk/science/novel/gm/gm-labelling)." This is not in FIC or FIR.
  4. First published.