Food standards: labelling, durability and composition
Requirements for products listed under food standards legislation, such as bottled water, milk, fish and meat; table of UK mineral waters; 'best before' dates.
General guidance on food labelling can be found on GOV.UK under Food labelling and packaging.
This guide covers more specific legal requirements for some particular food products. It also explains the requirements for ‘best before’ and ‘use by’.
Food standards legislation sets out specific requirements for the labelling, composition and, in some cases, safety parameters for specific high value foodstuffs which are potentially at risk of being misleadingly substituted with lower quality alternatives:
- bottled water
- bread and flour
- cocoa and chocolate products
- fats and oils
- fruit juices and nectars
- jams and preserves
- meat and meat products
- milk and milk products
- soluble coffee
Legislation sets requirements for food labels in the UK and aims to ensure food labels are an honest presentation of food. The requirements in place ensure consistency for the industry and for consumers.
Food labelling legislation is harmonised at an EU level. In England, responsibility for food labelling legislation and policy is split across Defra, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Department of Health (DH).
For Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all domestic standards legislation is the responsibility of the FSA.
This guide includes Defra’s table of mineral waters recognised in the UK and how to notify Defra or the FSA about newly recognised mineral waters or make amendments.
It also covers the Codex international standards that are not legally binding are generally considered good practice. They ensure fairness in international trade and make sure consumer interests are protected.
Bottled waters are split into 3 categories: natural mineral water, spring water and bottled drinking water. Each has their own rules and requirements on exploitation, sale and how they are labelled.
Natural mineral waters must come from a recognised underground source and can only be subject to very limited treatments. Any water labelled ‘spring water’ must come from an underground source and meet certain exploitation and labelling requirements but does not need to be from an officially recognised source. Bottled drinking can come from any water source and has fewer labelling restrictions than the other 2 categories.
Final Impact Assessment and Explanatory Memorandum (PDF, 271KB, 21 pages)
Table showing natural mineral waters recognised in the UK
Last updated: 13 October 2015
|Trade description||Name of source||Place of exploitation|
|Not yet on sale||Amerston borehole||Amerston Hall Farm, Elwick|
|Aqua Pura||GB1||Low Plains, Armathwaite, Cumbria|
|Ashbeck||Ashbeck||Low Plains, Armathwaite, Cumbria|
|Bath Natural Mineral Water||Stall Street||Stall Street, Bath|
|Belu||Source B||Llwyndewi Isaf, Trap, Llandeilo, Wales|
|Belu||UK3||Church Stretton, Shropshire|
|Belu Natural Mineral Water||Belu Natural Mineral Water||Wolverton, Church Stretton, Shropshire|
|Blenheim Water||Blenheim Park||Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire|
|Blue Keld Springs||Blue Keld Spring||Throstle nest Farm, Cranswick, East Riding of Yorkshire|
|Brecon Carreg||Brecon Carreg||Llwyndewi Isaf, Trap, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire|
|Buxton||St Ann’s||The Natural Baths, Buxton, Derbyshire|
|Castle Spring||Castle||Lon Parcwr, Ruthin|
|Celtic Spring||CS1||Churchstoke, Powys|
|Celtic Spring||Silverbrook Falls||Churchstoke, Montgomery, Powys|
|Celtic Vale Natural Mineral Water||Celtic Vale Spring||Springvale, Longtown, Herefordshire|
|Cerist||Cerist||Llawr Cae, Dinas Mawddwy, Machynlleth, Powys|
|Charles Wells Mineral Water||Park Road Wells||Park Road, Bedford|
|Classic||Classic||Edward Street, Lurgan, Craigavon, Co. Armagh|
|Crystal Falls||Crystal Falls||Blaen Twyni Farm, Glyntawe, Penycae, Powys|
|NA no production at present||Dartmoor||Lower Hurston Farm, Chagford, Devon|
|Decantae||Decantae||Trofarth Farm, Trofarth, Conwy|
|Deeside Natural Mineral Water||Deeside, Lower Spring||Pannanich Wells, Ballater|
|Eden Falls||Eden Falls||Low Plains, Armathwaite, Cumbria|
|Elmhurst Spring||Elmhurst Spring, Borehole 1||Elmhurst, Lichfield, Staffs|
|Fairbourne Springs||Fairbourne Springs||Churchstoke, Powys|
|NA no longer in production||Findlays Spring||Pitcox, East Lothian|
|Garclaugh Spring,||Garclaugh Spring||Meikle Garcleugh Farm, New Cumnock|
|GB||GB||Round Plantation, Grange Road Duxford, Cambridge|
|Gower Spring||Gower||Staffal Haegr Farm, Llanrhidian, Swansea|
|NA no production at present||Bridgehouse Mills||Bridgehouse Lane, Haworth|
|NA no production at present||Meikle Garcleugh Farm, New Cumnock|
|Houlston Manor Natural Mineral Water||Houlston Manor||Myddle, Shropshire|
|Ice Valley||Shepley Spring No. 1||Shepley Spring Ltd., The Knowle, Shepley, Huddersfield|
|iii||Priory Falls Spring||Churchstoke, Powys|
|NA no production at present||Maol Dubh||Laggan Estate, Isle of Islay|
|NA no production at present||Flodigarry Boreholes 1 & 2||Flodigarry Staffin Isle of Skye|
|NA No production at present||Linton Springs||Westgate Leisure Services Ltd, Leeds, West Yorkshire|
|Maple Spring||Maple Spring Borehole 4||Burntwood Staffordshire|
|Matlock Spring||Matlock||Water Lane, Cranford, Nr Matlock|
|Montgomery Spring||Montgomery Spring||Churchstoke, Powys|
|N/A no production at present_||Source 1||Low Plains, Armathwaite, Cumbria|
|N/A no production at present_||Source 3||Low Plains, Armathwaite, Cumbria|
|Peartree Well||Peartree Well||Framfield, East Sussex|
|Pennine Spring Natural Mineral Water||Pennine Spring||Willow Lane, Huddersfield|
|Pennine Valley||Shepley Spring No.3||Shepley Spring Ltd, The Knowle, Shepley, Huddersfield|
|Penwith Hills||Lower Penderleath Farm||Towednack, St Ives|
|Prysg||Prysg spring||Prysg, Maesycrugiau, Pencader, Carmarthenshire|
|Purely Scottish||PS 2||Oldhamstocks, East Lothian|
|Radnor Hills||Radnor Hills||Heartsease, Knighton, Powys|
|NA no production at present_||Rockhead Spring||Ashwood Dale, Buxton, Derbyshire|
|Rocwell Spring||Rocwell||Limehill Road, Pomeroy, Co. Tyrone|
|Royal Deeside Natural Mineral Water||Upper East Spring||Pannanich Wells Ballater|
|Royal Spring Natural Mineral Water||Royal Spring||Goulbourne Street, Keighley Keighley, West Yorkshire|
|Shropshire Hills Natural Mineral Water||Shropshire Hills||Wolverton, Church Stretton, Shropshire|
|Speyside Glenlivet Natural Mineral Water||Slochd Spring||Braes of Glenlivet, Ballindalloch Banffshire|
|Springbourne||Springbourne||Churchstoke Montgomery, Powys|
|Stretton Hills||Source 6||Church Stretton Shropshire|
|St Ronan’s Spring||St Ronan’s||Innerleithen, Tweedale|
|Sutton Spring||Sutton Spring||Vine Farm Dairy, Sutton Road, Doncaster, DN6 9LB|
|Ty Nant||Ty Nant Water||Bethania Llanon|
|Waitrose Welsh Spring||Waitrose Welsh||Llwyndewi Isaf,Trap, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire|
|Windsor Natural Mineral Water||Windsor House Spring||Windsor House, Southbourne, Emsworth, Hampshire|
Notify Defra of new mineral waters or amend details
The list is compiled with the help of local authorities and the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The aim of the list is to let local enforcement officers know which producers can advertise their product as a natural mineral water and to prevent producers from duplicating names. Defra updates the list whenever it is notified of newly recognised natural mineral waters, withdrawals of recognition or changes to the trade description or the name of the spring.
English local authorities who wish to notify Defra of any amendments to the list should email email@example.com Local authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should contact the relevant FSA devolved office with any amendments to the list as they have responsibility for the equivalent Regulations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- FSA in Scotland contact details
- FSA in Wales contact details
- FSA in Northern Ireland contact details
Third country natural mineral waters recognised by the UK
|Trade description||Name of source||Place of exploitation|
|Minaqua||Fruska Gora Spring||Novi Sad, Serbia Montenegro|
|Knjaz Miloš||Izvorište Mladost||Arandjelovac, Serbia|
|Aqua Viva||Aqua Viva Park||Arandjelovac, Serbia|
The European Commission published a consolidated list of all the natural mineral waters recognised by member states, including third country recognitions.
Bread and flour
The Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 lay down specific labelling and compositional standards for the breads and flours to which they apply. They also continue with a long standing national requirement to restore to all flour, except wholemeal, with certain vitamins and minerals such as niacin, thiamin, iron and calcium to certain types of flour manufactured and sold in the UK. They also define terms like wholemeal and self raising. Defra is intending to consult on these regulations in 2014.
- Update on the Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 – Notice of intent to consult (PDF, 13KB, 1 page)
Cocoa and chocolate products
Certain cocoa and chocolate products must comply with the reserved descriptions set out in the Cocoa and Chocolate Products Regulations 2003. The rules lay down the composition of chocolate and products including setting minimum ingredient requirements and specific labelling requirements. The amount of cocoa solids and milk solids that must be present are stipulated as well as allowing only certain additional ingredients to be added. A cocoa solids declaration such as X% minimum is required for most chocolate products covered by the rules and also where appropriate a milk solids declaration is required. This enables consumers to make informed decisions about the type of chocolate they want to purchase. If you use one of the reserved descriptions covered in the regulation then your product must be made according to the defined compositional criteria.
Fats and oils
Legal standards on composition exist for fats and oil exist for labelling them as an ingredient ‘vegetable oil/fat’. In addition there are very specific rules on the labelling and composition of spreadable fats, such as butter and margarine. These set out permitted fat ranges for each type of spreadable fat: dairy spreads made with milk fat; fat spreads made with vegetable fats; and blended spreads which contain a mix of both types of fat. The legal names for a particular spread must appear prominently on packaging.
- The Spreadable Fats (Marketing Standards) and the Milk and Milk Products (Protection of Designations) (England) Regulations 2008
Fish: species names, commercial designations and labelling
Rules are in place to make sure fish is labelled correctly and consistently at the point of sale, so purchasers know exactly what they are buying. The rules require information on:
- the commercial designation of the species (ie an agreed common name for the species of fish)
- the production method (ie whether caught at sea, caught in inland waters or farmed)
- the catch area (ie either the ocean area, or in the case of freshwater fish, the country in which it was caught or farmed)
There are new requirements to provide:
- the scientific name
- a declaration on whether the fish was previously frozen
Updated rules in the form of The Fish Labelling Regulations 2013 have recently come into force which adds new commercial designations (the names of fish) for species of fish that have recently come onto the market and give extra options for some others that were already listed. An updated guidance note has been produced to accompany the Regulations.
Fruit juices and nectars
The Fruit Juice and Fruit Nectars (England) Regulations 2013 came into force on 20 November 2013 implementing the changes to EU rules on juices and nectars in EU Directive 2012/12/EU.
These rules define terms such as fruit juice, fruit juice from concentrate, concentrated fruit juice, water extracted fruit juice and fruit nectar. The new regulations combine all existing rules on fruit juices and fruit nectars. The rules set minimum requirements for fruit juice quality but provide more flexibility for industry to provide consumers with greater choice. This will provide greater legal clarity and reduce the burden on the fruit juice industry.
The new rules include an updated approach to enforcement. They also take into account technical progress and innovation in the manufacturing of juices.
What are the main changes I need to be aware of?
- Move from mandatory to optional restoration of aromas and flavours. This recognises that for some fruits, aromas are unable to be collected or are of insufficient quality to add back.
- Addition of a new category of juice called “water extracted fruit juice”. This covers juice produced by the diffusion of water with pulpy whole fruit or dehydrated whole fruit e.g. “prune juice”
- The freezing of fruit is now allowed as an approved method of preserving fruit used in juice production.
- The minimum Brix values for blackcurrant, guava, mango and passion fruit have been changed to align with the values in the international worldwide Codex Standard on juices
- Tomato juice is now covered and needs to comply with the new regulations
- The addition of sugar to fruit juices is no longer permitted.
- As a result ‘no added sugar’ claims on fruit juices will also no longer be allowed.
- Up until 28 October 2016 business may use a factual statement “from 28 April 2015 no fruit juices contain added sugars” in order to inform consumers that fruit juices will no longer contain any added sugars.
- For nectars containing added sweeteners “no added sugar” claims will no longer be allowed.
- The product name needs to reflect the fruits used in descending order of their quantity used in the product.
- Fruit purée used in fruit juice production can now be regarded as a “juice”. For example an “orange juice and mango puree” product could now be called “Orange and Mango juice”.
- Food authorities who are responsible for enforcing these rules, will now use improvement notices for compliance issues backed up with criminal sanctions on failure to comply with a notice.
- Businesses will have the opportunity to appeal against an improvement notice to the First-tier Tribunal.
- A definition of ‘flavour’ has been added.
- Water used to restore fruit juice from concentrate needs to comply with Council Directive 98/83/EC on the quality of water intended for human consumption.
New guidance to the Regulations is being produced as part of Defra’s Smarter Guidance project and will be published here shortly.
Honey composition and labelling is controlled by the Honey (England) Regulations 2003 as amended. This legislation lays down reserved descriptions that must be used which relate to the source from which the honey is obtained (eg blossom, honeydew), or the processes by which it is extracted (eg drained, extracted) and also the way it is presented (eg comb, chunk honey). The regulations lay down detailed specification honey must comply to in terms its composition and also set out some general quality criteria for honey. In addition the regulations contain some specific labelling requirements including a requirement for country of origin labelling on honey where appropriate. If you use one of the reserved descriptions then your product must be made according to the defined compositional criteria.
Jams and marmalade
A consultation on revising the Jam and Similar Products Regulations is being held with a view to updating UK domestic legislation.
Jam and similar products must comply with the reserved descriptions as set out in the Jam and Similar Products (England) Regulations 2003. These include compositional requirements such as minimum fruit and sugar requirements and specific labelling requirements such as labelling the amount of fruit and sugar in a jam or marmalade. Products covered include jam, extra jam, jellies and marmalades. In addition only certain ingredients are allowed to be added. The regulations also provide national rules for mincemeat and fruit curds. If you use one of the reserved descriptions then your product must be made according to the defined compositional criteria.
For milk products there are legal standards that set out compositional and labelling requirements and also protect the use of dairy terms when marketing foods. Specific legal standards exist on the composition and labelling of ice cream, cream, casein and caseinates, certain UK cheeses and condensed/dried milk. The use of terms such as milk, cheese, cream, yogurt, etc is also protected so they may only be used for the associated dairy products and not misused to describe non-dairy produce.
- The Food Labelling Regulations 1996
- The Condensed and Dried Milk (England) Regulations 2003
- The Condensed and Dried Milk (England)(Amendment) Regulations 2008
- The Casein and Caseinates Regulations 1985 (No. 2026)
- The Casein and Caseinates (Amendment) Regulations 1989
- The Spreadable Fats (Marketing Standards) and the Milk and Milk Products (Protection of Designations)(England) Regulations 2008
For a range of meat products there is legislation setting out specific compositional and labelling requirements. The rules set out minimum meat content requirements for certain meat products sold using reserved descriptions such as sausages, burgers, corned beef, meat pies, pasties, etc. In addition, there are very specific labelling rules for certain meat products that look like a cut, joint, slice, portion or carcase of meat. Where any added water over certain limits as well as any added ingredients of different animal species to the rest of the meat must be mentioned in the name of the food.
- The Meat Products (England) Regulations 2003
- The Meat Products (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2008
- The Food Labelling (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2003
Instant coffee is controlled by rules covered in The Coffee Extracts and Chicory Extracts (England) Regulations 2000. These define soluble coffee extracts and chicory extracts in terms of their coffee and chicory content and also provide for rules on their labelling.
- Cocoa and Chocolate Products Regulations 2003
- The Coffee Extracts and Chicory Extracts (England) Regulations 2000
Regulations exist which lay down reserved descriptions for certain types of sugar products sold as such to the final consumer. These rules set out specifications for the sugar products covered and in some cases provide for additional labelling requirements. Products covered by the rules include white sugars, dextrose, glucose syrups and fructose.
‘Best before’ and ‘use by’
The ‘best before’ date is appropriate for the vast majority of foods and indicates the period for which a food can reasonably be expected to retain its optimal condition (eg it will not be stale) and relates to the quality of the food.
The ‘use by’ date is the required form of date mark for those foods which are highly perishable from a microbiological point of view and which are likely after a relatively short period to present a risk of food poisoning, and relates to the safety of the food.
Guidance on the application of date labels to food gives the latest advice and guidance.
It includes a short guide especially prepared to assist small and medium sized businesses. It aids compliance with the law and assists food businesses which do not have in-house knowledge or expertise to decide which date marks should apply to which foods and if they need to seek further advice eg from their Local Authority or a specialist food consultant. The guidance does not change the use of ‘sell by’ or ‘display until’ dates although it does reiterate existing best practice advice that these dates are confusing to consumers.
The Codex standards (Codex Alimentarius)
The Codex Alimentarius is a series of food standards and related texts. They aim to provide a high level of consumer protection and fair practice in the international trade of food and agricultural products.
Food standards are becoming more important as international trade in food opens up and consumers are more concerned about safety and quality. Standards must provide a high level of consumer protection and not unnecessarily restrict trade. Codex is recognised in the relevant World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements as the international body able to provide these guarantees. In the event of a trade dispute Codex standards would become accepted reference documents for its settlement.
The organisation charged with the development of the Codex standards and related texts is the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). This is an intergovernmental body jointly sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The detailed work of CAC on drafting standards, codes of practice and other guidance is handled by about 30 Committees which fall into three general categories: commodity committees (eg milk and milk products), horizontal committees dealing with issues across a range of commodities (eg labelling, food additives) and regional committees (eg Europe).
Defra acts as the national contact point for the UK in Codex and is responsible for:
- distributing all Codex papers relating to specific committee/s to interested parties and organising consultations on these issues to feed into the UK position on Codex
- responding to Codex on standards and other texts in the step procedure
- representing the UK at relevant Codex committee meetings
Further details on Codex working procedures, committees and forthcoming meetings can be found on the Codex website.
UK Codex contact point - firstname.lastname@example.org
Food Information Regulation (FIR)
Food Information Regulation (FIR) (1169/2011) was agreed and published on 22 November 2011, directly applicable on 13 December 2011. The majority of provisions will apply in 2014 and the nutrition declaration becoming mandatory in 2016. The scope of the regulation includes a number of key issues including mandatory nutrition labelling on pre-packaged food, Country of Origin, date marking (including date of first freezing), clarity of food information, alcohol labelling, labelling of non pre-packed foods and allergen labelling.
Defra has consulted on this FIR and is developing the Statutory Instrument (SI) to provide enforcement regulations for FIR in the UK. We are also developing with industry guidance to help them conform to the FIR and will continue to work with stakeholders to ease the transition (mostly by 2014 in the UK).
Published: 9 April 2013
Updated: 11 June 2015
- Latest list of natural mineral waters recognised by the UK published
- Update content under the 'Bread and flour' heading regarding a consultation in 2014.
- Updated source of Aqua Pura bottled water.
- Deleted details relating to River Rock from the List of natural mineral waters recognised by the UK and added an entry to the Third country natural mineral waters recognised by the UK table.
- Changed the Fruit juice and nectar section with regulations that came into force on 20 November 2013.
- Updated: Table showing natural mineral waters recognised in the UK
- Update: Added links to Guidance for the Fish Labelling Regulations 2013 and UK Commercial Designation List
- First published.