Guidance

Food standards: labelling and composition

Legal standards for labelling and composition of food products such as bottled water, milk and meat.

Applies to England

Food compositional standards generally apply to foods that:

  • consumers expect to be of a certain quality
  • are at risk of being substituted for lower quality alternatives

This guide covers food compositional standards rules in England, but similar rules apply across the UK.

You can sell food products from other parts of the UK in England if your products comply with either the:

See food compositional standards guidance for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

When marketing food, you must label your food with a name that represents the food honestly. This is so you do not mislead consumers.

Some foods have ‘reserved descriptions’ which you can only use if the food has a certain composition.

Example
A product labelled ‘beef burger’ must contain at least 62% beef and an ‘economy beef burger’ must contain at least 47% beef.

Foods that have a ‘reserved description’ and are covered in this guide are:

  • bottled water
  • bread and flour
  • cocoa and chocolate products
  • fats and oils
  • fruit juices and nectars
  • honey
  • jams and similar products
  • products containing meat
  • milk and milk products
  • soluble coffee and chicory extracts
  • specified sugar products such as sucrose or glucose syrups

International standards

The Codex Alimentarius is a large international body which sets food standards, guidelines and codes of practice in the international trade of food and agricultural products.

The Codex international standards are voluntary good practice and not legally binding. They aim to ensure the safety, quality and fairness in international food trade and protect consumers. UK foods standards generally go above and beyond the Codex standards.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the Codex contact in the UK. For any questions, email Codex.

Bottled water

There are 3 types of bottled water with rules that producers need to follow to produce and market it to the public.

These are:

Read the guidance to compare natural mineral water, spring water and bottled drinking water.

You can check the list of recognised natural mineral waters in the UK.

These rules are laid out in law in The Natural Mineral Water, Spring Water and Bottled Drinking Water (England) Regulations 2007.

Bread and flour

The Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 lay down labelling and compositional standards for bread and flour. The regulations define terms such as ‘wholemeal’ and ‘self-raising’.

You should make sure that iron, niacin, thiamine and calcium are added to wheat flour (except wholemeal) that’s produced in or imported into England. These rules aim to protect the public’s health.

You can sell flour produced in England that does not comply with the regulations if it’s to be either:

  • directly exported from England to a country outside the UK and is not sold to consumers in England
  • used only in products that are exported directly to a country outside the UK and are not sold to consumers in England

The addition of calcium is not required for:

  • self-raising flour which has a calcium content of not less than 0.2%
  • wheat malt flour

The regulations also do not apply to flour that is used in the manufacture of :

  • communion wafers
  • matzos
  • gluten
  • starch
  • any concentrated preparation that assists the addition of calcium carbonate, iron, niacin and thiamine to flour

You can import flour that does not comply with the regulations into England from a country outside the UK if the flour both:

  • was lawfully produced and sold in that country
  • will be used in England to produce food which will be exported outside the UK and will not be sold to consumers in England

Bread produced in England for direct export to a country outside the UK does not need to comply with the labelling and compositional rules, providing it’s not sold to consumers in England.

Flour: importing and manufacturing in England from 1 October 2022

The exemptions for imports from the EU will change on 1 October 2022. From 1 October 2022, white and brown wheat flour imported into England from the EU must be fortified if it’s either:

  • sold directly to consumers or businesses in England
  • used in products marketed or sold in England

You must follow these rules even if you import flour from the EU into England that originally came from a non-EU country.

From 1 October 2022, you can only import unfortified white and brown wheat flour from EU and non-EU countries into England if it’s lawfully produced and sold in the country you’re importing the flour from.

It must also be either:

  • directly exported from England to a country outside the UK and not sold to consumers in England
  • used only in products that are exported from England to a country outside the UK and not sold to consumers in England

You can continue to manufacture products in England with unfortified white and brown wheat flour from 1 October 2022 if the flour was both:

  • legally imported from the EU
  • imported at any time before 1 October 2022

Bread: importing and manufacturing in England from 1 October 2022

The exemptions for imports from the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein (the European Economic Area, EEA) will change on 1 October 2022.

From 1 October 2022, bread you import from the EEA to England must not contain or have been prepared with flour bleaching agents.

Bread labelled or advertised as:

  • ‘wholemeal’ must contain 100% wholemeal flour
  • ‘wheat germ’ must have at least 10% added processed wheat germ

You can continue to sell and use bread in England that does not meet these rules after 1 October 2022 if it was both:

  • lawfully marketed in an EEA country (even if it originally came from a non-EEA country)
  • imported at any time before 1 October 2022

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 cocoa and chocolate products including setting minimum ingredient 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 where appropriate a milk solids declaration is also required. This enables consumers to make informed decisions about the type of chocolate they want to buy.

Fats and oils

There are general labelling rules for fats and oils when labelling them as an ingredient ‘vegetable oil or fat’.

Importing spreadable fats into England from 1 October 2022

From 1 October 2022, you will not be able to import spreadable fats from Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein into England that do not meet the labelling and compositional rules for sale or supply to consumers in England - for example, through restaurants, hospitals or canteens.

Olive oil

Olive oil products have specific requirements relating to chemical and sensory characteristics. Read the detailed guidance on olive oil labelling, packaging and inspections.

Fruit juices and nectars

The Fruit Juice and Fruit Nectars (England) Regulations 2013 bring together all rules on fruit juices and fruit nectars by setting minimum compositional standards.

These rules define terms such as fruit juice, fruit juice from concentrate, concentrated fruit juice, water extracted fruit juice and fruit nectar. For example, orange juice must have a minimum brix (sugar) level of 11.2.

They also lay down permitted authorised ingredients and treatments in the manufacture of fruit juices.

Honey

Honey composition and labelling is controlled by The Honey (England) Regulations 2015. This legislation lays down reserved descriptions that must be used for:

  • the source from which the honey is obtained (for example, blossom, honeydew)
  • the processes by which it’s obtained (for example, drained, extracted)
  • the way it’s presented (for example, comb, chunk honey)

The regulations lay down detailed specifications honey must comply with in terms of its composition and sets out some general quality criteria for honey.

If you use one of the reserved descriptions (for example, ‘comb honey’ or ‘honeydew honey’), your product must be made according to the defined compositional criteria.

Labelling honey blends

The regulations contain some specific labelling requirements including a requirement for country of origin labelling. If the honey is a blend of honeys from more than one country, you can choose to use the statement ‘blend of honeys from more than one country’ (or similar wording). You can use this statement as an alternative to listing the various countries of origin.

Period of adjustment

Honey placed on the UK market before 1 January 2021 can stay on the market using the following origin wording, providing the label was accurate at the time:

  • ‘blend of EU honeys’
  • ‘blend of non-EU honeys’
  • ‘blend of EU and non-EU honeys’

You can continue to list the countries of origin of honey blends placed on the UK market.

For honey blends sold in England and Wales until 30 September 2022, you can use one of the following:

  • ‘blend of honeys from more than one country’ (or similar wording)
  • ‘blend of EU honeys’
  • ‘blend of non-EU honeys’
  • ‘blend of EU and non-EU honeys’

If you continue to use EU terms, you must ensure your label is accurate. For example, a blend of UK and French honey placed on the market in England and Wales would either need to:

  • list both countries
  • use the words ‘blend of EU and non-EU honeys’

This is because the UK is no longer part of the EU.

From 1 October 2022, you must use ‘blend of honeys from more than one country’ (or similar wording) if you decide not to list each country of origin.

For honey blends sold in Scotland, options for labelling origin include using:

  • ‘blend of honeys from more than one country’ (or similar wording)
  • reference to the trading bloc of the countries of origin (for example, ‘blend of EU honeys’, ‘blend of non-EU honeys’ or ‘blend of EU and non-EU honeys’)

If you continue to use trading bloc or EU terms, you must ensure your label is accurate. For example, a blend of UK and French honey placed on the market in Scotland would either need to:

  • list both countries
  • use the words ‘blend of EU and non-EU honeys’

This is because the UK is no longer part of the EU.

Northern Ireland and the EU markets

If you place on the Northern Ireland or EU markets a blend of honeys from different countries, you must accurately reflect that GB honey is no longer EU honey and use one of the following terms:

  • ‘blend of EU honeys’
  • ‘blend of non-EU honeys’
  • ‘blend of EU and non-EU honeys’

Jams and marmalade

Jam and similar products like jellies and marmalades must comply with the reserved descriptions in the Jam and Similar Products (England) Regulations 2003.

The rules include:

  • compositional requirements such as minimum fruit and sugar requirements
  • specific labelling requirements such as labelling the amount of fruit and sugar in a jam or marmalade

You can add some ingredients to jams and marmalades. The regulations also provide national rules for mincemeat and fruit curds.

Importing fruit curds and mincemeat into England from 1 October 2022

Fruit curds and mincemeat you import from the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein into England from 1 October 2022 must meet the labelling and composition rules.

Milk products

There are general labelling rules for milk and milk products (for example, labelling milk as an allergen). Drinking milk is covered by The Drinking Milk England Regulations 2008.

The Spreadable Fats (Marketing Standards) and the Milk and Milk Products (Protection of Designations) (England) Regulations 2008 require milk and milk products intended for human consumption to comply with certain specifications for names and composition.

For condensed milk and dried milk, there are specific compositional and labelling requirements in The Condensed and Dried Milk (England) Regulations 2015 (for example, fat and milk solid content).

The Caseins and Caseinates (England) Regulations 2017 contain specific compositional and labelling requirements for caseins and caseinates (for example, milk protein content).

Products containing meat

There are general labelling rules for meat and meat products, including for:

  • country of origin
  • the name of the food (when water or other animal species are added)
  • certain meat products that look like a cut, joint, slice, portion or carcase of meat

For a range of products containing meat, The Products Containing Meat etc. (England) Regulations 2014 set out certain rules you must follow.

These regulations include the minimum meat content requirements for certain meat products sold using reserved descriptions (for example, sausages, burgers, corned beef, meat pies and pasties).

There is further guidance on meat and products containing meat.

For beef and veal, there are specific rules in The Beef and Veal Labelling Regulations (2010) and detailed guidance on beef and veal labelling.

Importing products containing meat to England from 1 October 2022

You cannot sell products containing meat in England from 1 October 2022 if they do not meet the labelling and composition rules. This includes selling products in England that are imported from the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Turkey.

Soluble coffee

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, as well as providing rules on their labelling. For example, ‘preserved with X’, ‘with added X’, or ‘roasted with X’. They also control the use of the term ‘decaffeinated’.

Sugars

The Specified Sugar Products (England) Regulations 2003 lay down reserved descriptions for certain types of sugar products. These rules set out specifications for the sugar products covered (such as table sugar, fructose and glucose syrups) and provide any additional labelling requirements.

Examples of requirements include:

  • rules for changes in weight (for example, maximum loss of weight once dried (per cent)
  • manufacture processes (for example, partly inverted via hydrolysis)
  • specific labelling requirements for glucose syrups containing fructose

Products covered by the rules include white sugars, dextrose, glucose syrups and fructose.

Published 9 April 2013
Last updated 14 March 2022 + show all updates
  1. Updates have been made to: bread and flour, fat and oils, jam and marmalade and products containing meat. Guidance on 'fish: species names, commercial designations and labelling' will be published as soon as it is available.

  2. The list of recognised natural mineral waters has been moved to a separate page: 'Recognised natural mineral waters in the UK'.

  3. Added information about how Brexit will affect food labelling.

  4. Guidance on Natural Mineral Waters has been updated to include information for UK producers on what happens if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

  5. Removed Aqua Viva, Aqua Viva Park, Arandjelovac, Serbia from the list of third country natural mineral waters recognised by the UK. The recognition of the natural mineral water source granted on 17 December 2013 has expired and not been renewed.

  6. Updated the list of UK recognised natural mineral waters to include Anu Irish Natural Mineral Water and Prince's Gate Source W.

  7. List of natural mineral waters recognised in the UK updated.

  8. Latest list of natural mineral waters recognised by the UK published

  9. Update content under the 'Bread and flour' heading regarding a consultation in 2014.

  10. Updated source of Aqua Pura bottled water.

  11. 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.

  12. Changed the Fruit juice and nectar section with regulations that came into force on 20 November 2013.

  13. Updated: Table showing natural mineral waters recognised in the UK

  14. Update: Added links to Guidance for the Fish Labelling Regulations 2013 and UK Commercial Designation List

  15. First published.