Food Labelling eHandbook


At least every week one of the major manufacturers has to withdraw product from the shops because there is something wrong with the label. This is both expensive and a waste of product. It is not just the notice stuck on the front of the packet. The law applies to anything a customer may understand as referring to a product. So that includes any advertising and even where the product is placed on the shop shelf.

Getting the label right is a complex process. Whilst this handbook does not cover marketing techniques, there is some reference to them in section 9. The label is the one piece of communication between the manufacturer and the shopper, with the retailer in the middle.

Over the years statements on food labels have become more exaggerated so that the shopper does not know what to believe. The 2011 Regulation is designed to protect the shopper from any misleading or ambiguous labelling and give a true picture of what the product really is. The rules also apply to catering meals, mail order and market stalls.

The Regulation is still quite new and has not yet been tested in the Courts. Therefore the interpretation of some of the clauses may be unclear at present. This handbook will be revised regularly to reflect the current status.

Whether you are a grower, manufacturer, processor, transporter, retailer or the shopper you will benefit by understanding what has to go on all food labels and what the words mean. We commend the handbook to all who deal with foods.

The objective of this food labelling handbook is to steer producers, caterers and anyone dealing with food to sources of the legal demands, so that they can get their labelling right.

This handbook shows the rules for food labelling that will be mandatory as from 2014 when the current rules will be superseded. The new rules are defined in the Provision of Food Information to Consumers Regulation EU 1169/2011 known as the FIR and come into force progressively from December 2011. They shall apply as from 13 December 2014 except for the nutrition declaration requirement which shall be from 13 December 2016.


  1. Introduction
  2. Mandatory requirements
  3. Vertical regulations and Official Guidance Notes
    1. Allergens - pre-packed
    2. Allergens - loose
    3. Animal Products
    4. Basmati rice
    5. Clear food labels
    6. Cocoa and chocolate
    7. Condensed and dried milk labelling
    8. Country of Origin
    9. Ecolabels
    10. Fat spreads
    11. Feed labelling
    12. Fish labelling
    13. Food assurance schemes
    14. Food colours
    15. Food labelling guidance 1996
    16. Food for particular use PARNUTS
    17. Food supplements
    18. Fresh, pure, natural etc terms
    19. Fruit juices
    20. Genetically modified
    21. Gluten intolerance
    22. Honey regulations
    23. Infant formulae
    24. Jam regulations
    25. Lot marking
    26. Meat in baked goods
    27. Meat products
    28. Meat reconstitutes
    29. Milk definitions
    30. Molluscs
    31. Nutrition labelling
    32. Olive Oil
    33. Organic
    34. QUID
    35. Sugar products
    36. Sweeteners
    37. Use by guidance
    38. Vegetarian/vegan
  4. Allergens
  5. Claims
  6. Dates on labels
  7. Country of Origin
  8. Summary
  9. Label to sell
  10. More information - including:
    1. The text of the new food Information to Consumers Regulation
    2. The role of DEFRA
    3. Principles of food law
    4. The 1996 EC Labelling Directive that said what had to go on a label
    5. The UK Food Labelling Regulations
    6. Guidance on the UK rules
    7. Extra things that must be declared on food labels
    8. COOL - Code of practice for pigmeat
    9. Full text of the Claims regulation
    10. Recommended daily allowances
    11. Guidance on nutrition labels
    12. Front of pack nutrition signposting systems
    13. Bar code advice sheet
    14. Food Solutions Labelling Fact Sheets
    15. Protected names
    16. Symbols used on labels
    17. Other Signs on labels
    18. Lion quality eggs
    19. Voluntary declarations

Annex A - Definitions

Annex B - Allergens

Annex C - Additional Particulars

Annex D - Exemptions from list of ingredients

Annex E - Exemptions from nutrition declarations

Annex F - Designation terms for certain functional ingredients

Annex G - Designation of ingredients

Back to top

1 Introduction

The Law says: that the labelling, advertising and presentation of food or feed, including their shape, appearance or packaging, the packaging materials used, the manner in which they are arranged and the setting in which they are displayed, and the information which is made available about them through whatever means shall not mislead consumers. See general food law from EC178/2002. The new law lays down the "means to guarantee the right of consumers to information and procedures for the provision of food information".

  1. The laws on food labelling are laid down in the Provision of Food Information to Consumers, known as the FIR, a new EU Regulation (see Annex A for definitions) that was passed in 2011. The new Regulation EU 1169/2011 can be seen at: Food Information Regulation FIR. It revokes the previous EU Directive and some other Regulations. It effectively prevents national demands by saying that "national measures should not prohibit, impede or restrict the free movement of goods that are in conformity with this regulation".
  2. The new Regulation was published late 2011 and came into force 20 days after publication. It will run in parallel with the old rules for about three years to enable changes to existing labels to be made. That will be on 13 December 2014. It will be adopted verbatim into English law but there will be a Statutory Instrument only to define the penalties for non-compliance. This E-handbook includes the provisions of the new Regulation. See Section 8 for a summary of the new provisions. The new provisions do not apply to charities occasional events.
  3. The objective of the new Regulation is to guarantee the right of information to consumers so that they can make informed choices.
  4. For a producer a balance must be struck:
    • The label must inform consumers about what the product is and give warnings about any factor which might make the product unsuitable for specific people (e.g. allergen information).
    • From a marketing point of view - the objective is to make the label as attractive as possible to persuade people to buy the product.
  5. For certain processes and products there are specific labelling demands brought in by other rules. These are known as "vertical regulations" as they only apply in limited cases. Most of these have official guidelines laid down, which, although not legally binding, must be taken into account. They are shown in around sixty other documents.
  6. For pre-packed foods there are twelve mandatory statements. For each mandatory statement there are explanatory clauses. There are some exemptions for foods sold loose like catering meals. The new Regulation introduces some new demands that have not been in place before. See section 8
  7. The Law prohibits as well as demands: Food labelling law is outlined in Regulation EU 1169/2011 which says that food information shall not be misleading particularly:
    1. as to the characteristics of the foodstuff and, in particular, to its nature, identity, properties, composition, quantity, durability, country of origin or place of provenance, method of manufacture or production;
    2. by attributing to the food effects or properties which it does not possess;
    3. by suggesting that the food possesses special characteristics when in fact all similar foodstuffs possess such characteristics ,in particular by specifically emphasising the presence or absence of certain ingredients and/or nutrients;
    4. by suggesting, by means of the appearance, the description or pictorial representations, the presence of a particular food or an ingredient, while in reality a component naturally present or an ingredient normally used in that food has been substituted with a different component or a different ingredient.

In other words food information shall be accurate, clear and easy to understand for the consumer.

Back to top