Food labelling is something that comes up time and again if you’re manufacturing and producing products. Below we’ll explore some of the Food Standards Agency (FSA)’s most fundamental requirements if you’re creating products to be sold in the consumer market.
Basic labelling requirements
Complying with food and drink safety is not the most exciting part of your product adventure. But it’s certainly no fun to have your product rejected, recalled or worse- actually make someone sick. The government website dictates what you need to do with and display on your product so that it can be sold in line with the law. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is the regulatory body who govern and set guidelines for food safety. Below we’ll have a brief look at what you need to address from the outset and as such what you need to make consumers aware of on the product itself.
Your main responsibility is to ensure that you do not include anything in food, remove anything from food, or treat food in any way which means it would be damaging to the health of people eating it, to ensure that the food you serve or sell is of the nature, substance or quality which consumers would expect and to ensure that the food is labelled, advertised and presented in a way that is not false or misleading.
There are 4 basic things that you need to display on the front of your packaging:
- ‘Best before’ or ‘use by’ (or instructions of where it is)
- Any warnings e.g. ‘with sugar and sweeteners’
And there are 5 additional things which you need to display if applicable on the front, side or back:
- Ingredients (if there are more than 2)
- The lot number or use-by date
- Any special storage conditions if it has them
- Cooking instructions or how to use if necessary
- Name and address of the manufacturer, packer or seller
Next comes probably the most obvious thing you need to address, which is letting the consumers know what is actually in your food. Many people are very health-conscious these days, which is reflected in the government’s agenda to make the contents of your product as clear as possible. Here’s what you need to remember:
- Ingredients must be listed in order of quantity or weight, led by the main ingredient
- With regards to allergy and intolerance, you must make potential food allergens easily identifiable on the packaging for the customers to see.
- You must also include specific labelling for high caffeine drinks and foods where caffeine has been added for a physiological effect
There is also an important requirement to make your food ‘traceable’! This obligation of traceability requires for you to be able to supply information about all food, food substances, and food producing animals, so it is key to keep all of this documentation in your possession.
It is extremely important to comply with these requirements. The law maintains that the manufacturer of goods for consumption has a ‘duty of care’ to all of those who will be consuming it. If you don’t comply and something does go wrong then you could find yourself facing prosecution or regulatory action by the Trading Standards or Environmental health, or even a civil claim for damages. The Food Safety Act creates a number of offences which carry serious penalties, including substantial fines and custody in certain cases. Follow the rules and advice mentioned to protect yourself, your business and most importantly, your customers!
European legislation, health claims and government guidelines
The government and in particular the European Commission are very hot on not ‘misleading’ consumers with dubious health claims, introducing the Health and Nutrition Claims Regulation 2006. You also have to consider the Consumer Protection against Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 which set out the minimum standards for consumer protection, protecting consumers against unfair practices and bans misleading and aggressive sales tactics.
Just because a product is very healthy and contains fresh tomatoes, for example, you can’t claim it is a ‘cancer-preventing’ super-food that everyone should eat daily. In general, if you would like to claim a product is beneficial to health in some way, it must be based on science and the claim must be approved by the European Commission. Even if you wanted to make a more ‘general’ claim that implies a product is good for you, you must support this with an explanation of why. Below is a short list of key terms you need to familiarise yourself with in case you intend on using any of these claims:
‘Low fat’ – Product must contain no more than 3g of fat per 100g for solids and 1.5g of fat per 100ml for liquids.
‘No added sugar’ – The product has had no sugar added to it (does not mean there are not naturally occurring sugars though!)
‘Unsweetened’ – Similarly, no sugar or sweetener has been added to the product but again this does not mean the product is low in sugar e.g. if it contains fruit or milk.
‘Light’ or ‘lite’ – To say your product is ‘light’ or ‘lite’ it must be at least 30% lower in one typical value as a minimum e.g. calories, than your standard products and you must also explain what has been reduced and by how much e.g. ‘Lite: 50% less calories!’
Furthermore, if your product is ‘organic’ and you want to display it as such, you must get registered and receive a license from an approved organic control body (CB). EU rules apply to organic production, labelling and control of organic products.
If you use flavourings or additives you must say so and the ingredients list should be in order of weight at the time of manufacturing.
Importantly, you must clearly list any allergens e.g. shellfish, nuts and soya.
Most manufacturers provide nutritional information voluntarily although since December 2016 they are required to do so by law. This is how you display it:
- energy (in kJ and kcal)
- fat (in g)
- saturates (in g)
- carbohydrate (in g)
- sugars (in g)
- protein (in g)
- salt (in g)
- plus the amount of any nutrient for which a claim has been made
For more detailed information, be sure to check out the FSA’s website. Or, if you want to have a free 15-minute consultation with one of our expert Food Lawyers, enter an enquiry via our food and beverage legal advice page.