Food packaging in the UK is a complicated business: as well as needing to choose the most appropriate way to keep products fresh and flavoursome, multiple labelling regulations must be met to conform with legal requirements. These government-enforced food labelling laws state that all food and drink labels must be easily visible, permanent, not misleading and clear and easy to read and understand.
That’s not all: there is also a set list of basic information that must be shown, the ingredients must be detailed and (depending on the product and its ingredients) certain warnings may also need to be displayed.
1. Basic information
The list of basic information that must be included on labelling is fairly extensive. It includes the name of the product and the manufacturer, packer or seller, together with their address details. The ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date should be clearly marked and any special storage conditions should be specified.
Labels should show the net quantity of food or drink that is included in the package, as well as a list of ingredients – if more than one ingredient features. Any necessary warnings (see point 3) must be listed, along with any instructions for use or cooking if needed.
Finally, certain products are also required to mark their country of origin, with a separate set of special guidelines for these circumstances. The products covered by these guidelines include various meats, fish and shellfish, fruit and vegetables imported from non-EU countries, olive oil, wine and honey.
2. Ingredient lists
Listing every ingredient in a product is required by law – but there are guidelines that must be followed. Every product with two or more ingredients must clearly list and show them in weight order, from highest to lowest.
In some circumstances, the percentage of the product accounted for by a specific ingredient must be shown: these circumstances include items where the ingredient is mentioned in the product name (such as ‘steak and kidney pie’), ingredients highlighted elsewhere on the packaging or ingredients that you expect the consumer to connect with the product name – like fruit in a summer pudding.
All allergens from a list defined by the government must be listed separately on the packaging, as well as highlighted in the list of ingredients. Other warnings are required if the product contains any of a list of ingredients such as caffeine, sweeteners, raw milk and others.
4. Nutritional claims
If manufacturers want to include nutritional or health claims on their packaging, there are further guidelines that must be followed. It is also illegal to claim or even imply that a particular food or drink can cure, treat or prevent any medical condition. The same goes for supplements, food enriched with vitamins and minerals and baby and infant food – which has incredibly strict guidelines.
The world of food labelling can be a minefield but you must follow the rules to avoid falling foul of the law.
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