There are currently a lot of UK (and EU) laws and regulations that concern how food and drink that is to be sold in the UK must be packaged and labelled. As we custom-design/print/produce & manufacture bespoke product labels and boxes for food and drink (among other products), this is of course something that we follow closely.
UK Food Labelling and Packaging Laws in a nutshell
What you need to know about printed labels for food products.
First and foremost, UK regulations require any food product labels to be:
- easy to see, read and understand
- difficult or impossible to remove
- Accurate and not misleading
What do food product labels have to show?
There aren’t all that many requirements, but some of them can get quite wordy, which can be a challenge to anyone new to custom product labels.
Each food product label must include the name of the food or food product, its ‘best by’ or ‘use by’ date, a list of ingredients (unless there is only one ingredient), contact information for the seller, packager or manufacturer, and a number or code identifying its production lot.
Other requirements can be a bit more complex. For example:
- The net quantity of the food
This is the weight in grams or kilograms, or the volume of litres or millilitres if the product is a liquid. This information is required for any packaged food over 5g or 5ml, and for packaged herbs and/or spices of any weight or volume.
Solid foods that come packed in an ice glaze or liquid (such as canned vegetables) must list the net weight when drained.
- Nutrition or health claims
Unless you are a small operation, you’ll need to list several pieces of nutritional information. The rules for claiming some kind of health benefit (claiming the product is, for example low fat, or keeps you healthy in some way) are a bit more stringent. You can never claim that your food product treats, cures or even prevents a medical condition or disease, and even selling food that is in some way ‘fortified’ or intended to be used as a supplement is closely regulated.
Some products will also have to list:
- The country of origin
- Any warnings required by law (such as those for alcohol, GM ingredients, etc.)
- Special cooking or storage instructions
- Organic certification, if appropriate
Any type of alcoholic beverage needs to be marked with alcohol strength where it is above 1.2%.
Where the volume content is above 1.2%, it needs to be labelled with the strength to a maximum of one decimal place in a ‘X% vol’ format (with X being the strength). Alternatively, brands might choose to label the strength in either a ‘alc X% vol’ or ‘alcohol X% vol’ format.
Understandably, the stated strength needs to be as accurate as possible. But there’s some leeway, depending on the type of beverage. For example:
- +/- 0.5% for beer and wine with strength up to 5.5% volume
- +/- 1% for beer and wine with strength over 5.5% volume
- +/- 1.5% for beverages that contain macerated fruits or plants
- +/- 0.3% for all other beverages
Current labelling requirements
There are a number of standard requirements for alcohol labelling, including:
- Drink name
- Name and address of producer
- Country of origin or place of provenance (if applicable)
- Date of durability
- Special storage conditions (if applicable)
- Instructions for use (if applicable)
- Net quantity
- Warning if the beverage contains certain ingredients, for instance licorice
- Alcohol strength (if over 1.2%)
However, label requirements for alcohol also change depending on type. Take wine, for instance; it’s arguably the beverage with the most stringent rules when it comes to labelling. As the -government explains, mandatory information includes:
- Provenance expression – for instance, country of origin
- Relevant expression for wines with Protected Designation of Origin or Protected Geographical Indication (unless an approved Traditional Expression is used)
- Type of wine – e.g. sparkling wine
- Bottler’s details for still wine and the vendor’s or producer’s details for sparkling varieties
- Importer details for third country wine
- Allergens warning statement if sulphur dioxide content exceeds 10mg per litre or egg residues exceed 0.25mg per litre
While it’s not a legal requirement (yet), it’s also advised that alcohol brands display an approved message about responsible drinking.
We usually follow the Government Guidance on Consumption of units for Men and Women, so recommend printing…
“UK Chief Medical Officers recommend you do not regularly exceed 14 units a week for both men and women, spread over 3 or 4 days, with some alcohol free days.”
and include the number of units in the container.
The ℮ Mark
The ‘℮’ mark, when placed on a package, is a declaration by the packer that the contents comply with the average system. There is no requirement for packages to be labelled with the ‘℮’ mark. The Regulations prohibit its use on packages that do not meet certain criteria.
Where would rules be without exceptions? Certain food types and other circumstances require either more stringent or looser product labelling requirements. Wine and meat, for example, have their own categories of rules. Food used in catering has relatively few printed label requirements, by comparison.
If you need labels for any of these purposes, make sure to use a label printing company that understands the UK’s product label printing rules well, or do a bit of research on your own.
A note – Brexit and EU food labelling laws – how will custom product labels be affected?
At the moment, all applicable EU laws still apply to the UK. Plans call for adopting any EU laws which are not already incorporated into the UK’s laws formally, so that things go on precisely as they are until any changes are specifically, intentionally made.
How can I ensure that my printed product labels are compliant?
There are plenty of resources out there to help. This checklist, from the University of Reading’s Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences is a great place to start.