Food labelling

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Key facts

  • If you provide food for customers that contains GM ingredients you need to comply with genetically modified food legislation.
  • You need to provide information to customers on 14 allergens that may be used as ingredients in any food you sell.

Pricing food

For details on pricing food, see the Pricing and charging section.

Food labelling and genetically modified food

To allow food providers and consumers alike to make informed decisions about the food they use or eat, there are food labelling regulations in place.

The rules covering GM foods are outlined in:

  • the European Regulations (EC) No. 1829/2004, (EC) No. 1830/2004
  • the GM Food (England) Regulations 2004
  • the Genetically Modified Organisms (Traceability and Labelling) Regulations 2004 (and equivalent Regulations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Do the regulations apply to me?

No: if there are no ingredients containing, consisting of, or produced from genetically modified organisms in the food you offer to customers, the regulations do not apply to you. Foods produced with the help of GM technology do not have to be labelled. For example, cheese produced with the help of GM enzymes does not need to be labelled as the enzymes are not ingredients in the cheese.

Also, if animals are fed on GM animal feed, the products produced from them (e.g. meat, milk and eggs) do not need to be labelled.

Yes: if you are providing food for customers that contains ingredients containing, consisting of, or produced from genetically modified organisms, whether or not there is any GM material in the final product (e.g. oil produced from GM soya or maize), you need to comply. Any intentional use of GM must be labelled, but there is a tolerance level (of 0.9%) for the accidental inclusion of EU-authorised GM material. For further information, visit the genetically modified food section of the Food Standards Agency website.

As any food bought by you to prepare food for customers should be similarly labelled for GM ingredients, you should be able to tell whether or not you need to comply.

What do the regulations require?

The words 'genetically modified' or 'produced from genetically modified [name of organism]' must be displayed on a notice, menu, ticket or label which can be easily read by customers. For example:

Products on the menu marked * contain ingredients produced from genetically modified soya.

Allergies and labelling

It is estimated that around 2% of the population suffer from food allergies and each year some people become seriously ill and even die from extreme reactions to foods such as peanuts, shellfish and eggs.

Under the Food Safety Act 1990 and the General Food Law Regulation 178/2002 you are responsible for ensuring that the food that customers eat is safe and the quality is what they expect. This means you should understand exactly what foods can cause problems.

The 14 most common allergens are: 

  • cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan wheat), rye, barley, oats
  • crustaceans, for example, prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish
  • eggs
  • fish
  • peanuts
  • soybeans
  • milk (including lactose)
  • nuts; namely almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia (or Queensland) nuts
  • celery (including celeriac)
  • mustard
  • sesame
  • sulphur dioxide/sulphites, where added and at a level above 10mg/kg or 10mg/L in the finished product. This can be used as a preservative in dried fruit
  • lupin, which includes lupin seeds and flour and can be found in types of bread, pastries and pasta
  • molluscs like mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid. 

Pre-packaged food

Food labelling requirements for prepacked for direct sale food will change from 1 October 2021 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as a result of a number of high-profile cases where hypersensitive people have died as a result of inadequate labelling on pre-packaged food.

The new allergen labelling requirements will apply to a category of food called ‘prepacked for direct sale’. This is food which is packaged at the same place it is offered to consumers. The food should also be in the packaging before it is ordered or selected.

It includes food that customers select themselves (e.g. packaged sandwiches from a display) and pre-wrapped products kept behind a counter (e.g. bottled drinks or meat and cheese products produced on-site). It can also include some food sold at mobile or temporary outlets.

Prepacked for direct sale food is determined by three criteria:

  • when it is packaged

It needs to be packaged before the consumer selects or orders it.

  • where it is packaged

It needs to be packaged at the same premises or at the site it is offered or sold to consumers. This includes food packaged by the same business and sold at a temporary or mobile site, such as a food truck or market stall. It also includes making food at home to take to sell a café on the business premises.

  • how it is packaged

It needs to be fully or partly enclosed by packaging so that it cannot be altered without opening or changing the packaging in some way. In addition, the food must be ready for final sale to the consumer (e.g. not ingredients that you have packaged to take to a shop or café)

All prepacked for direct sale food that meets the requirements above will need to have a label showing:

  • the name of the food
  • a full ingredients list with the 14 allergens required to be declared by food law emphasised on the ingredients list (i.e. in capitals or a bold font) if they are present in the food.

More information on the new requirements and how to comply is available on the introduction to allergen labelling changes page on the FSA website.

Unpackaged food

You need to provide information to customers on any of the 14 allergens used as ingredients in foods sold without packaging or wrapped after ordering. This information could be written down on a chalkboard or menu, or provided orally by a member of staff. Where the specific allergen information is not provided upfront, clear signposting to where this information could be obtained must be provided (i.e. a note on your menu telling customers to ask a waiter regarding the use of allergens in any of the items on the menu).

It is therefore very important that your staff are trained and regularly updated on the use of any allergens in food that you serve.

These rules will only cover information about major allergens intentionally used as ingredients. They do not cover allergens present following accidental contact.