Food labelling

While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the Pink Book, we regret that we cannot be responsible for any errors. The Pink Book contains general information about laws applicable to your business. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. Read our full disclaimer.

Key facts

  • If you provide food for customers that contains genetically modified (GM) ingredients, you need to comply with GM food legislation.
  • You need to provide information to customers on 14 allergens that may be used as ingredients in any food you sell.
  • Calorie labelling is only required if your business has more than 250 staff, or you run a franchise where the total number of people employed in different companies under the franchise is more than 250.

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:

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 (for example 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 (for example 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 (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, 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 which 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, for example: mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid.

Pre-packaged food

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

The allergen labelling requirements apply to a category of food called ‘prepacked for direct sale’. This is food which is packaged at the same place as 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 (for example packaged sandwiches from a display) and pre-wrapped products kept behind a counter (such as 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 that are 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 (for example, 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 only cover information about major allergens intentionally used as ingredients. They do not cover allergens present following accidental contact.

Calorie labelling

In 2021, the Government introduced the Calorie Labelling (Out of Home Sector) (England) Regulations. The purpose of these regulations is to make consumers more aware of the calorific content of food that is prepared for them for immediate consumption either on site (for example in restaurants and pubs) or off the premises (such as takeaways), so that they can make more healthy choices.

At present, the regulations only apply to large businesses with more than 250 employees. These employees do not have to all be on the same site, so if a restaurant chain has 10 branches with 30 staff at each one, then their total number of employees is 300 and they must comply with the regulations. The same applies to franchised businesses where the total number of employees across all the franchise agreements is more than 250.

The main requirements of the regulations are:

  • The calorific content of each food offering has to be displayed at the ‘point of choice’ – that is, on a printed or electronic menu, blackboard or a display if the food is provided for self-service.
  • Reference the size of the portion to which the calorie information relates.
  • Display the statement that ‘adults need around 2000 kcal a day’.

While it is not a legal requirement for businesses with fewer than 250 employees to undertake calorie labelling, the Government is encouraging smaller businesses to adopt calorie labelling on a voluntary basis. The Government also plans to review the regulations in 2026 with the intention of determining whether the requirement for calorie labelling should be extended to smaller businesses.