Food labelling

Disclaimer:  Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the Pink Book of Legislation, we regret that we cannot be responsible for any errors. This guide is not intended to be a definitive statement of the law in England. If you require precise or detailed information on the legislation mentioned in this guide, or on the legal implications for you in particular, you should consult a professional legal adviser.

Key facts

  • If you provide food for guests 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 'Pricing and charging'.


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 guests, the regulations do not apply to you.

Yes: if you are providing food for guests 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 Food Standards Agency website.

As any food bought by you to prepare food for guests 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 in Europe are: 

  • cereals containing gluten
  • crustaceans, for example prawns, crabs, lobster and crayfish
  • eggs
  • fish
  • peanuts
  • soybeans
  • milk
  • nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio, cashew and macademia nuts
  • celery (and celeriac)
  • mustard
  • sesame
  • sulphur dioxide, which is a preservative found in some dried fruit
  • lupin
  • molluscs, for example clams, mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid.


You are legally required to supply information on the labels of pre-packaged food when any of the 14 allergens listed above are included as an ingredient. Any use of these allergens must be highlighted in the ingredients list. This means that having notices on signs or other parts of the packaging that say, for example, “contains nuts” is not permitted.


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 on site. This information could be written down on a chalk board 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.


Further guidance

  • Further information on GM foods, food allergies and intolerance is available from the Food Standards Agency website.
  • Guidance on complying with the requirements of the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation No. 1169/2011 is also available from the Food Standards Agency website.
  • The Nationwide Caterers Association has produced a free allergen toolkit. 
  • The British Hospitality Association and Institute of Hospitality have also issued guidance on allergen labelling, although some resources are restricted to members of these industry bodies only.
  • Industry magazine The Caterer has produced a useful article on the changes to food labelling regulations.
  • Contact your local trading standards department for more information on food labelling.