Food standards: labelling and compositionLegal standards for labelling and composition of food products such as bottled water, milk, fish and meat.

This guide covers UK and international food compositional standards. If you produce certain commodities, you must follow UK labelling and compositional rules for some reserved descriptions for the name of foodstuffs.

The Food Information Regulations 2014 (FIR 2014) enforce provisions of EU law which ensure food labels are an honest representation of food and provide consistency for the industry and consumers.

In the UK:

  • food labels must give the legal name of the food being marketed
  • some foods have ‘reserved descriptions’ which you can only use if the food has a certain composition – for example, a product labelled ‘beef burger’ must contain at least 62% beef, and an ‘economy beef burger’ must contain at least 47% beef

These ‘food compositional standards’ generally apply to foods that consumers expect to be of a certain quality and are at risk of being substituted for lower quality alternatives.

Foods that have a ‘reserved description’ and are covered in this guide are:

  • bottled water
  • bread and flour
  • cocoa and chocolate products
  • fats and oils
  • fish
  • fruit juices and nectars
  • honey
  • jams and similar products
  • products containing meat
  • milk and milk products
  • soluble coffee and chicory extracts
  • specified sugar products such as sucrose or glucose syrups

Food compositional standards legislation is the responsibility of:

  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in England
  • Food Standards Agency (FSA) in Wales and Northern Ireland (NI)
  • Food Standards Scotland (FSS) in Scotland

International standards

The Codex Alimentarius is a large international body which sets food standards, guidelines and codes of practice in the international trade of food and agricultural products.

The Codex international standards are voluntary good practice and not legally binding. They aim to ensure the safety, quality and fairness in international food trade and protect consumers. UK foods standards generally go above and beyond the Codex standards.

Defra is the Codex contact in the UK. For any questions email codex@defra.gov.uk.

Bottled water

There are 3 types of bottled water with rules that producers need to follow to produce and market it to the public.

These are:

Read the guidance to compare natural mineral water, spring water and bottled drinking water.

You can check the list of recognised natural mineral waters in the UK.

These rules are laid out in law in the The Natural Mineral Water, Spring Water and Bottled Drinking Water (England) Regulations 2007.

There are several amendments to these regulations:

Bread and flour

The Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 lay down specific labelling and compositional standards for bread and flour and defines terms such as wholemeal and self-raising.

They continue a long standing national requirement that any UK-milled wheat flour (except wholemeal) must be fortified with calcium, iron, niacin, as well as thiamine and calcium primarily for the restoration of nutrients lost in the milling process and to ensure the nutritional value of flour.

The recognition clause in these regulations is no longer appropriate and work is underway to amend it. This because the clause has allowed the lawful sale of unfortified flour imported into England from EEA countries.

Cocoa and chocolate products

Certain cocoa and chocolate products must comply with the reserved descriptions set out in the Cocoa and Chocolate Products Regulations 2003. The rules lay down the composition of chocolate and products including setting minimum ingredient and specific labelling requirements. The amount of cocoa solids and milk solids that must be present are stipulated, as well as allowing only certain additional ingredients to be added.

A cocoa solids declaration such as X% minimum is required for most chocolate products covered by the rules and where appropriate a milk solids declaration is also required. This enables consumers to make informed decisions about the type of chocolate they want to buy.

Fats and oils

There are general labelling rules for fats and oils when labelling them as an ingredient ‘vegetable oil or fat’.

The Spreadable Fats (Marketing Standards) and the Milk and Milk Products (Protection of Designations) (England) Regulations 2008provide specific rules on the labelling and composition of spreadable fats, such as butter, which are laid down by retained EU regulation.

Olive oil products have specific requirements relating to chemical and sensory characteristics. Read the detailed guidance on olive oil regulations and inspections.

Fish: species names, commercial designations and labelling

Rules are in place to make sure fish is labelled correctly and consistently at the point of sale, so purchasers know exactly what they’re buying. The rules require information on:

  • the commercial designation of the species (an agreed common name for the species of fish)
  • the production method (whether caught at sea, caught in inland waters or farmed)
  • the catch area (either the ocean area, or in the case of freshwater fish, the country in which it was caught or farmed)

There are requirements to provide:

  • the scientific name
  • a declaration on whether the fish was previously frozen

The Fish Labelling Regulations 2013 adds new commercial designations (the names of fish) for species of fish that have recently come onto the market:

Fruit juices and nectars

The Fruit Juice and Fruit Nectars (England) Regulations 2013 bring together all rules on fruit juices and fruit nectars by setting minimum compositional standards.

These rules define terms such as fruit juice, fruit juice from concentrate, concentrated fruit juice, water extracted fruit juice and fruit nectar. For example, orange juice must have a minimum brix (sugar) level of 11.2.

They also lay down permitted authorised ingredients and treatments in the manufacture of fruit juices.

Honey

Honey composition and labelling is controlled by The Honey (England) Regulations 2015. This legislation lays down reserved descriptions that must be used for:

  • the source from which the honey is obtained (for example, blossom, honeydew)
  • the processes by which it’s extracted (for example, drained, extracted)
  • the way it’s presented (for example, comb, chunk honey)

The regulations lay down detailed specifications honey must comply with in terms of its composition and sets out some general quality criteria for honey.

If you use one of the reserved descriptions (for example, ‘comb honey’ or ‘honeydew honey’), your product must be made according to the defined compositional criteria.

Labelling honey blends

The regulations contain some specific labelling requirements including a requirement for country of origin labelling. If the honey is a blend of honeys from more than one country, you can choose to use the statement ‘blend of honeys from more than one country’ (or similar wording). You can use this statement as an alternative to listing the various countries of origin.

Period of adjustment

Honey placed on the UK market before 1 January 2021 can stay on the market using the current origin wording, providing the label was accurate at the time:

  • ‘blend of EU honeys’
  • ‘blend of non-EU honeys’
  • ‘blend of EU and non-EU honeys’

You can continue to list the countries of origin of honey blends placed on the UK market.

For honey blends sold in England and Wales until 30 September 2022, you can use one of the following:

  • ‘blend of honeys from more than one country’ (or similar wording)
  • ‘blend of EU honeys’
  • ‘blend of non-EU honeys’
  • ‘blend of EU and non-EU honeys’

If you continue to use EU terms, you must ensure your label is accurate. For example, a blend of UK and French honey placed on the market in England and Wales would either need to:

  • list both countries
  • use the words ‘blend of EU and non-EU honeys’

This is because the UK is no longer part of the EU.

From 1 October 2022, you must use ‘blend of honeys from more than one country’ (or similar wording) if you decide not to list each country of origin.

For honey blends sold in Scotland, options for labelling origin include using:

  • ‘blend of honeys from more than one country’ (or similar wording)
  • reference to the trading bloc of the countries of origin (for example, ‘blend of EU honeys’, ‘blend of non-EU honeys’ or ‘blend of EU and non-EU honeys’)

If you continue to use trading bloc or EU terms, you must ensure your label is accurate. For example, a blend of UK and French honey placed on the market in Scotland would either need to:

  • list both countries
  • use the words ‘blend of EU and non-EU honeys’

This is because the UK is no longer part of the EU.

NI and the EU

If you place a blend of honeys from different countries on the NI or EU markets, you must accurately reflect that GB honey is no longer EU honey and use one of the following terms:

  • ‘blend of EU honeys’
  • ‘blend of non-EU honeys’
  • ‘blend of EU and non-EU honeys’

Jams and marmalade

Jam and similar products like jellies and marmalades must comply with the reserved descriptions in the Jam and Similar Products (England) Regulations 2003. These include compositional requirements such as minimum fruit and sugar requirements, as well as specific labelling requirements such as labelling the amount of fruit and sugar in a jam or marmalade.

In addition, only certain ingredients are allowed to be added. The regulations also provide national rules for mincemeat and fruit curds.

The recognition clause in these regulations is no longer appropriate and work is underway to amend it. This is because the clause has allowed the lawful sale of fruit curds and mincemeat that have been imported into England from EEA countries. These products do not meet domestic standards in England.

Milk products

The use of terms such as milk, cheese, cream, yogurt is protected so they may only be used for the associated dairy products and not misused to describe non-dairy produce.

There are general labelling rules for milk and milk products (for example, labelling milk as an allergen). Drinking milk is covered by The Drinking Milk England Regulations 2008.

Specific legal standards for the composition of milk products protect the use of some dairy terms when marketing foods, including condensed or dried milk, cheese, cream and caseins.

The Spreadable Fats (Marketing Standards) and the Milk and Milk Products (Protection of Designations) (England) Regulations 2008require milk and milk products intended for human consumption, to comply with certain specifications for names and composition.

The recognition clause in these regulations is no longer appropriate and work is underway to amend it. This is because the clause has allowed the lawful sale of spreadable fats that have been imported into England from the EEA. These products do not meet domestic standards in England.

For condensed milk and dried milk, there are specific compositional and labelling requirements in The Condensed and Dried Milk (England) Regulations 2015 (for example, fat and milk solid content).

The Caseins and Caseinates (England) Regulations 2017 contain specific compositional and labelling requirements for caseins and caseinates (for example, milk protein content).

Products containing meat

There are general labelling rules for meat and meat products, including for

  • country of origin
  • the name of the food (when water or other animal species are added)
  • certain meat products that look like a cut, joint, slice, portion or carcase of meat

For a range of products containing meat, The Products Containing Meat etc. (England) Regulations 2014 set out certain rules you must follow.

These rules set out minimum meat content requirements for certain meat products sold using reserved descriptions (for example, sausages, burgers, corned beef, meat pies, pasties).

The recognition clause in these regulations is no longer appropriate and work is underway to amend it. This is because the clause has allowed the lawful sale of products containing meat that have been imported into England from EEA countries and Turkey. These products do not meet domestic standards in England.

There is further guidance on meat and products containing meat.

For beef and veal, there are specific rules in the The Beef and Veal Labelling Regulations (2010)and detailed guidance on beef and veal labelling.

Soluble coffee

Instant coffee is controlled by rules covered in The Coffee Extracts and Chicory Extracts (England) Regulations 2000. These define soluble coffee extracts and chicory extracts in terms of their coffee and chicory content, as well as providing rules on their labelling. For example, ‘preserved with X’, ‘with added X’, or ‘roasted with X’. They also control the use of the term ‘decaffeinated’.

Sugars

The Specified Sugar Products (England) Regulations 2003 lay down reserved descriptions for certain types of sugar products. These rules set out specifications for the sugar products covered (such as table sugar, fructose and glucose syrups) and provide any additional labelling requirements.

Examples of requirements include:

  • rules for changes in weight (for example, maximum loss of weight once dried (%))
  • manufacture processes (for example, partly inverted via hydrolysis)
  • specific labelling requirements for glucose syrups containing fructose

Products covered by the rules include white sugars, dextrose, glucose syrups and fructose.

Published by washcarelabels

Specialising in manufacturing and printing Garment Care Labels for the Garment and Clothing industry and also for furniture, Airline seats and carpets. Supplying Various Quality Materials suitable for your unique products requirement for Wash Care Instructions.

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