Food labels are used to give us information so that we can choose between foods.
There are rules that protect us from false claims or misleading descriptions, and there are clear guidelines about what labels can show.
All food labels must include basic information by law including:
- a true name or description of the food
- the ingredients it contains, in descending weight order
- nutritional panel (not required for single ingredients packed)
- shelf life and date marking
- how it should be handled, stored
- how it should be cooked or prepared
- who manufactured, packed or imported it
- origin information if its absence would mislead
- allergenic ingredients identified on the label
- specific information declaring whether the food is irradiated or contains genetically modified material or aspartame, high caffeine, sweeteners, packaging gases etc
- net quantity in grams, kilograms, litres etc
- alcoholic strength where there is more than 1.2% alcohol by volume.
The font size of the lettering on the food label must not be less than 1.2 mm in height and must be easy to read.
It is an offence to offer for sale food which does not comply with food labelling law.
Get more information and guidance about food labelling on the Food Standards Agency website.
If you plan to export food after 31 December 2020 you must ensure that the products that arrive in NI or EU are displayed with an EU addresses on the wrapping/packaging. For full details on labelling requirements see government guidance.
Use by and Before Before Dates
Most pre-packed foods have to be labelled with a use by or a best before date.
Use by date
The use by date is marked on highly perishable food where eating the food after that date would present a risk of food poisoning. They appear on chilled foods such as meat and dairy products, sandwiches, ready-to-eat meals or cooked-chilled foods.
It is illegal to sell or display any food after its use by date.
Best before date
The best before date is marked on most foods where there is no immediate food poisoning risk after that date. When that date has passed, it does not mean that the food may be dangerous, but it may no longer be at its best.
It is not illegal to sell food after its best before date, but it is illegal to sell or display any food which is of unacceptable quality, or which is unsafe to eat.
Read more about use by and best before dates on GOV.UK.