The labelling and composition of food is governed by regulations made under the Food Safety Act 1990 and apply to food manufacturers and retailers alike.
The principal regulations are the Food Labelling Regulations, 1996 (as amended). A copy of the regulations are available for you to download.
Honesty and clarity
Foods must be honestly and clearly marked so that the consumer can make an informed choice before making a purchase.
This is of paramount importance for anyone who suffers from a food allergy to some food groups such as nuts, dairy, wheat and to those with intolerances to certain foods on medical grounds.
Our Officers routinely take food samples from a variety of local retailers and food manufacturers. These are submitted to an approved food examiner for analysis to check compliance with legal standards on composition, quality and accuracy of the labelling.
Free help and advice
We can also provide free advice and guidance to local food businesses on the composition and labelling of their products.
Use by dates
Use by dates must be followed by a day or/and month which the product must be consumed by. It's unlawful to to sell or have in possession for sale, any food to which a 'use by' date is given, where that date has passed. This term is reserved for the control of high-risk, perishable foods such as ready to eat meals, pate, cooked meat and meat products, cream etc.
Best before dates (BB/BBE)
Best before dates are used by food manufacturers as an indicator of when the product will begin to degrade from its prime quality. The type of 'BB' or 'BBE' date applied is dependent upon the predicted shelf life of the food product:
- Best Before + day - for foods with a shelf life of up to 3 months.
- Best Before End + month - for foods with more than a 3 month shelf life.
- Best Before End + year - for foods with more than an 18 month shelf life.
It's not an automatic offence for anyone to sell or have in possession for sale, any food product with an expired 'best before' date. However, if such a product is subsequently found to be unfit for sale or not of the substance or quality demanded by the purchaser, this can lead to a conviction in court. In other words, it's simply bad practice to deal in date expired goods and anyone who does runs the risk of prosecution, the loss of customers through the sale of inferior products as well as damage to their business's reputation.
Foods which fall short of prescribed standards can be removed from sale. This is achieved in partnership with the Food Standards Agency (Scotland). The latter are responsible for the issue of food alerts for action (FAFA) and food alerts for information (FAFI).
The regulations state that the label of packaged food should declare the presence of certain ingredients that have shown to cause allergic reactions in some people. These are known as 'allergens' and those covered by the law include:
- cereals containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut or their hybridised strains)
- nuts (almond, hazelnut, walnut, cashew, pecan nut, Brazil nut, pistachio nut, macadamia nut and Queensland nut)
- sesame seeds
- sulphur dioxide and sulphites (above a set level)
There are a number of food ingredients (derived from these allergens) that are exempt from the labelling because they have been shown not to pose a risk to allergy sufferers. The allergens (if not already in the name of the food) have to be clearly labelled in the ingredients list or in a special 'allergen's box'.