Labelling of foodstuffs – are you compliant?
Producers of foods which are intended for the final consumer should be familiar with the provisions of one of the core pieces of food information legislation – EU Regulation 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers (the “Regulation”). The Regulation provides for the type and standard of information that must be included on the packaging / labelling of prepacked foods.
The Regulation applies to food business operators at all stages of the food chain, where their activities involve the provision of food information to consumers. It aims to achieve a high level of consumer protection and stipulates that information provided on food packaging must be accurate, clear and easy to understand.
What information should appear on the packaging?
As a basic requirement, the information on food packaging must not be misleading, particularly:
- as to the characteristics of the food and, in particular, as to its nature, identity, properties, composition, quantity, durability, country of origin or place of provenance, method of manufacture or production
- by attributing to the food effects or properties which it does not possess
- by suggesting that the food possesses special characteristics when in fact all similar foods possess such characteristics, in particular by specifically emphasising the presence or absence of certain ingredients and/or nutrients; and
- by suggesting, by means of the appearance, the description or pictorial representations, the presence of a particular food or an ingredient, when in reality a component naturally present or an ingredient normally used in that food has been substituted with a different component or a different ingredient.
The onus is on food business operators to take responsibility for ensuring the presence and accuracy of food information on food packaging.
The Regulation sets out a list of mandatory particulars for the packaging of food which include:
- the name of the food (i.e. its legal name or its customary name)
- the list of ingredients
- any ingredient or processing aid causing allergies or intolerances, such as cereal containing gluten, eggs, fish, nuts, peanuts etc.
- the quantity of certain ingredients
- the net quantity of the food
- the “use by” date and, where appropriate, storage conditions or conditions of use
- in certain circumstances, the country of origin or place of provenance
Mandatory food information must be given in a language easily understood by the consumers of the Member State where the food is marketed.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are not required to bear a list of ingredients. Neither are cheese and butter to which no ingredient has been added.
Nutritional information must also be included on the packaging of foods. The mandatory nutritional declaration must include the energy value and the amounts of fat, carbohydrates, sugar content, protein and salt and must be presented in such a way as to be easily visible and clearly legible. The Regulation makes provision for the minimum font size on packaging.
The Food Safety Authority Ireland (FSAI)
The role of the FSAI is to protect public health and consumer interests in the area of food safety and hygiene and to continuously raise food standards.
Complaints can be made to the FSAI if it is suspected that food fraud has occurred. Food fraud will occur where food is illegally placed on the market with the intention of deceiving the customer.
This Regulation is one of many European pieces of legislation governing food packaging in Ireland.
Critics of food packaging legislation believe that the laws are too broad and vague for producers to fully understand and that they do not adequately protect the consumer.
However, as the law stands food business operators must ensure compliance or they may face an investigation by the FSAI. Food business operators may, as part of a restructuring, be asked to warrant compliance with food packaging legislation. This requires a careful examination of their packaging to check full compliance because otherwise they may face a warranty claim.