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Food Labelling

Food labels provide information from the manufacturer to the consumer.

They are useful to the consumer because they:


Labelling Requirements

Most food products must, by law, include the following information, though some products may be exempt from one or more of these conditions.


Date Coding

Food labels carry date codes to ensure that the safety and quality of the food is maintained and to prevent food poisoning. Date codes refer to the product before it is opened.

Use By...

The 'use-by' code must be used for foods that are microbiologically highly perishable, foods which deteriorate and become a danger to human health after a short time. This type of code is often used for chilled foods such as sandwiches and cook-chill meals which should be stored in the refrigerator.


Best Before...

This type of code is used for products where a 'use-by' date is not applicable or required.

The 'best-before' date must be expressed as a day and month and year, in that order. For products with a shelf-life of three months or less, for example bread, crisps, biscuits and sweets, the 'best before' date may be expressed as a day and month only. 

Best Before End...

This is an alternative form of the 'best-before' date for products with a shelf-life of more than three months, for example canned and bottled goods, drinks and frozen foods. It may be expressed in terms of a month and year only, or if the product has a shelf-life of more than 18 months, in terms of a month and year or a year only.

Display Until...

This is not required by law but may be used by stores to ensure staff know when to remove products from the shelves. It is usually a few days before the 'use-by' date so that the consumer has a number of days left in which to use the food.

Foods without Date Codes

Some products are not required to be date-marked, for example, wines and spirits which have a long shelf-life and fresh fruits and vegetables. Foods which are not pre-packed such as delicatessen products do not require a date mark.


Nutritional Labelling

Food manufacturers are not required by law to provide nutritional labelling. However, if they make a claim such as 'low sugar' or 'high fibre' they must support it with nutritional labelling. Many manufacturers do show nutritional labelling which allows consumers to make healthier choices. Two systems of nutritional labelling have been agreed by the European Community.

The first includes details about energy, protein, carbohydrate and fat and the second supplies details about those as well as sugars, saturates,fibre and sodium.

Information is given per 100g or 100mls.

Food labelling requirements are explained in more detail in the Food Safety Act, 1990 and an update of that provision in the UK Food Labelling Regulations, 1996.



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