The attention consumers are giving to their food choices is growing. These choices can be influenced not only by health and economic reasons but also by environmental, social and ethical considerations. It is not a coincidence that Expo 2015, which Milan is preparing for, is dedicated to nutrition, food and environmental themes.

Providing more comprehensive and accurate information on food content is an important method for helping consumers to make better informed choices about what they eat. This is the aim of the new rules of Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 on the provision of food information, which are applicable in the EU from13 December 2014.

Here there are the top five key changes to be aware of. 

1.      Scope

All food intended for the final consumer must comply with the information requirements provided by the Regulation, including food delivered by restaurants, cafes, canteens, schools, hospitals and catering enterprises (“mass caterer“) – e.g. mass caterer shall provide consumers with mandatory allergen information of food (see point 2 below).

Furthermore, the Regulation states that food information shall not be misleading to consumers (e.g. as to the characteristics of the food, their effects or properties), shall be accurate, clear and easy to understand for the consumer and extends such information requirements to advertising and to the presentation of foods, in particular their shape, appearance, packaging, etc.

 2.      Mandatory food information

The most important change concerns mandatory food information. The following particulars are mandatory:

  1. the name of the food (i.e. legal name, customary name, or a descriptive name). Mandatory particulars shall accompany the name of the food.  For example, in the case of foods that have been frozen before sale and which are sold defrosted, the name of the food shall be accompanied by the designation ‘defrosted’;
  2. the list of ingredients (all the ingredients of the food, in descending order of weight). Specific provisions concern the indication of some ingredients – e.g. refined oils of vegetable origin may be grouped together in the list of ingredients under the designation ‘vegetable oils’ but must be followed immediately by a list of indications of specific vegetable origin (palm oilpeanut oilsunflower oil, etc.); 

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Information on specific vegetable origin of refined oil and fats

  1. any substance or product causing allergies or intolerances present in the finished product. A list of substances or products causing allergies or intolerances is provided by the Regulation and includes cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soybeans, milk, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seeds, sulphur dioxide and sulphites, lupin, molluscs, and products thereof. The name of such substance or product shall be emphasised through a typeset that clearly distinguishes it from the rest of the list of ingredients, for example by means of the font, style or background colour;

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Allergens shall be emphasised in the list of ingredients

  1. the quantity of certain ingredients or categories of ingredients, where they appear in the name of the food or are usually associated with that name by the consumer, are emphasised on the labelling in words, pictures or graphics, or are essential to characterise a food and to distinguish it from products with which it might be confused because of its name or appearance;
  2. the net quantity of the food;
  3. the date of minimum durability or the ‘use by’ date;
  4. any special storage conditions and/or conditions of use;
  5. the name or business name and address of the food business operator;
  6. the country of origin or place of provenance, where failure to indicate it might mislead the consumer as to the true country of origin or place of provenance of the food. Country of origin indication is also mandatory for meat from pig, sheep, goat and poultry;
  7. instructions for use where it would be difficult to make appropriate use of the food in the absence of such instructions;
  8. with respect to beverages containing more than 1,2 % by volume of alcohol, the actual alcoholic strength by volume;
  9. nutrition declaration, including energy value and the amounts of fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt. Nutrition information was voluntary before the Regulation entered into force. It is important to note that rules relating to mandatory nutritional labelling for processed food will only apply from 13 December 2016.

The information listed above is mandatory for pre-packed food, however for food sold to the final consumer or to mass caterers without pre-packaging only the allergen information is mandatory.

Additional mandatory information for specific types or categories of food are due, for example for beverages with high caffeine content.

3.      Improved legibility of information

Mandatory food information shall be available and shall be easily accessible for all foods. In the case of pre-packed food, mandatory food information shall appear directly on the package or on an attached label, in a conspicuous place, in such a way as to be easily visible, clearly legible and, where appropriate, indelible. Font size shall be equal to or greater than 1,2 mm (0,9 mm in case of smaller packaging). 

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Font size for mandatory information 

Where food is offered for sale to the final consumer or to mass caterers without pre-packaging, Member States may adopt national measures concerning the means through which the mandatory information is to be made available and, where appropriate, their form of expression and presentation. The Italian government is still evaluating how to implement such measures.  

4.      Distance selling

A distinction should be made between pre-packed food and non-pre-packed food offered for sale by means of distance selling.

  • With respect to pre-packed food:

Before the purchase is concluded, the responsible food business operator is required to make available all mandatory food information, except for the date of minimum durability or the ‘use by’ date. In addition, at the time of delivery, the responsible food business operator is required to make available all mandatory particulars (including the date of minimum durability or the ‘use by’ date). 

  • With respect to non-pre-packed food: 

The food business operator is required to provide only allergen information, unless other national requirements apply. The allergen information or any other particulars required by national law should be provided (a) before the purchase is concluded by either appearing on the material supporting the distance selling or through other appropriate means clearly identified by the food business operator without any supplementary costs for the final consumer and (b) at the time of delivery.  

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Mandatory information of foods also in distance selling

5.      Responsibilities

The food business operator responsible for the food information shall be the operator under whose name or business name the food is marketed or, if that operator is not established in the EU, the importer into the EU market. Such definition includes both producers of branded products, manufacturers supplying distributors in the case of private label products, distributors in relation to their own brand products and those food business operators who import food products from outside the EU.

It is the responsibility of operators to refrain from supplying products where they have been made aware that such products are non-compliant with food information requirements contained in EU and national law.

Final remarks

The Regulation has certainly enhanced consumers’ rights to receive information on food. However, it raised many criticisms in Italy with regards to the country of origin indication, which, as mentioned above, is only required where its failure might mislead the consumer as to the origin of the product, or for certain types of meat. Italian consumers are already informed of the place of manufacturing of food as an existing Italian regulation requires such information, however, this requirement is now inconsistent with the Regulation and shall be repealed, with the consequence that Italian consumers will no longer have this important information available. Italy still has an instrument to have this information re-established, i.e. by activating the notification procedure provided by the Regulation. We will see if the Italian authorities will decide to do so.

In the meantime, at least for fish, a solution is given by Regulation (EU) 1379/2013 on fishery and aquaculture products, which is also applicable as of 13 December 2014. According to this Regulation, and without prejudice to Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011, fish shall be accompanied, among others, by information on the area where the product was caught or farmed.