With predictions that online UK food and grocery sales will double by 2018, we look at some European changes of what / how information must be given to consumers which come into force at the end of the year. With the growth of online food sales likely to account for a significant part of this these changes are also aimed at the online environment.
On 13 December new rules designed to improve the provision of food information to consumers come into force. The rules apply to food businesses at all stages in the food supply chain, including those trading online.
The new rules are introduced through EU legislation; Regulation (EU) no. 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers (FIC). An EU regulation has direct effect in the member states but the UK government has had to make domestic legislation so that certain provisions of the FIC can be enforced here. The UK legislation is the Food Information Regulations 2014 (FIR). Much of the basic information required to be shown on the labelling of pre-packed food (such as the net quantity and ingredients list) remains unchanged. Here we cover some of the new rules.
The New Rules
In brief, the new rules include:
Allergenic ingredients (content declaration extended to food sold loose)
If a food contains any of the fourteen substances or products that are known to cause allergies or intolerances (please see below) this now needs to be declared to consumers if sold loose and where food is sold directly to the consumer by the person who has packaged it. The presence of the allergenic ingredient may be made known in one of a number of ways; on a label, by notice at the point of display (eg. on the shelf edge), on a menu or orally (e.g. in a restaurant), as may be appropriate to the circumstances. The Food Standards Agency has issued guidance on how businesses may best fulfil their responsibilities in this regard. The guidance says that where allergen information is provided orally there must be a way for:
- This information to be checked by others (verifiable)
- It to be confirmed as accurate
- The same information to be given every time (consistency)
Further, if food is sold at a distance, the allergen information must be provided:
- Before the purchase of the food is complete (i.e. in writing or orally)
- In writing on delivery of the food
The substances / products identified as being the cause of allergies or intolerances are:
- Fish, crustaceans and molluscs
- Nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds
- Milk, eggs
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (at concentrations of more than 10mg/kg)
- Cereals containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, kanut).
Wholesale and other commercial sales
With a view to ensuring that businesses further down the supply chain can meet the labelling requirements, all businesses in the supply chain must make the mandatory information available.
The new rules for mandatory nutrition labelling do not come into play until 13 December 2016. However, where a food business opts to provide nutritional information in advance of this becoming mandatory, care must be taken to ensure that the information is provided in the manner and the order specified by FIC.
Legibility of information
The long-standing requirement that the mandatory information is clear and legible remains but with the added requirement that the height of the print font must not be less than 1.2 millimetres.
Country of origin
The overriding provision remains that the country of origin or place of provenance of a food must be given if it would mislead consumers by its absence. However with some food-types it remains the case that the country of origin must always be given (beef, fish, honey, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables). The new rules extend this to include the meat of pigs, sheep, goats and poultry.
Name of food
The long-standing requirement to make reference to the physical treatment or condition of a food (eg. smoked) remains. The new rules extend the scope of this to include a requirement to indicate when a food has been defrosted.
For meat and fishery products, the date of first freezing is required.
Animal and vegetable fats
The source of the oil must be given on the label eg. beef fat, sunflower oil.
Other than the durability or the "use by" date, the consumer must receive the same information when buying food at a distance as they would do when buying food at a retail outlet. In short, all mandatory food information must be provided before the purchase is made and at the point of delivery.