Labelling and presentation of foodstuffs.

EU directives deal with the labelling, packaging, and presentation of prepackaged foodstuffs. It applies to foodstuffs to be delivered to a final consumer or to intermediaries such as restaurants, canteens, hospitals, similar persons who cater en masse. It does not apply to products intended for export outside the European Union.

Labelling, presentation, and advertisement of foodstuffs must not

  • mislead the consumer as to the foodstuff’s characteristic or effect
  • attribute to a foodstuff, properties for the prevention, treatment, or cure of a human illness (except for approved foodstuffs for specific diets).

The particulars indicated on products must be

  • easy to understand,
  • visible,
  • legible, and
  • indelible.

They may be indicated in a number of languages depending on the circumstances.

Labelling must include the name of the product. This is the name laid down for the product by the relevant EU legislation or in the absence of such provisions, under national legislation, or as generally used in the relevant member state where the product is sold. The name under which the product is sold in the producing state may also be used except where despite other compulsory particulars and additions and other descriptive information, it could cause confusion in the state where it is sold.

The name under which the product is sold must also include particulars of the physical condition of the foodstuff or the specific treatment it has undergone. This may include powdered, deep frozen, concentrated etc. This is required in cases where the omission of such information could lead to confusion. Ionization treatment must always be mentioned.


The labelling must include a list of ingredients preceded by the word “Ingredients” . It must show all ingredients in descending order of weight (except in the case of mixtures of fruit or vegetables) and designated by their specific name. There are some derogations laid down in legislation by which categories of ingredients may be designated by the name of the category rather than the specific name or by the category followed by their specific name.

Where ingredients belong to a number of categories, they should be listed in relation to their main function. Ingredients need not be listed in the case of:

  • fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • carbonated water.
  • fermentation of vinegar.
  • cheese, butter, milk, fermented cream.
  • products comprising a single ingredient where the name under which the product is sold is identical with the ingredient name or enables the name of the ingredient to be clearly identified.

Additives need not appear on the labelling if they are used as processing aids or contained in an ingredient but serve no technological function in the finished product.

The quantity of ingredients or categories of ingredients must be expressed as a percentage where the ingredients included in the name under which the product is sold are emphasized on the labelling or are essential to characterize the foodstuff.

An EU directive requires fuller information on the composition of products for the benefit of those suffering from allergens or intolerances. The directive establishes a list of allergens which must appear on the labelling of foodstuff including alcoholic drinks. It removes the possibility of using the name of the category for certain ingredients as set out in the directive.

There is a possibility of not strictly following the decreasing order by weight when listing ingredients present in small quantities (less than 5%). There is a possibility of not repeating an ingredient used several times in the preparation of foodstuff as for example in a simple ingredient and compound.

The Directorate General for health and consumer protection has published guidelines on the compulsory listing of the ingredients which are likely to cause adverse reactions in susceptible individuals.

Food containing meat is subject to special requirements. There are conditions for using the category name meat in the labelling of foods that contain meat as an ingredient. Maximum limits of fat and connective tissue content of products is provided for, before the designation is permissible.

The net quantity must be expressed in units of volume in the case of liquids and units of mass in the case of other products. There are specific provisions for foodstuffs sold by number or solid foodstuffs presented in a liquid medium.


The date of minimum durability must be specified. It may be required to state “best before” or “best before end” as required. It may refer to a date elsewhere in some cases.

In the case of foodstuffs that will not keep for more than 3 months, the day and month suffice. In the case of foodstuffs which will not keep for more than 18 months, the month and the year suffice. In the case of foodstuffs which keep for more than 18 months, the year suffices for the specified date..

The durability date is not required in the following cases:

  • fresh fruit and vegetables which have not been treated.
  • wines and beverages containing 10% or more by volume, of alcohol.
  • soft drinks.
  • Fruit juices, alcoholic beverages in individual containers of more than 5 litres from mass caterers.
  • bakers or pastry cooks wares.
  • cooking salt.
  • solid sugar.
  • chewing gum.
  • individual portions of ice cream.

Particular Foods and Special Provisions

There is compulsory labelling for highly perishable foodstuffs. It must specify

  • the “Use by” date,
  • the special conditions for keeping in use,
  • the name and business address of the manufacturer or packager or vendor established in the EU;
  • place of origin or provenance where omission might mislead the consumer;
  • instruction for use where appropriate.
  • indication by the acquired alcoholic strength for beverages containing more than 1.2% alcohol by volume.

The EU provisions applicable to specific foodstuffs may authorize making particulars such as the list of ingredients or date of minimum durability optional. They may provide for other compulsory particulars provided that this does not result in the purchaser being inadequately informed.

Special provisions apply to reusable glass bottles and small packaging items or containers.

In the case of repackaged foodstuffs, the compulsory particulars must appear on the prepackaging or label attached.

Where prepackaged foodstuffs are marketed at a stage prior to sale, or in the case of a supply to mass caterers for processing, the particulars need only appear on the commercial documents provided. The name under which the product is sold, the date of minimum durability, and the details of the manufacturer and packager appear on the outer packaging of the foodstuff.

In the case of foodstuffs offered for sale without prepackaging and foodstuffs packaged on the sales premises at the consumer’s request, reduced requirements apply.

The marketing of foodstuffs which comply with the legislation may only be prohibited in the case of non-harmonized national provisions that are justified on grounds such as protection of public health, protection of industrial and commercial property and the prevention of fraud.

The implementation of the legislation is the responsibility of the European Commission assisted by the standing committee on the food chain and animal health.

There is a regulation on nutritional and health claims. There are also specific directives relating to cocoa and chocolate products, sugars, honey, fruit juices, coffee extracts, chicory extracts, fruit jams, jellies, marmalades, products containing caffeine or quinines.

There are further requirements in respect of additives, flavouring, food enzymes, alcoholic beverages and sweeteners. The label must be in a language comprehensible to the final consumer. This is generally the official language of the country where it is marketed.

Water and other Beverages

There are a number of directives on the presentation, marketing, and labelling of various beverages.

The directive on natural mineral waters deals with the marketing of waters within the EU single market. Natural mineral waters are characterized by purity, specific nature e.g. mineral or trace element content, and in some cases by their effect. These characteristics must be recognized by competent authorities before they may be used as such.

States communicate lists of recognized mineral waters to the Commission. The directive does not apply to waters which are used for curative purposes.  Only three treatments are authorized insofar as they do not alter the composition of the water. They are:

  • separation of unstable elements.
  • separation of iron, manganese, sulfur, and arsenic compounds by treatment with ozone and other conditions laid down by the commission after consultation with the EFSA.
  • separation of undesirable constituents in compliance with EFSA conditions.

The revivable total colony count and a number of parasites and pathogenic microorganisms are to be checked at source when the water is bottled. The higher bacterial count must be due only to a normal increase. Water must conform from the perspective of touch, taste, or smell. It must be packaged in a container which avoids the possibility of adulteration or contamination.

The general labelling, presentation, and advertising rules apply. The sales description of natural mineral water is strictly controlled in accordance with its characteristics and treatment. Labelling must include

  • analytical composition,
  • the name of the spring and place of exploitation.
  • information on any treatment.

Indications attributing properties relating to the prevention, treatment, or cure of human illnesses are prohibited. Properties of water may be mentioned in compliance with the directive in accordance with criteria established at the national level by recognized scientific methods.

States may temporarily restrict or suspend trade in a product freely circulating. They must inform the Commission and other states. The Commission assisted by the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health may take measures concerning,

  • limits for the concentration of constituent parts.
  • indication on the labelling of high levels of certain constituents.
  • use of ozone enriched air.
  • information on treatments.
  • checks on microbiological characteristics.

Alcoholic Drinks

The Regulation in relation to aromatized wines distinguishes between three categories of wine in accordance with their alcoholic strength and whether they contain alcohol.

  • aromatized wines,
  • aromatized wine-based drinks, and
  • aromatized wine product cocktails.

The use of water in the preparation of drinks is authorized provided it complies with water qualities provided for in legislation.

Designations of aromatized drinks in the regulations are mandatory and reserved exclusively for those drinks. It is compulsory to indicate the place of origin where drinks do not come from the region where they are traditionally produced.

Aromatized drinks which do not comply with the regulations may not be marked using terms such as style, type, flavour, or similar indications.

There is an EU regulation on the definition, description, presentation, labelling, and geographical indications of spirit drinks. It applies to spirit drinks marketed in the EU or for export. They must comply with the definition, classification, and technical requirements of the legislation.

Spirit drinks include drinks obtained from raw materials listed in the definition of the spirit drink concerned e.g. rum, whisky, wine spirit, brandy, grape marc spirit, fruit marc spirit, raisin spirit, fruit spirit, cider spirit, perry spirit, and various other drinks obtained from any agricultural raw material listed  e.g. vodka spirit, gin, juniper-flavored spirit drinks, liqueur etc.

Category Names

The name of the categories of drinks may only be used in marketing and sales if they display the specified characteristics. The denomination may be supplemented or replaced by a geographical indication registered in the regulation. Spirit drinks that cannot be classified into one of the categories are marketed under the generic denomination of spirit drinks.

The regulation includes a list of geographical indications classified by product categories. They identify drinks having a particular link with the place of origin and health benefits. Specific legal protection against erroneous use applies. Geographical indications are registered in the list following a submission made by the state in which the drink originates.

The Commission may annul registration where the drink no longer possesses the characteristics listed in the technical file accompanying the registration application.

Fruit Drinks

A Council Directive on fruit juice covers fruit juice, concentrated fruit juice, dehydrated fruit juice, and fruit nectar. They are defined on the basis of their composition and preparation processes so as to ensure that the terms are used correctly in trade and not in any manner which may mislead. The directive defines particular designations used in certain countries and languages.

Labelling must clearly indicate that a product

  • is a mixture of different fruits;
  • has been sweetened,
  • has been obtained entirely or partly from concentrate.

In the case of concentrate, if the product is not intended for delivery to the final consumer, the labelling must indicate any addition of sugars, lemon juice, or acidifying agents.

The directive lists raw materials which may be used to manufacture juice and nectar and also authorized additives subject to the nutritional labelling for foodstuffs directive. The minimum content of fruit juice must conform to the levels in the directive and be stated in the product labelling.

The directive on labelling of alcoholic beverages provides  EU  rules on the definition of alcoholic strength by volume.  The directive applies to beverages containing more than 1.2% volume of alcohol other than certain ones classified. The tolerances allowed in respect of indication of alcoholic strength are:

  • 5% volume for beers having an alcoholic strength not exceeding 5.5% volume.
  • 1% volume for beers having an alcoholic strength exceeding 5.5% volume of beverages classified on certain classified beverages.
  • 5% for beverages containing macerated fruits or parts of plants.
  • 6% for other beverages.

Share this article