As a standard, a label of a food product, by law, must give the following information:
- The name of the company and its address (producer, packer or seller of the product)
- List of ingredients including allergens, quantity of certain ingredients
- Minimum duration or expiration date (“Best before”-dates indicate that the product can be used after the date, however, it may not have a good quality. “Use by”-dates mean that the product may not be used anymore after the given date.)
- The lot / batch number, place of origin or provenance
- Nutrition information
- Content of alcohol (for beverages with a content of more than 1.2 % alcohol)
- Instructions for use, if needed, and storage/conservation conditions
With Regulation No. 1169/2011 the EU introduced on the 13 December 2016 an EU-law on food information to consumers which combined the existing law for labelling, presentation and advertising of food products with a nutrition labelling. It introduced labelling on nutritional information for most processed foods, declaring the energy value, fats, saturated fats, carbohydrates, sugars, proteins and salt (per 100 g or per 100 ml). This information can be voluntarily added by the value of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, polyalcohol, starch, dietary fibre, vitamins or minerals.
The law furthermore stipulates that
- food information has a minimum font size for a better readability;
- allergens are presented in a clear way in the list of ingredients of prepacked foods;
- allergens in non-prepacked food, also in restaurants, must be indicated (in the menu);
- the origin of fresh meat must be given (pigs, poultry, goats and sheep). Until that date the country of origin had only to be indicated for beef;
- refined oils and fats include their vegetable origin;
- imitations foods, like Surimi, must indicate the substitute ingredient/s;
- the requirements for labelling are the same, whether the food is sold in a shop, online or by distance-selling;
- defrosted products are clearly indicated;
The EU gives a list of ingredients and products thereof which cause allergies and which must be indicated on the label in an emphasised way (by font, style or background colour). Those allergens are cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soybeans, milk, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame, sulphur dioxide and sulphites, lupin and molluscs.
In EU-Regulation No. 1925/2006 it is specified which nutrients and vitamins may be added to foods and to what extent. The food industry uses a wide range of such additives, like vitamins, minerals (including trace elements), amino acids, essential fatty acids, fibre and various plants and herbal extracts to improve or enrich the food in question.
Also are regulated nutrition and health claims of a product. Claims like ‘sugar-free’, ’light’, ‘source of fibre’ or ‘low-fat’ give consumers the impression that they are buying a product with a particular nutritional value and can quickly lead to unfair competition. EU-Regulation No. 1924/2006 ensures that all health or nutrition claims given on food labels or in its advertising are that the statements on the labels are clear and precise and are based on scientific findings. An EU Register was built up for nutrition and health claims made on foods. It shows in a list all permitted nutrition claims and their conditions of use and indicates all non-authorised and not-registered claims.
There are also special regulations for the food for special groups of persons, like infants and young children, food for weight reduction and gluten-free food. They not only give rules for the labelling of those products, but also for its general composition.
In order to widen the legislation for indicating the country of origin on the label, the EU has passed the Implementing Regulation (EU) 2018/775, which will be applicable as of April 1, 2020. All foods produced must be given the country of origin or place of provenance. When the country of origin or place of provenance of a food is mentioned and it is not the same as that of its primary ingredient, the country of origin or place of provenance of the primary ingredient of the food is indicated.
In Spain, for example, it is mandatory since 22nd of January 2019 to indicate in the labelling of milk and milk-based products the country of milking and the country of transformation of the milk used as an ingredient (Royal Decree 1181/2018). This new legislation will be valid for two years and will apply to milk and milk products from all type of dairy animal.