Pre-Packed Food Labels: The Ultimate UK Regulations Guide for 2024

Prepacked food is food that is completely or partially enclosed in packaging, was placed in that packaging before being offered for sale, and cannot be altered without changing the packaging in some way. Food packaged on the premises of the sale at the consumer’s request and food that is prepacked for direct sale is not covered by the definition of prepacked food. Most prepacked foods must be marked with either a use-by date or a minimum durability date (of which there are two types: ‘best before’ and ‘best before end’).

Food business operators (FBO, which means any business involved in the manufacture or supply of food for human consumption, including retailers) can change the durability indication (best-before and best-before-end dates, not use-by dates) if necessary. They then become responsible for the accuracy of any changes that they make. This enables, amongst other things, FBOs to freeze a product if it is appropriate to do so. An FBO that freezes a product needs to indicate the new durability date and give the appropriate conditions of use and storage instructions.

Use-by date

Food that is highly perishable and therefore likely to pose a danger to human health after only a short time must be marked with a use-by date. The following are examples of products that will usually require a use-by date:

  • fresh meat, fish and poultry
  • cooked meat
  • dairy products
  • ready-made meals
  • salads
  • soft cheeses

However, not all types of the above products will require a use-by date – for example, butter is a dairy product, but only requires a best-before date (see ‘Date of minimum durability’ below). A best-before date may be used if an FBO has carried out a documented risk assessment and determined that there is no risk to health if the product is consumed after the best-before date has passed. Please contact your local Trading Standards service for advice on specific products.

The use-by date must be given in the format ‘use by: day / month’ – for example, ‘Use by: 23 January’. You may add the year if you wish. The date must be given in the order day, month, year, and be uncoded. To prevent confusion, write the month in words rather than numbers – for example, ’05/06′ could mean 5 June or 6 May but ’05 June’ can only mean 5 June. If the product is made up of a number of individually prepacked products, the use-by date must appear on each.

Date of minimum durability

There are two types of minimum-durability date – ‘best before’ and ‘best before end’ – and which one to use will depend on the life of the product. If there are certain storage conditions that have to be followed for the food to last until the given date, then this must be stated on the packaging. Other date markings, such as ‘display until’, do not have any legal standing and are confusing to consumers; such date markings should not be used, except in the case of eggs.

Foods with a shelf life of three months or less need ‘Best before: day / month’ – for example, ‘Best before: 23 January’. You may add the year if you wish.

Foods with a shelf life of between three and 18 months – these must be marked with either ‘best before’ or ‘best before end’ as follows (your choice). ‘Best before: day / month / year’ – for example, ‘Best before: 23 January 2025’ ‘Best before end: month / year’ – for example, ‘Best before end: January 2025’

Foods with a shelf life of greater than 18 months require ‘Best before end: Year’ – for example, ‘Best before end: 2025’

Conditions of sale

Foods marked with a use-by date must not be sold or displayed for sale after their marked dates. It is an offence to sell or offer for sale food past its use-by date. For example, ‘Use by 23 January’ means use by midnight on 23 January. An offence has been committed if the product is still on display on 24 January.

Foods marked with best-before or best-before-end dates may be sold after their marked dates, provided that they remain of good quality and are fit for human consumption. In these circumstances it is advisable to ensure that customers know that the date has expired before they make the decision to buy. The manufacturer is responsible for the quality of the product until the stated best-before / best-before-end date. If the retailer chooses to amend the date, or sell the product after the stated date, they must then take responsibility for the quality of the product. The date marking on prepacked foods must be clearly legible, easily visible and indelible; it must not be obscured, or partly obscured, by price stickers or in any other manner.

Lot marking

Most prepacked foods intended for human consumption must carry lot or batch marking (unless specifically exempted). This is to enable a product to be traced and/or recalled with the maximum efficiency, if necessary. It is not necessary for the consumer to understand the lot / batch mark, provided the indication can be clearly identified. The mark may have to be prefixed by the letter ‘L’ if it is not clearly distinguishable from other information (such as the use-by date or minimum durability marking) and must be clearly visible, clearly legible and indelible. Lot marking should be visible on the exterior packaging, such as where retail packs are sold wholesale in boxes or shrink-wrapped trays.

Mandatory information

The following information is mandatory on prepacked foods:

  • the name of the food
  • an ingredients list
  • information relating to allergenic ingredients
  • quantitative ingredient declarations (QUID)
  • a nutritional declaration
  • durability date marking
  • a net quantity declaration
  • the name and address of the manufacturer
  • storage instructions (where required)
  • instructions for use (where required)
  • origin marking
  • alcoholic strength (for beverages containing more than 1.2% by volume)

Mandatory information must be clear, legible and indelible. It must be presented on the packaging, on a food label attached to the packaging or on a label visible through the packaging. In the majority of circumstances, mandatory information cannot be hidden in any way; therefore having the mandatory information on parts of the packaging that need to be peeled up, unfolded, are only visible when the product is open, etc is not permitted. You can still use these types of packaging but none of the mandatory information can be on them.

Prepacked food is required to bear a name and address of a food business operator (FBO) that takes responsibility for the food. The appropriate name and address is normally that of the manufacturer, but could also be that of an importer.

All prepacked foods (other than a few exemptions covered below) are required to have a net quantity indication. ‘Net quantity’ means the weight of food (or volume in the case of liquids), less the weight of the packaging.

The indication must be given in kilograms or grams for solids, and in litres, centilitres or millilitres for liquids (metric indication). You may provide a supplementary net quantity in imperial measurements (pounds, ounces, fluid ounces, etc) but the indication must not be given greater prominence than the metric net quantity. If the product is in a liquid medium (fruit juice, water, brine, etc) that needs to be removed prior to consuming the food, you must also state the drained weight of the product.

List of ingredients

Most prepacked foods will need an ingredients list. The list needs to be headed by the word ‘ingredients’ followed by a list of all the ingredients in descending order by weight at the mixing bowl stage of production. This means that the list goes from those ingredients that weighed the most to those ingredients that weighed the least when they were included in the product. There are a few exceptions to this. Herbs, spices, additives, sweeteners and any other ingredient that makes up less than 2% of the finished product can be placed at the end of the list.

The nutrition declaration

Most prepacked food will need a nutrition declaration that summarises how much of the product is made up of certain nutrients. The nutrition declaration should be presented as a table. If there is not enough room on the label for a tabular format then the information can be presented as a list. If the reason that there is not enough room for a table is because voluntary information has been included you will need to remove or reduce the voluntary information to make room for a table.

The following nutrients must be included:

  • energy
  • fat
  • saturates
  • carbohydrate
  • sugars
  • protein
  • salt

If you wish you can also include:

  • monounsaturates
  • polyunsaturates
  • polyols
  • starch
  • fibre
  • vitamins and minerals

Nothing that is not on the lists above can be included in the nutrition declaration and everything that you declare must be presented in a single table.


All prepacked products must bear a name that accurately describes the product; it must be clearly presented, not misleading and not broken up by other words or pictures. There are several types of name and you must choose the one that applies.

Fancy names and brand names are used to market products but say nothing about the product and have no legal standing; for the purpose of food legislation, they are not considered to be names. If you use fancy names or brand names you will also need to use the most appropriate of the ‘legal’, customary’ and ‘descriptive’ types of name below, usually on the back of the product.

If a product has a legal name, you must use it. There are relatively few legal names; examples include varieties of potato and melons, and species of fish. Legal names do not need a further descriptive name, although you can use an additional name if you wish.

The ‘name’ of the food must be in the same field of vision as the net quantity declaration. This means that you must be able to hold the product so that the name and the net quantity declaration can both be seen at the same time. If the product is an alcoholic drink with an alcohol content of 1.2% or higher, the name will also have to be in the same field of vision as the alcoholic strength (declared as ‘x% vol.’, ‘alc x% vol.’ or ‘alcohol x% vol.).

Quantitative ingredient declaration (QUID)

Certain ingredients will need a quantitative ingredient declaration (QUID). QUID is an indication of how much of the finished product is made up of a certain ingredient; it is always expressed as a percentage. The QUID must either be given immediately after the ingredient appears in the name of the food or, more commonly, in brackets immediately after the ingredient appears in the ingredients list. For example, peanut butter:

  • ‘Peanut (95%) butter’


  • ‘Ingredients: Peanut (95%), Brown Cane Sugar, Palm Oil, Sea Salt’

Labelling of prepacked-for-direct-sale foods

‘Prepacked’ means a single item of food and the packaging into which it was put before being offered for sale, whether such packaging encloses the food completely or only partially, but in any event in such a way that the contents cannot be altered without opening or changing the packaging.

‘Single item’ means a single item of the product as sold. For example, a multipack of crisps is a single item despite containing six packets of crisps because the customer is purchasing a single multipack of crisps. Conversely, a large cake that is to be cut into slices before being sold is not a single item because it will not be sold as such; in this example each slice would be a single item, and the cake would only be a single item if it was to be sold whole.

‘Prepacked for direct sale’ means food that is placed into packaging (prepacked) before being offered for sale and sold / offered for sale or supply from the premises on which it was packed by that business, or from a mobile stall or vehicle used by that business – for example, sandwiches that are packaged in the shop from which they will be sold. If packaged food is purchased by a separate business for later sale to the final consumer, the food will be considered prepacked, rather than prepacked for direct sale.