Food labelling for caterers

A brief guide to the essentials of food labelling for catering establishments including some commonly misdescribed examples

This guidance is for England and Wales

There are fewer labelling requirements for food sold from restaurants and takeaways than for prepacked food, but any information that you do provide must be accurate and not misleading.

This applies to all information whether provided in writing (such as on a menu or chalkboard) or verbally (in response to a customer's question for example).

In the guide

Common descriptions used in catering


Products made from complete scampi wholetails may be referred to as 'wholetail scampi' or 'scampi'. The term 'wholetail scampi' must not be used for products made from reformed scampi pieces. This product must be advertised as 'reformed scampi'.


This description can only be used where the prawns are of one of three specific species of prawn listed in Defra's Commercial Designations of Fish document and are the correct size.


This description can only be used where the prawns are of one of the species listed in Commercial Designations of Fish that may be described as such.


These terms must not be used where the chicken has been chopped and shaped. Care must also be taken to check that you are not buying chicken with added water and other proteins, such as from another animal species or milk derived. Should your chicken be labelled as containing other ingredients, you may break the law if it you fail to make it clear to consumers that the product does not contain 100% pure chicken meat.


Sausages, beef burgers, pasties, pies, sausage rolls, etc have legal compositional requirements regarding the minimum meat content. 'Composition of meat products' has more information about the specific requirements of these foods. A food cannot be called a sausage, pasty, etc unless it complies with the minimum meat content for that product. Products described as 'ham' should be sliced from a whole cured piece of meat from the hindquarters of a pig. Products that are from the shoulder or are 'formed' or 'reformed' must be correctly described.


This description should not be used where a food has been steamed and flash roasted.


This description should only be used where the product has been subject to a smoking process. Where only a smoke flavouring has been added, the description 'smoke flavour' should be used.


Care should be taken when making claims about the provenance or production of the ingredients used or the final product that you are selling. Guidance on the use of the terms fresh, natural, etc is available on the Food Standards Agency website.


Any vegetarian dishes must have been produced without any contact or contamination with meat, fish or seafood. This includes using separate oils for frying vegetarian dishes and careful checking of sauce ingredients. Some cheeses contain rennet, which is an animal by-product, and may not, therefore, be suitable for vegetarians.


Particular care should be taken with food described as suitable for allergy sufferers, either via a written description or verbally. You need to exercise extreme caution, particularly in relation to nut allergic consumers who could suffer a fatal reaction from minute levels of contamination. For more information see 'Food allergens & intolerance'. Detailed advice on allergy and intolerance can be found on the Food Standards Agency website. 


  • 'imitation cheese analogue' described as 'cheese' on pizzas
  • 'crab' when the product is made from 'crabsticks'
  • 'margarine' described as butter - for example, 'bread and butter'
  • 'non-brewed condiment' described as 'vinegar'

Portion sizes

Descriptions such as 'pancake rolls (6)' or '½ duck', for example, must be accurate.


The law sets maximum levels for colours in various foods, and only certain colours may be used. Some sauces, such as sweet and sour and tandoori spice mixes have occasionally been found to contain excess colours. Care should be taken when making these if you use colours or mixes containing colours. More information can be found in 'Colours in food', and there is also guidance on non-permitted colours in spices on the Food Standards Agency website.

EU protected food names

Cornish Pasties and Traditional Cumberland Sausages are two examples of products that have been accredited with protected status. Any products using these names must comply with the compositional and/or origin requirements. More information on protected food names, including a list of UK registered names, is available on the GOV.UK website.

Other legal labelling requirements

Food containing irradiated ingredients must show a description stating they are 'irradiated' or 'treated with ionising radiation'.

Raw milk must have an accompanying description: 'Milk supplied in this establishment has not been heat-treated and therefore may contain organisms harmful to health'.

Customers must be notified of any food which has been cooked using GM oil.

Allergen labelling is not currently compulsory for catering establishments, but you may wish to provide information to your customers about allergenic ingredients. However, please be aware that new legislation will come into force in December 2014 which will make the provision of this information compulsory.

Calorie labelling: If you choose to give information about calorie or other nutrient content of your dishes we would advise you obtain advice from your local trading standards or environmental health service (depending on the arrangements in your area). Further information on out of home calorie labelling is available on the Department of Health website.

Good practice advice

  • check that the descriptions that you make are correct, and agree with the descriptions given by your supplier (on order forms, delivery documents, invoices or on product packaging) - for example if the supplier description is 'reformed scampi', the menu description should also be 'reformed scampi'
  • remember that product specifications may change over time, so you need to keep checking
  • take particular care when you change supplier
  • advise customers of any changes to product descriptions. If the change is permanent, the menu will need to be amended
  • always ensure that you and all employees follow the instructions supplied with any seasoning / colour. If there are no instructions, or if they are not clear, ask your supplier for further details in writing. Do not guess or rely on verbal information


It is an offence to display misleading or incorrect information, and doing so can result in a fine. The accuracy of descriptions used in catering premises is the responsibility of the business owner. The name or description of food should be the same as used by your supplier, with whom you should check if you are in any doubt.

Key legislation

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law. Any legislation referred to, while still current, may have been amended from the form in which it was originally enacted. Please contact us for further information.

Last reviewed/updated: August 2014