Food labelling for catering establishments

There are fewer labelling requirements for food sold from restaurants and takeaways than for packaged food. 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
Portion sizes
Colours
EU protected food names
Other legal labelling requirements
Good practice advice
Penalties

Common descriptions used in catering
SCAMPI
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'.

KING PRAWN
This description can only be used where the prawns are of one of three specific species of prawn listed in the Fish Labelling (England) Regulations 2010, and are the correct size.

TIGER PRAWN
This description can only be used where the prawns are of one of the species listed in the Fish Labelling (England) Regulations 2010 that may be described as such.

CHICKEN FILLET AND BREAST
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.

MEAT PRODUCTS
Sausages, beef burgers, pasties, pies and sausage rolls etc have legal compositional requirements regarding the minimum meat content. Our leaflet 'Meat products compositional standards' 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 which are from the shoulder or are 'formed' or 'reformed' must be correctly described.

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

SMOKED
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.

FRESH, LOCAL, SEASONAL, PURE, NATURAL, HOMEMADE, ETC
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.

VEGETARIAN
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, but suitable for vegetarians.

FREE FROM NUTS, WHEAT, MILK, SHELLFISH
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 our leaflet 'Advice for caterers on food allergens and intolerance'. Detailed advice on allergy and intolerance can be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

OTHER COMMONLY MISDESCRIBED FOOD OR INGREDIENTS INCLUDE:

  • '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 ' duck', for example, must be accurate.

Colours
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 our leaflet 'Colours in restaurant and takeaway 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 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 Defra website.

Other legal labelling requirements
Food containing irradiated ingredients must be 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 radiated and therefore may contain organisms harmful to health'.

Allergen labelling is not currently compulsory for catering establishments, but you may wish to provide information to your customers about allergenic ingredients.

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

Penalties
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.

Please note
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance. 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.

Relevant legislation
Food Safety Act 1990
Food Labelling Regulations 1996
Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
Fish Labelling (England) Regulations 2010

Last reviewed/updated: November 2012