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Business advice leaflet

Food labelled in a foreign language

If you supply food products you must ensure that certain compulsory information is given in English

This guidance is for England and Wales

The Food Labelling Regulations 1996 state that, where labelling is required, it should be in a language 'easily understood by the purchaser'. In the UK, this is accepted as being in English, and it is therefore an offence for retailers or wholesalers to supply food without English labelling.

The Regulations require certain compulsory information, which must be in English and appear either on a label on, or attached to, the packaging, or on a label clearly readable through the packaging.

In the guide

Definition of food

'Food' is defined to include not only substances that we would normally associate with the term, but also:

  • drink
  • chewing gum and similar products
  • substances of no nutritional value, which are used for human consumption
  • articles and substances used as ingredients in the preparation of food 

Responsibilities of retailers

They must make sure that all food and drink they sell displays all the compulsory information on each container. This must be in English, although this does not preclude also having the labelling in additional languages when some of the customers are likely to be non-English speakers.

This information should appear on one of the following:

  • on a label on the packaging
  • on a label attached to the packaging
  • on a label clearly readable through the packaging

Failure to do so is an offence under the Regulations and may result in a fine of up to £5,000.

Responsibilities of wholesalers

The law requires that if food is 'ready for sale to the ultimate consumer' it must comply with the Regulations.

Food is 'ready for delivery to the ultimate consumer' if the packaging will not be changed prior to sale by the eventual retailer. The wholesaler must, therefore, ensure that the food complies with the Regulations unless the retailer will repackage it. For example, a wholesaler sells cans of soft drinks to retailers in trays. The cans themselves will not be altered before reaching the ultimate consumer. The soft drink is, therefore, ready for delivery to the ultimate consumer and must have the correct labelling in English.

The information on food sold by wholesalers must appear either as described above for retailers, or details of the name of the food, durability indication and name of the manufacturer, packer or seller in the EU on the product AND the other required information (please see 'Labelling of prepacked foods') may be provided on documentation accompanying the food. 

Failure for a wholesaler to comply with these requirements is an offence and can result in a fine of up to £5,000.

If the retailer commits an offence because the wholesaler did not provide the necessary information, the wholesaler can also be prosecuted.

The same rules apply to the packaging of food sold to catering establishments* if food is prepared in the course of a business and is intended to be supplied to the consumer in that packaging. [*'Catering establishments' include restaurants, canteens, pubs, clubs, schools or similar, and mobile caterers such as fast food vans.]

To sell food that is not labelled in accordance with these rules is an offence under the Regulations and may result in a £5,000 fine.

Where the food is not intended to be sold to consumers in the packaging (for instance, where it is intended to be sold to a catering establishment) less compulsory information is required.

'Labelling of prepacked foods' provides information on the compulsory requirements for all packaged foods. This applies to all food labelling in the UK, regardless of whether the food is produced here or not.

If you are considering importing food from outside the UK, you may also find it useful to look at the information on imported food on the Food Standards Agency website. This site provides information about the legal requirements affecting different types of food that you may be considering importing (not only labelling).

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

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