Food standards

Food Standards relates to the quality, composition, labelling, presentation and advertising of all food and of materials or articles in contact with food.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s Environmental Health Department  carries out routine food standards inspections of all food businesses within the Borough and responds to complaints.

The Environmental Health Officers monitor food standards in the Borough’s food businesses by:

  • inspecting food premises to check menu descriptions, claims and food quality
  • checking food labels, composition, additive levels, and materials and articles in contact with food 
  • checking on 'use by' and 'best before' dates
  • taking samples of food and drink for analysis
  • investigating complaints about food and food premises
  • offering advice to consumers and businesses

Inspection and sampling

Environmental Health Officers carry out programmed inspections and sampling throughout the food chain, from farm through to manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. We aim to ensure the composition, quality, labelling, advertising and presentation of food complies with legal requirements. The checks we perform mean that:

  • consumers know what they are buying
  • labels are truthful
  • food products comply with legal minimum standards where appropriate
  • additives included in food products are within the permitted limits

Advice to businesses

We respond to enquiries from local retailers and manufacturers who need guidance on the composition and labelling of their products, and provide advice to help businesses comply with the law by guiding them to sources of food labelling expertise which is commercially available. Guidance for businesses on food labelling regulations is available on the Food Standards Agency website

Advice to businesses is available at the BusinessLink website.

Food Standards Legislation

Food standards legislation helps to ensure that the consumer is not misled. In England, the Food Standards Agency has responsibility for food safety-related labelling issues; see the Food Standards Agency website.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) provides information on food safety and nutritionSee the Defra website.

For general labelling enquiries, please call the Defra helpline on: 08459 33 55 77 or email: defra.helpline@defra.gsi.gov.uk

Quality

Quality is about what the consumer of a food product might generally expect. It is advised that manufacturers develop a quality assurance system to allow consistency in the quality of their product. They should also have a consumer complaints system in place.

Composition

Composition looks at the ingredients of a food product, and recipes should be made to ensure that the product meets all legal requirements regarding composition, for example:

  • maximum levels of preservatives in sausage meat
  • minimum fat content in milk
  • minimum meat content of meat products

Materials and articles in contact with food

Materials in contact with food are checked by Environmental Health Officers to ensure they meet specified standards. Items routinely checked include crockery/cutlery, equipment, disposable food containers, and packaging.

Labelling

Labelling of food is required to give consumers enough information to help them to make an informed choice, and then to handle, store and prepare the food safely. It is an offence to sell foods that are not properly labelled, or are labelled in a way that  confuses consumers.

Generally, pre-packed products must be labelled with the following information:

  • the name of the food
  • a list of ingredients in descending weight order, including additives
  • an indication of minimum durability ('use by' or 'best before' date)
  • special storage conditions (for example store under refrigeration)
  • the name and address of the manufacturer
  • origin of the food
  • instructions for use (such as cooking instructions)

Food that is sold unwrapped, such as some bread, food from a cooked food counter, and burgers or sausages in a butchers shop, do not need an ingredients list. A ticket or notice nearby must show its proper name, and the type of any main additives in it, such as 'contains preservatives'. 

A guide to the most common food labelling terms is available on the NHS website

'Use by' dates

The 'use by' date is a clear instruction that food must be used by that date. This date code applies to highly perishable foods which could become a food safety risk over short time periods (such as cooked meat, pre-packed sandwiches, milk, and chilled ready prepared meals).  Consuming food after this date could put you and your family at risk from food poisoning. 

It is illegal for businesses to sell food at any time after its use by date, or to alter the date without the manufacturers permission. If you see such items you can tell the proprietor of the business of their legal obligation.

If you buy food past its use by date you can either return the item to the premises or contact us at: 

Environmental Health Officers check for  foods on sale after the 'use by' date has expired during routine unannounced inspections.

'Best before' dates

This date mark indicates the date before which food is at its best. It applies to most foods other than highly perishable ones (such as frozen food, dried foods like cereals, canned foods like soup and baked beans, and crisps and sweets). After this date food may still be eaten and not dangerous to eat, but the appearance and quality may suffer (for example crisps may become soft).

Foods with a best before date must be stored as stated  on the label such as 'store in a cool dry place' or 'keep in fridge once opened'.

It is not an offence for businesses to sell or use food past its 'best before' date, however, if the food is unfit or of poor quality an offence may have been committed, and you can tell the food business, or return the product.

'Sell by' date and 'display until' dates

Both 'sell by' and 'display until' dates are for retailers' information. They are used by some shops to help staff know when they need to take food products off the shelves. It is the manufacturers or shops choice if they want to put a 'sell by' or 'display until' date on packaged food, and it is not against the law to sell food after such date.

It should be noted that usually this date will be shown with another date such as a 'use by' or 'best before' date.

Unlabelled foods

Some foods do not have to carry a date mark. These foods are normally bought for use within a very short period of time and it is clear when the quality is poor, such as fresh fruit, vegetables and some cakes.

Food which is not pre-packed is unlikely to carry a date mark, (such as meat from a butcher). Other foods include alcoholic drinks, sugar, salt and vinegar which last for such a long time that a date mark is not necessary.

Organic food

The word organic is used to describe food grown without most artificial fertilisers or pesticides and  uses crop rotation,  natural fertilisers and ensuring that the life of soil is maintained.

Producers of organic food are permitted to use some approved non-organic products, as long as 95% of the ingredients are organic. 

Read more about organic food on the Defra website.

Food allergies

People with food allergies have to be careful what they eat, and rely on food labels to make sure the ingredients are safe for them to eat.

For advice on allergen labelling visit the Food Standards Agency website.

Genetically modified food

If a food contains or consists of genetically modified organisms, or contains ingredients produced from genetically modified organisms, this must be shown on the label. For more information on the sales, testing and safety of GM foods, visit the Food Standards Agency website.

Feed hygiene regulations

Animal feed plays an important part in the food chain and has an effect on  the composition and quality of the livestock products (milk, meat and eggs) that people eat. 

For information on feed composition and labelling see the Food Standards Agency website.