Food standards

Food standards

Food standards relate to a food product's:

Food standards also relate to how a product is advertised and the materials or articles in contact with it.

Inspections

Our Environmental Health Department carries out routine food standards inspections of all food businesses in the borough.

Environmental health officers monitor local food standards in businesses by:

  • inspecting menu descriptions, claims and food quality
  • checking food labels, composition, additive levels, and materials and articles in contact with food 
  • checking 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

By carrying out regular inspections we can make sure:

  • 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

If you have a food business and need guidance, contact us. We can help you:

  • with the composition and labelling of products
  • comply with the law

Read more about food labelling regulations.

Read about food safety.

Food standards legislation

Food standards legislation helps ensure consumers are not misled. In England, the Food Standards Agency is responsible for food safety-related labelling issues.

Read about the Food Standards Agency.

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

Read about Defra.

For general labelling enquiries contact:

Quality

Quality standards are what the consumer of a food product might realistically expect. 

Manufacturers should 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. Recipes and products need to meet all legal requirements, 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

Environmental health officers check materials in contact with food to ensure they meet specified standards. This includes:

  • crockery
  • cutlery
  • equipment
  • disposable food containers
  • packaging

Labelling

Labelling food correctly means consumers have the information they need to:

  • make an informed buying choice
  • understand how to 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 such as 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

Some food doesn't need an ingredients list. This includes:

  • some bread
  • food from a cooked food counter
  • burgers or sausages in a butchers shop

A ticket or notice nearby must show its proper name, and the type of any main additives in it, such as 'contains preservatives'. 

Read about common food labelling terms.

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
  • 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: 

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
  • 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 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. This includes:

  • fresh fruit and vegetables
  • some cakes
  • meat from a butcher
  • alcoholic drinks
  • sugar
  • salt
  • vinegar

Organic food

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.

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.

Read more about allergen labelling.

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.

Read more about sales, testing and safety of GM foods.