Food Law News - UK - 2010

FSA Consultation Letter, 25 March 2010

LABELLING - Food Standards Agency guidance on the application of date marks to food

A copy of the consultation letter is available on this site. See: Consultation - Date Marking Guidance

To formally seek stakeholders' comments and views on the draft updated guidance on compliance with the UK Food Labelling Regulations 1996 and the new guidance for small businesses.

Responses are requested by: 16 June 2010


Who will this consultation be of most interest to?

Food manufacturers, enforcement authorities, analytical laboratories and others with an interest in the application of date marks to pre-packed food.

What is the subject of this consultation?

Revision of Food Standards Agency (FSA) guidance on compliance with the UK Food Labelling Regulations 1996 (as amended) implementing Directive 2000/13/EC relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs, and the publication of new guidance for small businesses..

What is the purpose of this consultation?

To formally seek stakeholders' comments and views on the draft updated guidance on compliance with the UK Food Labelling Regulations 1996 and the new guidance for small businesses.

Consultation details

The Food Standards Agency seeks views on the revised guidance to compliance with legal requirements for the date marking of pre-packed food under the UK Food Labelling Regulations 1996 as amended, implementing Directive 2000/1013/EC relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs.

Food law requires pre-packed food to carry one of two types of date marks; a 'minimum durability' ('best before' date) or a ‘use by’ date, however, there is no specified list in law of which types of food products should carry which date mark. The 'best before' date will be appropriate to most foods, and is the date until which the food will retain its specific properties when properly stored, e.g. it will not be stale. For food which is microbiologically highly perishable and is, in consequence, likely after a short period of time to pose an immediate danger to human health, a 'use by date' is required. The Agency published guidance on which food should carry a 'use by' date in 2003 [see Use By Guidance]. The document aimed to give guidance to food businesses involved in the manufacture, production and retail of pre-packed food on when and how to give a ‘use by’ date on food labels. It included factors that should be considered when deciding to apply a ‘use by’ date as well as examples of the types of food that could carry a ‘use by’ date.

There has been some criticism of the current guidance by stakeholders in recent years, including food businesses and enforcement authorities. The former noting that the guidance restricted room for applying the dates it felt necessary. The latter noting that the ‘use by’ date mark was inappropriately being applied in some cases, resulting in its extension to a wider range of products than should be the case. This guidance has been produced to update the information and address the issues raised above.

Feedback from enforcement officers is that small firms can find legal compliance guidance documents difficult to use. Therefore a short simplified version of the full guidance has been produced which should help to make information in the full document more accessible to them. However, it would still be important for the food business operator to consider whether or not they have the in-house expertise to determine the date mark, and where they do not have this expertise, the recommendation would be for them to source this advice to ensure the accuracy and appropriateness of their food date marking.


In order to assist food businesses in their application of date marks, the Agency has updated and clarified the guidance, and expanded it to include guidance on 'use by' and ‘best before’ dates. The guidance sets out key principles that should be considered when determining date marks, including a flow chart to aid the date-marking decision-making process. This should help food businesses set date marks in a way that complies with the law and is more consistent, thereby promoting a high level of consumer protection from inappropriate date marking and confusion around date marks. There is also the potential to reduce food waste. A simplified, two-page version of the guide to legal compliance is also being issued in order to help small businesses.

The draft guidance has also been revised to align it with the standard FSA template.

Key proposals:

Consultation Process:

The Waste and Resource Action Programme (WRAP) and the FSA hosted a joint event in February 2009 on food waste, at which it was agreed, as part of wider actions looking at how food businesses use date markings and display, the guidance on ‘use by’ dates should be amended. Subsequently, the FSA set up a key stakeholder working group, including representatives from across the food industry and enforcement, to consider the issues were and how the guidance could be amended. The group has helped to produce the two pieces of guidance on which we are consulting.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks. Interested parties are encouraged to contact the Agency with any comments or queries they may have.

A summary of responses received will be published on the Agency’s website within three months of the end of the consultation. All responses received will be considered by the Agency when finalising the revised guidance for publication. Where comments have not been taken into account, reasons for this will be given in the consultation response summary.

Questions asked in this consultation:


Impact Assessment

The Agency welcomes all comments on the draft revised guidance and new guidance for small firms and associated impact assessment from all stakeholders. In particular, food businesses, doctors and other health professionals, charities and other national associations of medical, nutrition or dietetic professionals and enforcement authorities are encouraged to respond with their views.


Responses are required by close 16 June 2010. Please state, in your response, whether you are responding as a private individual or on behalf of an organisation/company (including details of any stakeholders your organisation represents).

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