Guest article

EC food labeling format: guide to conversion

By Kath Veal

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Nutrition

Converting food and beverage product labels from US to EC
format requires an in-depth understanding of European labeling
legislation, which is more complex than it often appears to be,
regulatory experts at consultancy firm Leatherhead Food
International tell

When looking to export food and beverage products to Europe, the more liberal and subjective EC labeling regime often excites US marketers.

But this can be a real headache for technical folk who seek certainty.

In Europe, food labeling legislation is predominantly set out in a number of Directives.

A Directive is a legal instrument that is binding in the effect it is intended to achieve, but that is not directly applicable in European member states.

Each country has to implement the legislation via national legislation, leading to occasional differences in interpretation.

This article deals with the legislation at Directive level and, for simplicity, links to legislation are to consolidated versions.

However, it is important to bear in mind that additional rules/guidance and differences in interpretation exist between member states, and Europe is not always a fully harmonized market.

The Principal Directive controlling food labeling is Directive 2000/13/EC .

General requirements for the presentation of labeling information are minimal, with no concept directly equivalent to the principal display panel.

Article 13 of the Directive states the required information must be easy to understand, easily visible, clearly legible and indelible.

The product name, net quantity, durability date, and for certain drinks their alcoholic strength, must all be given in the same field of vision.

In Europe the principal display panel is generally full of branding and promotional claims with statutory information provided on side or rear panels.

So what information must be given on the product label?

The name of the food Names are rarely prescribed at an EC level other than for certain raw commodities.

The name of the food must precisely inform the purchaser of its true nature and enable it to be distinguished from similar foods.

It should include technological processes used in production, (e.g. powdered, freeze-dried, concentrated, frozen or smoked) if it would be misleading not to do so.

Where legislation exists setting compositional standards for foods (akin to standards of identity), if the food bears one of the set descriptions then it must comply with the compositional requirements.

Ingredients list Ingredients listing requirements are similar to the US, though the majority of US generic terms are unacceptable in the EC (e.g. processed milk products would need to indicate the processing and comply with specific compositional controls ).

The names of specified allergenic food ingredients or their derivatives contained in the final food product must be clearly indicated on the label.

There are a number of specific exemptions for ingredients derived from allergens.

EC allergens encompass the US major food allergens and in addition rye, barley, oats, spelt, kamut or their hybridized strains, molluscs, lupin , celery, mustard, sesame seeds also sulphur dioxide and sulphites at concentrations of more than 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/liter expressed as SO2.

Nuts are defined thus:

Almond, Hazelnut, Walnut, Cashew, Pecan nut, Brazil nut, Pistachio nut, Macadamia nut and Queensland nut, and this is an exhaustive list not including, for example, coconut.

The EC, as the US, does not require warning statements for accidental cross contamination of allergens, although these are widely used.

Quantitative Ingredients Declaration (QUID)

The quantity of a categorizing ingredient or category of ingredients expressed as a percentage based on mixing bowl quantities must be stated in certain circumstances, linked to consumer perceptions of which ingredients would influence purchasing decisions.

Such declarations are often the subject of debate and the legislation has been supplemented with guidance at an EC level.

This declaration must appear with the name of the product or in the list of ingredients in connection with the name of the ingredient or category of ingredients.

Net quantity The net quantity of prepackaged foodstuffs must be expressed, for liquids, in units of volume (liter, centiliter, milliliter) and for other products in units of mass (kilogram, gram).

Imperial units are not legally required as in the US, but if given are supplementary to the metric indication.

Detailed specific legilsation exists regarding weights and measures controls for food and drink.

Date mark Durability dates are legally required to be given in the EC in all member states.

The date of minimum durability is the date until which a properly stored or transported foodstuff maintains its complete physical, chemical, microbiological and organoleptic properties.

It should be indicated as 'best before' or 'best before end' and then the date dependent upon shelf life: three months or less, an indication of the day and the month; more than three months and up to 18 months, an indication of the month and year; more than 18 months, an indication of the year.

The use-by date is used for marking microbiologically unstable highly perishable foods, and is the date after which the food loses its suitability for consumption.

Country of origin Unlike the US Customs Service requirements, in the EC the place of origin must be declared on a foodstuff only if its omission might mislead the consumer.

It is thus rarely required.

Examples of the need to declare country of origin would be produce of US provenance bearing pictures of landmarks of another country, for example Big Ben which could indicate the product as made in the UK.

Instructions for use Instructions are required for foodstuffs when the absence of these would prevent the correct use of the food by consumers, again a subjective consideration.

Storage instructions Storage condition requirements must be stated when the 'use-by' date is given (for example 'keep refrigerated') or when the quality of the food may be significantly affected by the storage conditions (e.g. store in a cool dry place).

This must be placed next to the date mark.

Note this is not guidance but a clear requirement in the EC.

Nutrition labeling Nutrition labelling is only mandatory in the EC for foods bearing nutrition and/or health claims - for other foods the declaration is voluntary.

Rules exist for content and format of nutrition labeling, which differ significantly from US nutrition facts.

Leatherhead Food International is a leading provider of global regulatory support to the food and drink industry.

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