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Labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs

12 January 2010
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 12 January 2010

Pre-packaged foodstuffs must comply with compulsory harmonised EU standards on labelling and advertising. The details that must appear on packaging include the name under which the product is sold, a list of ingredients and quantities, potential allergens (products which may cause allergies), the minimum durability date and conditions for keeping.



Directive 2000/13/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 March 2000 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs.


The Directive applies to pre-packaged foodstuffs to be delivered to the final consumer or to restaurants, hospitals, canteens and other similar mass caterers.

It does not apply to products intended for export outside the Community.

The labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs must not:

  • mislead the consumer as to the foodstuff’s characteristics or effects;
  • attribute to a foodstuff (except for natural mineral waters and foodstuffs intended for special diets, which are covered by specific Community provisions) properties for the prevention, treatment or cure of a human illness.


The labelling of foodstuffs must include the following:

Name under which the product is sold

This name is constituted by the name laid down for the product by any relevant Community provisions or, in the absence of such provisions, in the legislative provisions of, or as generally used in, the Member State where the product is sold.

The name under which the product is sold in the producing Member State may also be used, except where, despite the other compulsory particulars and the addition of other descriptive information, it could create confusion in the Member State in which it is sold.

The name under which the product is sold must also include particulars as to the physical condition of the foodstuff or the specific treatment that it has undergone (powdered, freeze-dried, deep-frozen, concentrated, smoked, etc.) in all cases where omission of such information could lead to confusion. Ionising treatment must always be mentioned.

List of ingredients

The list of ingredients, preceded by the word "Ingredients", must show all ingredients in descending order of weight (except in the case of mixtures of fruit or vegetables) and designated by their specific name, subject to certain derogations laid down in:

  • Annex I (categories of ingredients which may be designated by the name of the category rather than the specific name, e.g. "oil", "cocoa butter", "cheese", "vegetables", etc.),
  • Annex II (categories of ingredients which must be designated by the name of their category followed by their specific name or EC number, e.g. "colouring", "acidifier", "emulsifier", "humectant", etc.),
  • Annex III (Designation of flavourings).

In certain circumstances, ingredients need not be listed in the case of:

  • fresh fruit and vegetables,
  • carbonated water,
  • fermentation vinegars,
  • cheese, butter, milk and fermented cream,
  • products comprising a single ingredient where the name under which the product is sold is identical with the ingredient name or enables the nature of the ingredient to be clearly identified.

Additives used as processing aids and additives which are contained in an ingredient of a foodstuff but serve no technological function in the finished product need not be mentioned on the labelling of the foodstuff.

Quantity of ingredients or categories of ingredients expressed as a percentage

This requirement applies where the ingredients included in the name under which the product is sold are emphasised on the labelling or are essential to characterise a foodstuff. However, there are certain exceptions.

Allergens: Directive 2003/89/EC

The aim of this Directive is to provide consumers, especially those suffering from food allergies or intolerances, with fuller information on the composition of products through more exhaustive labelling.

The Directive abolishes the 25% rule (in the case of compound ingredients which form less than 25% of the final product, listing their ingredients is not compulsory), establishes a list of allergens which must appear on the labelling of foodstuffs, including alcoholic drinks, and removes the possibility of using the name of the category for certain ingredients, a list of which is included in a new annex. In order to prepare this list, the Commission will consult the European Food Safety Authority.

The Directive provides for greater flexibility through:

  • the possibility of not strictly following decreasing order by weight when listing ingredients present in small quantities (less than 5% of the finished product);
  • the possibility of not repeating an ingredient used several times in the preparation of a foodstuff (as a simple ingredient and in a compound ingredient).

The Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection has published guidelines on the compulsory listing of the ingredients because they are likely to cause adverse reactions in susceptible individuals (included in Annex IIIa, introduced by Directive 2003/89/EC and amended by Directive 2006/142/EC).

Foods containing meat: Directive 2001/101/EC

This Directive lays down the conditions for using the category name “meat” in the labelling of foods that contain meat as an ingredient. In order to establish a harmonised method for determining the meat content of such foods, it lays down maximum limits for the fat and connective tissue content of products that may be designated by the category name “meat”.

Net quantity

This must be expressed in units of volume in the case of liquids and units of mass in the case of other products. However, there are specific provisions for foodstuffs sold by number and solid foodstuffs presented in a liquid medium.

Date of minimum durability

This date consists of the day, month and year, except in the case of foodstuffs that will not keep for more than three months (the day and month are sufficient), foodstuffs which will not keep for more than 18 months (the month and year are sufficient), and foodstuffs which will keep for more than 18 months (year is sufficient).

The durability date is not required in the following cases:

  • fresh fruit and vegetables which have not been treated,
  • wines and beverages containing 10% or more by volume of alcohol,
  • soft drinks,
  • fruit juices and alcoholic beverages in individual containers of more than 5 litres intended for mass caterers,
  • bakers’ or pastry cooks’ wares,
  • vinegar,
  • cooking salt,
  • solid sugar,
  • chewing-gum,
  • individual portions of ice-cream.


  • use-by date;
  • special conditions for keeping and use;
  • name or business name and address of the manufacturer or packager or of a vendor established in the Community.
  • In the case of butter produced in the territory of a Member State, the latter may require indication of the manufacturer, packager or seller only;
  • place of origin or provenance, where the omission of such information might mislead the consumer;
  • instructions for use, where appropriate;
  • indication of the acquired alcoholic strength for beverages containing more than 1.2% alcohol by volume.


The Community provisions applicable to specific foodstuffs need not require a list of ingredients and date of minimum durability or other compulsory particulars in addition to those referred to above, provided this does not result in the purchaser being inadequately informed.

The particulars to be provided must be easy to understand, easily visible, clearly legible and indelible.

However, special provisions apply to:

  • reusable glass bottles and small packaging items or containers;
  • pre-packaged foodstuffs;
  • The compulsory particulars must appear on the pre-packaging or on a label attached to it. Where pre-packaged foodstuffs are marketed at a stage prior to sale to the final consumer or are supplied to mass caterers for processing, the particulars need appear only on the commercial documents, provided that the name under which the product is sold, the date of minimum durability and the details of the manufacturer or packager appear on the outer packaging of the foodstuff. More information may be found on pre-packaged foodstuffs, etc.;
  • Foodstuffs offered for sale without pre-packaging and foodstuffs packaged on the sales premises at the consumer’s request;

The Member States must decide on the procedures for showing the compulsory particulars.

The particulars must also be indicated in a language easily understood by the consumer. Labelling may be in several languages (see below under Related Acts, “Use of languages in labelling“).


The marketing of foodstuffs which comply with the Directive may be prohibited only in the case of non-harmonised national provisions that are justified on particular grounds, such as the protection of public health, prevention of fraud or the protection of industrial or commercial property.


The implementation of the Directive is the responsibility of the European Commission, assisted by the Standing Committee on Foodstuffs (authorisation of national rules relating to certain foodstuffs and making provision for the listing of ingredients in addition to the name under which the product is sold, derogations in respect of compulsory particulars, description of an additive as an ingredient, changes to the annexes, adoption of transitional measures, etc.).

Directive 2000/13/EC consolidates and repeals Council Directive 79/112/EEC on the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs and its subsequent amendments (Council Directives 85/7/EEC, 86/197/EEC and 89/395/EEC, Commission Directives 91/72/EEC, 93/102/EC and 95/42/EC and Directive 97/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council).


Directive 2000/13/EC [adoption: codecision]
Entry into force: 26.5.2000
Official Journal: OJ L 109 of 6.5.2000

Amending acts:
Act - Entry into force - Deadline for transposition in the Member States - Official Journal

Directive 2001/101/EC - 18.12.2001 - 31.12.2002 - OJ L130 of 28.11.2001

Directive 2002/67/EC - 8.8.2002 - 30.6.2003 - OJ L 191 of 19.7.2002

Acts of Accession of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia to the EU - 1.5.2004 - No later than 2007 - OJ L 236 of 23.9.2003

Directive 2006/107/EC - 1.1.2007 - 1.1.2007 - OJ L 363 of 20.11.2006

Directive 2003/89/EC [adoption: codecision COD/2001/0199] - 25.11.2003 - 25.11.2004 - OJ L 308 of 25.11.2003

Directive 2006/142/EC - 12.1.2007 - 23.12.2007 - OJ L 368 of 23.12.2006


Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 January 2008 on the provision of food information to consumers [COM(2008) 40 - Not published in the Official Journal].

This Proposal for a Regular amalgamates Directives 2000/13/EC and 90/496/EEC respectively on the labelling of foodstuffs and nutritional labelling, in order to improve levels of information and protection for European consumers.

The Proposal introduces new requirements in labelling. Mandatory information should include in particular the identity of goods, their composition and nutritional characteristics, their origin and conditions for safe use (durability, incidence and likelihood of danger to health). This information must be supplied in an honest way and should be easy for the consumer to read and understand. The minimum print size should be 3mm.

Nutritional labelling should include compulsory information such as:

  • energy value;
  • the quantity of some nutrients in the ingredients, lipids, saturated fatty acids, carbohydrates, as well as specific information on sugar and salt.

Moreover, consumers should be able to access adequate information, in particular when purchasing foodstuffs by Internet or other means of distance selling. The same goes for the presence of allergenic substances in foodstuffs, including for foodstuffs sold without packaging and meals served in restaurants.

The Member States may also adopt additional mandatory information requirements for specific categories of foodstuffs, in order to protect public health and safety and industrial and commercial property. The information envisaged must be notified as a proposal to the Commission, who may give a negative opinion.

In the interests of simplification and clarity, the Proposal repeals and integrates Directive 87/250/EEC on the labelling of alcoholic beverages, Directive 94/54/EC concerning the compulsory indication of particulars other than those provided for in Directive 79/112/EEC, Directive 1999/10/EC on sweeteners, and Directive 2002/67/CE on foodstuffs containing quinine and caffeine. Also Regulation (EC) No 608/2004 on the labelling of foods and food ingredients with added phytosterols, phytosterol esters, phytostanols and/or phytostanol esters, and Directive 2004/77/CE on foods containing glycyrrhizinic acid and its ammonium salt.


Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods [Official Journal L 404 of 30.12.2006].

The regulation is concerned with the standardisation of European legislation on nutrition labelling, including health claims. The aim is to ensure correct information in food labelling and avoid information that is misleading or difficult for consumers to understand.


The vertical directives on foodstuffs list in their annexes the products covered by Directive 2000/13/EC, subject to a number of derogations. More specifically, these are the directives relating to:

  • cocoa and chocolate products intended for human consumption;
  • certain sugars intended for human consumption;
  • honey;
  • fruit juices and certain similar products intended for human consumption;
  • certain partly or wholly dehydrated preserved milk for human consumption;
  • coffee extracts and chicory extracts;
  • fruit jams, jellies and marmalades and chestnut puree intended for human consumption;
  • products containing caffeine or quinine.



Proposal of 28 July 2006 for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on food additives [COM(2006) 428 final – Not published in the Official Journal].

The future Regulation will harmonise all authorised additives added to food in one Community list, by including colours and sweeteners. It will also establish a common authorisation and evaluation procedure.

The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health shall examine all additives which are already authorised as well as any new ones, and the European Food Safety Authority shall carry out a risk assessment on these products. To authorise a new additive or renew an existing authorisation, the assessment should show that the product is safe, technologically necessary, of benefit to the consumer and that the consumer is not being misled by its use.

The future Regulation will repeal all the provisions in force concerning additives.


Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on flavourings and certain food ingredients with flavouring properties for use in and on foods and amending Council Regulation (EEC) No 1576/89, Council Regulation (EEC) 1601/91, Regulation (EEC) No 2232/96 and Directive 2000/13/EC [COM(2006) 427 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

The future Regulation will restrict the use of the word "natural" to substances and preparations obtained directly from animal or plant material. It will remove the reference to flavourings that are identical to natural flavourings, a term which could confuse consumers.

Food enzymes

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 28 July 2006, on food enzymes and amending Council Directive 83/417/EEC, Council Regulation (EC) No 1493/1999, Directive 2000/13/EC and Council Directive 2001/112/EC [COM(2006) 425 final – Not published in the Official journal].

The future Regulation proposes including enzymes as food ingredients in Directive 2000/13/EC. On the one hand, foodstuffs containing enzymes as additives should be labelled with their function (e.g. stabiliser), followed by their specific name.

On the other hand, the labelling of foodstuffs containing enzymes must mention them only if they are added for a technological purpose.

A food enzyme is a product which is obtained by extraction from plants or animals or by a fermentation process using micro-organisms and which is added to foodstuffs to perform a technological function.

Alcoholic beverages

Directive 87/250/EEC [Official Journal L 113 of 30.04.1987].

Commission Directive of 15 April 1987 on the indication of alcoholic strength by volume in the labelling of alcoholic beverages for sale to the ultimate consumer.

This Directive makes it obligatory to indicate the alcoholic strength by volume in the labelling of certain alcoholic beverages intended for the ultimate consumer. It also gives the tolerances allowed in respect of the indications of the alcoholic strength by volume.


Directive 1999/10/EC [Official Journal L 69 of 16.03.1999].

Commission Directive of 8 March 1999 providing for derogations from the provisions of Article 7 of Council Directive 79/112/EEC as regards the labelling of foodstuffs.

This Directive specifies that the obligation to mention the quantity of an ingredient on the labelling of a foodstuff when it appears in the name under which the foodstuff is sold or is emphasised on the labelling does not apply where the wording "with sweetener(s)" or "with sugar(s) and sweetener(s)" accompanies the name under which the foodstuff is sold or where particulars relating to the addition of vitamins and minerals are subject to nutrition labelling. The Directive establishes special rules for the indication of ingredients in such cases.


On 10 November 1993 the Commission adopted an interpretative communication concerning the use of languages in the marketing of foodstuffs in the light of the Court of Justice's judgment in the Peeters case [COM(93) 532 final – Official Journal C 345 of 23.12.1993].

In this communication the Commission points out that the labelling of foodstuffs for sale to the final consumer must be in an easily understood language, which generally means the official language(s) of the country of marketing. However, foreign terms or expressions easily understood by the purchaser must be allowed.