Food, Agriculture and Animal Health

Food Labelling for Catering Establishments

This advice is designed to provide basic guidance to traders. It is not a complete or authoritative statement of the law.

This advice covers

Foods sold in catering establishments such as restaurants, cafes and canteens, clubs, public houses, schools or hospitals, ready for consumption on the premises or take-away.

What descriptions can I use?

Food descriptions are controlled by the Food Safety Act 1990 and The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Any information provided must not falsely describe the food, or be likely to mislead as to the nature, substance or quality of the food being served. This applies whether the description is written on a menu, chalkboard or other advertising material, or where it is spoken - perhaps in answer to a customer's question.

If an item is taken off of the menu for some reason, the description of that food must be removed as soon as is reasonably practicable. If the food in question is only available for a limited period of the day (for example, at breakfast time only) the description should be removed before the start of the next similar period, i.e. before breakfast the following day.


Are there any specific issues I should be aware of?

Descriptions on menus and notices should give an accurate indication of the true nature of the food. For example:-

  • Traditional names such as roast ham, roast beef should not be applied to foods which have been "flash" roasted or which have been made from meat which has been formed, chopped or shaped or contains other ingredients such as milk proteins.
  • The description beefburger should not be applied to foods unless the meat used is only beef and the food meets the minimum meat content and composition requirements.
  • Do not describe margarine or low fat spreads as butter.
  • Do not change the name given to a food by your supplier. i.e. do not shorten 'Orange Juice Drink' to 'Orange Juice'. They are different products.
  • Making salmon sandwiches from tinned salmon. Always use the full name of the salmon as given on the tin's label (e.g. Red Salmon sandwiches).
  • Do not sell skimmed or semi-skimmed milk as milk. The full name should be used.
  • Non-brewed condiment, whether free of charge or not, must NOT be described as vinegar or supplied in a distinctive container which customers may associate with vinegar.
  • Only whole tail scampi and chicken nuggets made from whole pieces of chicken may be described simply as 'scampi' or 'chicken nuggets'. If it is reformed or chopped and shaped product it must be described as such.
  • Products described as ham should be sliced from a whole cured piece of meat from the hindquarters of a pig. Products that are from the shoulder or are 'formed' or 'reformed' must be correctly described.
  • If 'crab soup' is made from seafood sticks it must be made known to the consumer that the soup contains only crab flavour.
  • Some pizzas contain not real cheese but a substitute 'cheese' analogue. These should not be described as 'cheese' but as 'cheese flavour'.
  • Care must be taken in the use of supplementary descriptions, i.e. 'fresh' or 'freshly made' should not be used in relation to instant coffee; 'home made' should only be used in relation to food made on the premises principally from primary ingredients.
  • Description of drinks.
The following are examples of well known brands of spirits:
  • 'Bacardi' is a brand of white rum
  • 'Smirnoff' is a brand of vodka
  • 'Bells' is a brand of whisky

Care must be taken with drink brand names. If you cannot be certain that you will always have a particular brand in stock, you may wish to describe spirits as rum/vodka/whisky/brandy, and not by specific brand. If you supply a different brand to that advertised on your menu, or what the customer requests, or what is shown on a plaque attached to the optic, you may commit a criminal offence.

Trading standards services regularly check spirits for watering down and substitution. These are serious matters which often lead to prosecution. It is not wise to 'top up' bottles of spirits, as this practice could lead to the mixing of different brands which may be treated as a criminal matter.


Required labelling

  • Genetic modification - If a food or food ingredients contain genetically modified material (usually derived from maize or soya) then the menu indication or label must indicate

    "produced from genetically modified maize/soya". Alternatively a general notice, clearly displayed at the point of food selection, may state words to the effect that some of the food contains genetically modified material and that further information is available from staff. In these circumstances the staff must be suitably trained AND readily accessible information must be available to enable them to advise customers.
  • Irradiation - In the case of food that has been irradiated the food needs to be marked with the word "irradiated" or "treated with ionising radiation".

If the food contains an ingredient that has been irradiated the food needs to be labelled that it contains that ingredient and be accompanied by the word "irradiated" or "treated with ionising radiation.

  • Raw milk - If raw milk is supplied there must be either a label on the container or a notice nearby stating "Milk supplied in this establishment has not been heat treated and may therefore contain organisms harmful to health".

Good practice advice

  • check that the descriptions that you make are correct and agree with the descriptions given by your supplier (on order forms, delivery documents, invoices or on product packaging), e.g. supplier description: 'reformed scampi'; menu description: 'reformed scampi'.
  • remember that product specifications may change over time, so you need to keep checking.
  • take particular care when you change supplier.
  • if the product specification changes, you must make sure your customers are not misled - if you are not able to change your menu descriptions immediately, or if the change is only temporary (e.g. because of a lack of supply of a particular ingredient), the customer must be advised of the change at the time the order is placed.

Pricing of food and drinks

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 control how prices must be made known to consumers before they complete any purchase and require that prices given should not be misleading. The full price that the customer will have to pay for food and drink items should be available to the consumer in advance of them making their choice and ordering the product.

The usual way to communicate this information is by a price list, placed near the bar, that provides consumers with the information they need to enable them to purchase drinks in that it gives the details of what drinks are available and the price.

The indicated price must be inclusive of VAT and must also show any service charge, cover charge, or minimum charge that might apply. This information should be displayed at least as prominently as the price of the food. Guidance on pricing for businesses PDF has been produced by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). These guidance notes state that 'suggested optional sums' such as service charges, should not be presented to the customer on their bill. The guidance also says that if a non-optional charge is to be made, such as service or cover charge, then this should be incorporated into 'fully inclusive prices' where possible, and in all cases this should be clearly advertised on the menu or price list.


Weights and measures

Many alcoholic drinks must be sold in specified quantities where the drink is to be consumed on the premises.

Wine must be sold in the following quantities:

  • by the bottle
  • by the glass in 125 ml, 175 ml quantities or multiples of these
  • by the carafe in 250 ml, 500 ml, 750 ml or one litre quantities

The quantities of wine that are sold must be clearly indicated on a price list, notice, or menu.

Beer, lager and cider (except when mixed with another drink) can only be sold from draught in these quantities:

  • 1/3 pint
  • 1/2 pint
  • multiples of 1/2 pint

To ensure that the quantity given is accurate, beer, lager and cider must either be dispensed into a glass stamped with a crown mark or dispensed by a stamped meter.

Gin, rum, whisky vodka and (from October 2010) brandy (except when sold in cocktails of three or more drinks) must only be sold in the following quantities:

  • 25 ml
  • 35 ml
  • multiples of 25 ml or 35 ml, e.g. 'doubles' or 'trebles'

In addition, a notice which is easy to read must make it clear which quantity applies. The same quantity must be used throughout all separate bars in restaurants, bars and clubs.


Companies and business names

The Companies Act 2006 provides that:

Companies must display their registered name at  their registered office and at any location where they carry on business, (unless the location is primarily used for living accommodation). This includes websites. The name must also be included on all business stationery including electronic communications. In addition business order forms, letters and websites must include the place of registration, the registered number and the registered office address.

Sole Trader businesses and partnerships are required to display, on all business letters, written orders for goods or services, invoices and receipts, and written demands for payment of business debts, the following information:

  • in the case of an individual, his name; or
  • in the case of a partnership, the name of each member of the partnership; and
  • in relation to each person so named, an address in the United Kingdom at which service of any document relating in any way to the business will be effective.


It is an offence to display misleading or incorrect information. The responsibility for labelling rests with you and it is no excuse to say 'I didn't know'. The name or description should be the same that is used by your supplier, with whom you should check if you are in any doubt.




Animal Health Team

Telephone: 01962 833621


Hampshire County Council
Trading Standards Service
Montgomery House
Monarch Way
Winchester SO22 5PW

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Reviewed November 2010

B/foo/132/002 April 2010