What's in a name? Product legality, as UK updates food naming guidance

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

Name game. Not complying with the law can result in fines. © iStock/Martince2
Name game. Not complying with the law can result in fines. © iStock/Martince2
The UK's Department for food, the environment and rural affairs (DEFRA) has updated guidance on food product naming to make the complex and potentially hazardous field more user-friendly for manufacturers.

A spokesperson for DEFRA told us naming policies remained unchanged about using brand names, trademarks and other labelling practices.

Firms which do not comply with this policy risk a fine which varies in accordance with the severity of the offence.

Legal names, also known as 'reserved descriptions', must be used if a product meets certain conditions. For instance, a product must be labelled as ‘instant coffee’ if it is made of solid coffee extract such as granules and contains at least 95% coffee. In addition, it must only contain natural substances created during the coffee extraction process.

Food manufacturers must also avoid using names that are protected under the EU’s protected designation of origin (PDO) or protected geographical indication (PGI) system, such as Kentish ale or Stilton cheese.

The guidance notes say a customary name or descriptive name can be used if the food product does not have a legal name. It describes a customary name as “one that consumers in parts of the UK generally accept as the name of the food without it needing further explanation such as ‘toad-in-the-hole’ or ‘bakewell tart’”.

However, if manufacturers use an ingredient that differs from common expectations, such as parsley in pesto sauce rather than basil, then this must be clearly stated next to or directly under the product name. This information must be written using a font that is at least 75% of the height of the food name and has an x-height of at least 1.2 mm.  

Certain production processes must also be listed, such as if a product has been ground, powdered, refrozen, freeze-dried, quick-frozen, concentrated or smoked.

However if the food was temporarily frozen as part of the production process, for instance in order to comply with food hygiene regulations or to slice an ingredient thinly, it is not necessary to list this on-pack.

Foods that have been treated with ionising radiation must be labelled with the words ‘irradiated’ or ‘treated with ionising radiation’.

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Where is it published?

Posted by Linda,

I think this is the guidance they are referring to:

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Where is it published?

Posted by Anna,

could you please provide link to DEFRA,s guidance?

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