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The new Food Information Regulation (FIR), designed to make food labelling easier to understand for consumers, has been published by the European Union and has now become legally binding across the EU.
The regulation combines rules on general food and nutrition labelling into a single EU regulation. Transitional arrangements set out in the FIR mean that the bulk of the requirements will not apply until 2014, with nutrition labelling becoming mandatory in 2016
The main points are:
• Allergen information will have to be provided on all food (whether sold pre-packed or loose). For pre-packed foods, the allergens will have to be highlighted on the ingredient list – the exact nature of this highlighting has yet to be decided upon.
• Country of origin – subject to further discussion, the introduction of mandatory origin information for most fresh and frozen meat. For example, it will be possible for 'Scotland', 'England', 'Wales' and 'Northern Ireland' to be used on food labels without mentioning 'UK' under new provenance rules. Also, the origin of main ingredients will have to be given if different from where the final product is made.
• Nutrition labelling will be required for most foods. Simplified information may be provided voluntarily on front of pack.
• Labelling clarity – a minimum font size has been set for all mandatory information on most food labels.
• Drinks with high caffeine content will have to be additionally labelled as not recommended for children or pregnant and breastfeeding women, with the actual caffeine content quoted.
• Meat and fish products that look like a cut, joint or slice and contain more than 5% added water will have to show this in the name of the food.
• The types of vegetable oil used in food, such as palm oil, must be stated.
The EU has also agreed:
• To make it easier for alcoholic drinks companies to voluntarily include calorie information on product labels.
• To enable voluntary provision of calorie information in out of home settings.
• To continue to permit selling by numbers – such as a dozen bread rolls or eggs.
When combined with existing national legislation, there is now a legal requirement to declare the presence of allergenic ingredients on all food sold throughout the EU with the implication that cross-contact between foods containing different allergenic components (or no allergenic ingredients at all) must be controlled necessitating the use of clearly validated and verified cleaning procedures combined with appropriate testing techniques.