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A simple ready meal has many ingredients, both physical and legal. This page explains some of the legal ingredients of a ready meal (or any other food product) and what you need to be aware of to ensure your food product complies and your business is protected.
Hover your mouse over the blue blocks for a brief explanation of each area. If you have any questions, please contact one of the Food and Drink team.
A patent is used to protect inventions where they are new, involve an inventive step and are capable of being made or used in industry, for example a new way of making a specific food stuff. The invention must be new, a patent cannot be applied for once the invention is in the public domain, and it must not be an adaptation of previous products.
Patents can provide protection for up to 20 years, but must be renewed every five.
Every business that deals in food must, among other things, make sure the food is safe to eat. Part of this is managing food hygiene. You will usually need a plan based on HACCP principles. Employers are responsible for staff hygiene training and you must also be careful to manage food allergies. You can be inspected by your local council at any point in the food production and distribution process.
See the Food Law Code of Practice, the Food Safety Act 1990, the General Food Law Regulation (178/2002/EC) and the General Food Regulations 2004.
Copyright may provide useful protection for a written recipe for example. Copyright means that, with some exceptions, others cannot use the work without the creator’s permission. Copyright will automatically apply to a relevant work and there is no registration system. The work must, for example, have involved “independent creative effort” and be original.
Copyright protection in the UK for an original written work lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years from the end of the year in which they died.
Contracts will need to be negotiated at each level of the supply chain from the farmer to the retailer. These contracts will need to ensure that the products comply with all relevant legislation. It is important to think about each level of the supply chain that the product will have to go through.
Food which is sold pre-packed must contain the name of the food, an ingredients list, information regarding any of the common allergens present (identified in bold in the ingredients list), the quantity of certain ingredients, the net quantity of the goods, a date mark, any special storage conditions, the food business operator who is marketing the food, instructions for use, the alcoholic strength by volume (if applicable) and from December 2016 a nutrition declaration. If a product is not required to have an ingredients list, it must still be made clear that the product contains certain allergens.
Labels should be clear and a minimum font size of 1.22mm should be used and the name and quantity of the product (and alcohol volume if applicable) should appear in a single field of vision.
Labelling should not be misleading and information must not suggest that the product contains something when it has been substituted for an alternative.
Additionally, certain products must contain other information, for example, meat products must declare water content over 5% and the country of origin for all pork and poultry or other main ingredients not from the country of production must be displayed.
See the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 and the Food Information Regulation (1169/2011/EC)
A trademark can be words, logos or a combination of both. A trademark must be renewed every ten years and the application fee starts at £170. Registering the words or logo gives you the exclusive right to use that mark for the goods and/or services it covers.
Examples of when a mark cannot be registered as a trademark include where it:-
The packaging itself must be suitable for food use. Suitable packaging will be clearly labelled as such. In addition, there are specific rules if you are using plastics, ceramics or cellophane for packaging. You must have written evidence that you have kept to these rules even if you are only buying food for sale that’s already packaged in one of those materials.
See Food Contact Materials – Framework Regulations (1935/2004/ EC) and the Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (England) Regulations 2007 together with specific regulations relating to the type of material.
What type of licence is needed will depend upon where the product is coming from and what it is. Many products can be imported under general licences and the controls are less strict if the product is coming from within the EU.
You must ensure compliance with all the conditions that are set out in a relevant general licence and also in EU and other regulations.
If an item is not covered by one of the general licences you will probably need to apply for a specific licence.
The Port Health Authority will check for compliance and certain products will be subjected to more stringent checks.
Best before/use by
One of these dates must be shown on the product. A “best before” date will usually be appropriate and relates to the quality of the food.
A “use by” date should be used for foods which are highly perishable and may present a risk of food poisoning after a relatively short period of time. “Use by” relates to the safety of the food.
The date, as with all labelling, must comply with the labelling requirements and be clear, legible, conspicuous and indelible.
See Directive 2000/13/EC, the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 and the Food Information Regulation (1169/2011/EC).
In order to produce or process organic food or products, import organic food or products from most non-EU countries, produce organic animal feeds or re-label organic products during the distribution chain you must be registered with an approved organic control body and inspected at least once a year. There are wide standards set down by the EU which must be complied with, as well as domestic laws, in order for the food to be labelled as organic and in particular thorough and accurate records of the production process must be kept. If you don’t comply with this the products won’t be organic.
A retailer who only sells organic products directly to customers may label products as organic so long as 95% of the farm-grown ingredients used are organic.
Food business operators must keep records of food, food substances and food-producing animals supplied to their business and any businesses to which their products are supplied
This information must be made available to the authorities on demand. It is a criminal offence to be in breach of this requirement. It is a defence to show that all reasonable precautions and due diligence were used to avoid the commission of the offence or that the commission of the offence is due to the act or default of another.
See General Food Law Regulation (EC) 178/2002 article 18 and the General Food Regulations 2004 regulation 4.