England introduces calorie labelling requirement in drive to reverse obesity

Out-Law News | 01 Jun 2021 | 8:41 am | 3 min. read

English cafés, restaurants, takeaways and bakeries will be among the businesses required to display information about the calorie content of the food they are selling under rules to be introduced next year.

The UK government announced that large businesses operating in the ‘out of home’ food sector in England must display information relating to the calorific content of a single standard portion of their food, together with a statement that “adults need around 2,000 kcal a day” in a visible and legible format on menus and food labels from 6 April 2022.

The Calorie Labelling (Out of Home Sector) (England) Regulations 2021 will apply to English businesses with more than 250 employees operating outlets where food or drink is prepared in a way that means it is ready for immediate consumption by the person who buys it. Those businesses are said to account for nearly half of the value of all food and drink sold in the out of home sector.

Although exempt from the initial requirements, the government is encouraging smaller businesses to provide similar information sharing and has not ruled out mandatory requirements for them in future.

Food safety expert Zoe Betts of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “In preparation for the changing obligations, businesses in scope of the regulations should make preparations to ensure that they are compliant and should pay close attention to further guidance to be issued from the government.”

The regulations form part of the government’s wider strategy to tackle obesity and encourage people to make healthier food choices. It said the Covid-19 pandemic had brought the dangers of obesity into focus, with evidence suggesting that patients with obesity, and in particular morbid obesity, may be more likely to be admitted to intensive care; require advanced treatment, such as ventilation; and have a 37% increased risk of dying from Covid-19 compared to non-obese patients.

Examples of large businesses that will be required to calorie label include restaurants, cafés, takeaways, bakeries and caterers but also supermarkets, entertainment venues such as cinemas, or hotels serving food in scope of the policy. Workplaces, where the food and drink on sale is provided by a large catering company, will also be required to calorie label.

Businesses operating through a franchise agreement model may be considered as a whole, so that where the total number of employees is greater than or equal to 250, franchisees will be required to calorie label. Third-party takeaway platforms, irrespective of the size of their business, will also be required to display calorie information on food and drink items sold by businesses in scope of the policy.

Calorie labelling will be required on all items that are prepared and sold for immediate consumption by the final consumer and are not subject to existing pre-packaged labelling requirements. This includes unpackaged items such as a meal at a restaurant; prepacked food for direct sale such as a sandwich made and packaged on-site at a café; and food packaged at a consumer’s request, such as a sausage roll at a bakery. Sides and toppings on a menu will also be required to display calorie labels.

Businesses will be required to calculate the calorie content per portion of food or drink item sold, making clear to the consumer what a standard portion is. The government said it would issue guidance setting out how calorie information should be calculated and displayed across a range of serving methods.

Items which typically require further preparation such as uncooked meat, fish and eggs, drinks with over 1.2% alcohol by volume, loose fruit or vegetables and condiments added by the consumer are excluded.

Organisations exempt from the regulations include educational institutions for pupils below the age of 18; in-house workplace canteens where the food and drink on sale is solely for the employees of the workplace; and health and social care settings where the food is provided solely for patients or residents.

Local authority enforcement officers will be able to issue improvement notices in the event of non-compliance, giving businesses an opportunity to take remedial steps prior to issuing any monetary penalty. Non-compliance with an improvement notice is an offence and enforcement officers may impose a fixed monetary penalty of £2,500 in such cases. Enforcement action taken will be published by local authorities.

The introduction of the regulations follows a consultation in 2018. The government issued a response in February 2021 confirming it would introduce legislation to mandate calorie labelling.