Frequently Asked Questions Print Friendly

Food Labelling

1. What are the food labelling requirements for pre-packaged food in Hong Kong?

Reference shall be made to Schedule 3 to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap. 132W), which generally states that unless there is exemption in the Regulations or otherwise stated, the following information should be marked in either English or Chinese language or in both languages on the label of prepackaged food:
(If Chinese and English languages are used in labelling, the food name and the ingredient list of the prepackaged food shall be labelled in both languages.)

(1) Name of the Food
The food name shall not be false, misleading or deceptive. It should also serve to make the nature and type of food known to the purchaser.

(2) List of Ingredients

(i) Preceded by an appropriate heading consisting of the words "ingredients", "composition", "contents" or words of similar meaning, the ingredients shall be listed in descending order of weight or volume determined as at the time of their use when the food was packaged.

(ii) Declare the presence of any of the eight substances, namely cereals containing gluten; crustacea and crustacean products; eggs and egg products; fish and fish products; peanuts, soybeans and their products; milk and milk products (lactose included); tree nuts and nut products; and sulphite in concentrations of 10 parts per million or more, which are known to cause allergy.

(iii) If an additive constitutes one of the ingredients of a food, it should be listed by both the functional class and the specific name or the identification number under the International Numbering System for Food Additives adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

(3) Indication of "use by" or "best before" Date
Use either the words "use by 此日期或之前食用" or "best before 此日期前最佳", as the case may be, followed by the date up to which specific properties of the food can be retained, to indicate the shelf life of the food.

(4) Statement of Special Conditions for Storage or Instructions for Use
If special conditions are required for storage to retain the quality or special instructions are needed for the use of prepackaged food, a statement should be legibly marked on the label.

(5) Name and Address of Manufacturer or Packer
The prepackaged food should be legibly labelled with the full name and full address of the manufacturer or packer, or otherwise in accordance with the requirements as stipulated in the Regulations.

(6) Count, Weight or Volume of Food
The food label should include the numerical count or net weight or net volume of the prepackaged food.

2. Whether the label of prepackaged food should be bilingual?

Regarding the appropriate language to be used in food labelling, paragraph 8 of Schedule 3 to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap. 132W) prescribed that except as the situation quoted in the regulations, the marking or labelling of prepackaged food for the purposes of this Schedule shall be in either the English or the Chinese language or in both languages. If both the English and Chinese languages are used in the labelling or marking of prepackaged food, the name of the food and the list of ingredients shall appear in both languages.

3. What is the format to display "best before" or "use by" date on food label?

The "best before" (此日期前最佳) date shall be indicated by the words "best before" in English lettering and "此日期前最佳" in Chinese characters followed by the date up to and including which the food can reasonably be expected to retain its specific properties if properly stored, and a statement of any storage conditions which need to be observed if the food is to retain its specific properties until that date. The "use by" (此日期或之前食用) date shall be indicated by the words "use by" in English lettering and "此日期或之前食用" in Chinese characters followed by the date up to and including which the food, if properly stored, is recommended for use, and a statement of any storage conditions which need to be observed if the food is to retain its quality attributes until that date. You may wish to take reference from Paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap. 132W) for further details.

4. Is there any control on false labeling of food?

According to Section 61 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132), if any person gives with any food sold by him, or displays with any food exposed for sale by him, a label, whether or not the same is attached to or printed on the wrapper or container, which-
(a) falsely describes the food; or
(b) is calculated to mislead as to its nature, substance or quality,
he shall be guilty of an offence. Upon conviction by the Court, the offender is liable to a maximum fine of $50,000 and 6 months imprisonment.

5. What action would be taken by the Department if a prepackaged food is not properly labeled?

Save with the exemptions for those items as listed in Schedule 4 to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap. 132W), it is in breach of regulation 4 or 4A of the said Regulations. If there is sufficient evidence to prove any contravention under the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap. 132W), legal action will be taken against the offender. Upon conviction by the Court, the offender is liable to a maximum fine of $50,000 and 6 months imprisonment.

6. If a prepackaged food contains “soyabean” as an ingredient, which is known to be an allergen, are there any other alternative names to designate “soyabeans” ? Furthermore, is it acceptable to label “ 黃 豆 ” instead of “ 大豆 ”?

According to paragraph 2(4E) of Schedule 3 to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations, Cap.132W, if a prepackaged food consists of or contains soyabeans, the name of the substance shall be specified in the list of ingredients. “Soybeans”, “soy”, “soya”, “soya beans”, “soy beans” or “Soyabeans” are all acceptable alternative names to designate “soyabeans” in the list of ingredients. The term “ 黃 豆 ” is commonly used in the trade and it is acceptable.

7. Is it necessary to label “Rice (contain gluten)” for the product of prepackaged rice?

Rice normally does not contain gluten. However, if the gluten is unintentionally introduced and not an intended ingredient in the rice, its presence shall be disclosed in the list of ingredients or in immediate proximity to the ingredients list. The statement should be in one of the following formats:
(a) "May contain traces of gluten";or
(b) "Contains traces of gluten "; or
(c) "Produced in a factory where gluten is also handled”.

8. If a prepackaged food contains soy lecithin, is it acceptable to label “soy lecithin” rather than “soy lecithin (soybeans)” or “soy lecithin (soybean product)” in the list of ingredients? Can either " 大豆磷脂 " or " 大豆卵磷脂 ” be used for the Chinese version?

Soy lecithin is regarded as a soyabean product. It is acceptable just to label “soy lecithin” instead of “soy lecithin (soyabeans)” or “soy lecithin (soyabean product)” in the list of ingredients. In addition, both " 大豆磷脂 " and " 大豆卵磷脂 ” are acceptable.

9. Is it acceptable to label “Lactose” alone instead of "Lactose (milk product)" in the list of ingredients to indicate this allergenic substance?

Both are acceptable.

10. Is it acceptable to specify an allergenic substance only once in the list of ingredients and not to repeat the same substance in the list. For example, for a milk product specified as “Chocolate Milk (milk, skim milk powder, non fat milk, cocoa butter, whey protein)”, is it acceptable not to specify “whey protein (milk product)” in the ingredient list? Or, if the ingredient list already specifies “fish meat”, is it acceptable not to specify “tuna oil (fish product)” in the same list?

As long as the name of each allergenic substance contained in the food is specified in the list of ingredients, it is considered that the requirement as prescribed in paragraph 2(4E)(a) of Schedule 3 to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations, Cap. 132W has been complied with. It is acceptable to specify the name of an allergenic substance only once in the list of ingredients.

11. Is it acceptable to label the functional class of the additive, “Acid” ( 酸味劑 ) as “ 酸 ” in Chinese?

In accordance with paragraph 2(6) of Schedule 3 to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations, Cap.132W, the Chinese character “ 酸 ” is not acceptable. The food trade should use “ 酸味劑 ” in Chinese according to the legislation.

12. A food additive may belong to a sub-class of a functional class, for example, texturizer is a sub-class of thickener. Is it acceptable to label the sub-class instead of the functional class of the additive in the list of ingredient?

According to paragraph 2(5) and (6) of Schedule 3 to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations, Cap.132W, an additive constituting one of the ingredients of a food shall be listed by its functional class and-

(a) its specific name; or
(b) its identification number under the International Numbering System for Food Additives; or
(c) its identification number under the International Numbering System for Food Additives with the prefix “E” or “e”.

Hence, it is not acceptable to label a food additive by the sub-class.

13. If an ingredient, which can serve as an additive, is added to food, do we need to specify its functional class? For example, calcium carbonate is added to a food as an ingredient and does not serve as an additive in the food.

According to paragraph 2(5) and (6) of Schedule 3 to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations, Cap.132W, an additive constituting one of the ingredients of a food shall be listed by its functional class and-

(d) its specific name; or
(e) its identification number under the International Numbering System for Food Additives; or
(f) its identification number under the International Numbering System for Food Additives with the prefix “E” or “e”.

As regards “additive”, it is defined under regulation 2 of the said Regulations. However, an ingredient of a food, which is not an additive, shall be included in the list of ingredients but there is no need to specify its functional class.

14. Is it acceptable to label “Flavour (Flavor)” or “Flavouring (Flavoring)” instead of “Flavour and Flavouring” as the functional class required under the new labelling legislation?

It is acceptable to label as “flavour (or flavor)”, “flavouring (or flavoring)” or “flavour and flavouring (or flavor and flavoring)”, whichever is applicable.

15. Is it acceptable to use Japanese or French to label a food product?

The languages used in labelling prepackaged food shall be English, Chinese or both languages in accordance with paragraph 8 of Schedule 3 to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations, Cap.132W. However, if a prepackaged food is national or traditional to the country of its manufacture and is not generally manufactured in any other country, it may be marked and labelled in accordance with the said Schedule in the language of the country of its manufacture.

16. Are Japanese Kanji, for examples, “原材料名”,“賞味期限”, are considered as Chinese language used in the labelling of prepackaged food ?

Japanese Kanji such as “原材料名” and “賞味期限” cannot be regarded as Chinese language.

17. For single ingredient product such as tea bag, coffee, olive oil, is it acceptable not to provide the ingredient list? For example, a package of English Breakfast Tea Bags marked on the packaging that it contains a blend of Ceylon and Indian tea. Is it acceptable not to provide an ingredient list stating: Ceylon tea leaves and Indian tea leaves?

If any food contains more than one ingredient, it is necessary to specify all the ingredients in the ingredient list. In this example, an ingredient list is required.

18. Is it acceptable to use singular or plural form (e.g. soybean or soybeans, colour or colours, nut or nuts ) on the label?

It is acceptable to use singular or plural nouns on the label.

19. Is it acceptable to use capital letter or small letter (e.g. Nuts or nuts, Soy or soy) in labelling of a prepackaged food?

It is acceptable to use capital or small letter or both of them on the label.

20. In view of the discrepancies in the Chinese expression in some countries, is it acceptable to use “著色劑” instead of “色素” for colour and “西元年” or “公元年” instead of “年” for Chinese date format on the food labels ?

According to paragraph 2(6) of Schedule 3 to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations, Cap.132W, colour should be labelled as “色素” instead of “著色劑”in Chinese. Also, according to paragraph 4(7)(c) of Schedule 3 to the same Regulations, “年” should be used as Chinese date format instead of “西元年” or “公元年”. Alternatively, “年(西元年)” or “年(公元年)” is acceptable.

21. When labelling the allergen tree nuts and nut products (木本堅果及堅果製品), is it acceptable to use “nuts” or “nut products” instead of “tree nuts”, and “堅果” or “堅果製品” or “果仁” instead of “木本堅果”? In addition, is it acceptable to use “hazelnut” and “almond” alone without specifying “tree nut” or “nut” after them?

It is recommended to use the terms “tree nuts”, “nuts” and “nut products” and their corresponding Chinese terms “木本堅果”, “堅果” and “堅果製品” though there is no objection to the use of the term “果仁” which is a common and usual name familiar to the consumers in Hong Kong.

Use of the terms “hazelnut”, “hazelnut (nut)”, “hazelnut (tree nut)”, “榛子(木本堅果)”, “榛子(堅果)” and “榛子(果仁)” are all acceptable. However, the use of the term “almond” or “杏仁” alone is not acceptable as the name itself does not contain the words “nut” or “堅果” and so it must be labelled as “almond (tree nut)”, “almond (nut)”, “杏仁(木本堅果)”, “杏仁(堅果)” or “杏仁(果仁)”.

22. To meet the labelling requirements of different countries, is it acceptable to use slash (/) to separate words of same meaning such as 麵粉/小麥粉 and 醬色/焦糖色素?

It is acceptable if slash (/) is used to provide alternative name(s) for a substance so as to give additional information to the consumers. It is also acceptable to put the alternative name(s) in brackets.

23. In food industry, it is common to use alternative ingredients to fulfill the same manufacturing formula due to seasonal availability of raw material or whatever reasons. Is it acceptable to use “or” or “and/or” to separate the alternative ingredients, for example, “cream or butter” ?

It is not acceptable to use “or” or “and/or” for indicating the presence of one of the different substances as declared.


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copyright logo | Important notices Last Revision Date : 31-08-2010