Good Practice Guide on Compliance with the Legislation on Irradiation of Food Ingredients particularly for Food Supplements with Foreword by Jeff Rooker, Chair, Food Standards Agency.

 

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This document is for businesses such as gyms, fitness suites, health shops and tanning salons which sell or supply food supplements.

The information will help you understand what is required of a business selling or supplying food supplements.

In the UK most products described as food supplements (such as vitamins, minerals or amino acids) are regulated as foods and subject to the provisions of general food law such as the Food Safety Act.

If you sell food supplements you must register as a Food Business Operator (FBO) with your local authority.

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Where is the best place to buy food supplements?

All retailers selling food supplements are meant to follow strict laws on how they can advertise the food supplement, what they can say about it, and also what information must be provided before you decide to buy.

Reputable retailers, regardless of the means by which they sell food supplements (eg. high street, online, catalogues etc), generally try to do their best to ensure that they are only selling legal food supplements.

Sometimes, though, a non-compliant product might slip through the net, and that is where the ‘ Three easy points you can check by looking at the label’ can come in useful (see below).

All the information that should be available about the product should be obtainable from the product label.

If you are buying online or from a catalogue, the retailers have to provide certain information about each product on their website, so you can check it before you decide to order.

Online stores can be highly variable in quality and legality, and the same variability can apply to the products they sell. Some online stores may be striving to ensure they sell only safe and legal products, others may be less careful when selecting what to sell and how they sell it.

There are certain points that should be considered before choosing to buy a food supplement from an online store.

Food supplements sold in the UK have to comply with almost 20 categories of food law (with some categories containing a number of laws’, in addition to many laws relating to specific ingredients.

If you are a consumer or a retailer, you do not need to know all of these laws to be able to check whether the food supplement you want to buy or sell is safe and legal. There are seven easy steps that you can take to check compliance of a food supplement and for the first three, you do not even need access to a computer! If the food supplement does not comply with the first three points, then it is probable that there may be other concerns relating to that product. If you have a bit more time and access to the internet, you can make a further four checks.

If a food supplement does not appear to meet the requirements highlighted in the seven easy steps, then you should consider purchasing an alternative food supplement product. If you are a retailer, you should make further enquiries before agreeing to place that food supplement product on your shelf or internet site.

Three easy points to check by looking at the label

1

If a product is labelled as ‘Dietary Supplement’, it is non-compliant.

  • All food supplements must be labelled with ‘Food Supplement’.
2

If the product lists the vitamins, minerals and/or other active substances under ‘Supplement Facts’ or a similar heading, but then follows this by ‘Other ingredients’, listing only the carriers and other food additives etc., it is non-compliant.

  • All ingredients (including the active ingredients, e.g. vitamins, minerals, fish oil, glucosamine, botanicals – plant ingredients – etc.) must be listed under the heading ‘Ingredients’ in descending order by weight of input.
  • Active ingredients must be quantified separately under an appropriate heading, e.g. Nutrition Information or Supplement Facts, or within the ingredients list itself (though this is uncommon and only accepted in rare circumstances).
3

If the quantity of vitamins A, D or E is given solely or principally as ‘IU’, it is non-compliant.

  • The quantity of these vitamins must be stated on food supplement labels using the applicable units:
    • vitamin A ‘µg RE’;  vitamin D ‘µg’;  vitamin E ‘mg α-TE’
  • Although the voluntarily declaration of quantity in IU may sometimes be provided, this must not take priority.

ALL ingredients (including the active ingredients, e.g. vitamins, minerals, fish oil, glucosamine, botanicals – plant ingredients – etc) must be listed under the heading ‘Ingredients’ in descending order by weight of input.  Active ingredients must be quantified either separately under an appropriate heading (eg. Nutrition Information or Supplement Facts) or within the ingredients list itself.

Four easy checks using online lists

1

The only permitted vitamins and minerals for use in Annex I of Directive 2002/46/EC on food supplements, as amended. If the product contains vitamins or minerals other than those listed (e.g. vanadium), it is non-compliant.

2

The only permitted vitamin and mineral sources for use in food supplements are listed in Annex II of Directive 2002/46/EC on food supplements, as amended. If the product contains vitamin or mineral sources other than those listed (e.g. potassium glycinate complex), it is non-compliant.

3

Certain ingredients have been determined by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) to be novel foods requiring authorisation before they can be permitted for use (eg. Acacia rigidula). These ingredients are listed on the FSA website. Certain other ingredients are included in the EU novel foods catalogue. Neither of these lists are exhaustive, but if any of the ingredients stated as novel are present in a product, it is non-compliant, unless proof can be provided by the company to the authorities that the ingredient falls under one of the few exceptions (as provided by the FSA).

4

If the product makes health claims, these should relate only to those authorised via Regulation 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims (including disease risk reduction claims) and present on the EU Register on nutrition and health claims. Certain on-hold claims are also currently permitted. Claims which refer to preventing, treating or curing a disease/illness are not permitted.

This can be a complicated issue. UK guidance on claims can be found from the Department of Health, the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency:

  • European Union Register of Nutrition and Health Claims.
  • Department of Health Guidance on compliance with the nutrition and health claims Regulation.
  • Department of Health Information relating to ‘on-hold’ claims.
  • The Committee of Advertising Practice Help Notes.
  • Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency Guide to what is a medicinal product.

Are they safe and legal?

Some food supplements have been carefully designed to provide additional support to your diet when you are trying to lose weight, complementing a reduced-calorie, balanced diet, especially when you are also trying to increase your exercise and aiming for a healthy lifestyle.

However, there are some products that promise ‘quick fat loss’ and similar claims. Such products are not always food supplements and some are not legal under any UK laws.