Distance Selling (online trading) Guidance for Food Businesses

Distance selling means any selling carried out without face-to-face contact with the consumer, e.g. via the internet, text messaging, phone calls, faxing, interactive TV or mail order.

What do I need to do when setting up a distance selling food business?

When you start a mail order or internet based food business you must, like any other food business, register with Environmental Health at least 28 days before opening. You should also take advice on legal requirements from them and Trading Standards.

What laws will apply to my distance selling food business?

When you sell food by mail order or via the internet, the food you sell is subject to the full body of UK food law in particular, the sections on general food law (safety, traceability, withdrawal and recall), hygiene and labelling and also any laws specific to the type of food which you are selling. You should bear in mind in particular when considering the safety aspects of selling food by distance selling the condition which the food is likely to be in when it reaches the purchaser.

The main law on distance selling is the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, which applies to all goods sold by distance selling, not just food. This lays down important requirements such as:

  • the information which the seller needs to provide to the purchase before making the sale
  • rights to cancel the contract
  • recovery of sums paid on cancellation
  • restoration of goods by the consumer after cancellation.

Further guidance on distance sales can be found on the EU Business Companion website.

What information should be on my website?

Where any food businesses sell / advertise goods or services to businesses or consumers on the internet or by email, they must make the same level of information available, for example on their website or in their catalogue, as when the food is bought from a retail environment.

  • General rules regarding websites - The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 require the provision of certain mandatory general information in respect of all internet sales.
  • Mandatory food labelling information (Article 9 of the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation No.1169/11) – the same mandatory particulars required for prepacked foods in the retail environment will also be required on any website i.e. the true name of the food, the list of ingredients, processing aids, country of origin, instructions for use etc. (with the exception of a minimum durability indication).
  • Nutrition and Health Claims - EU Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 and The Nutrition and Health Claims Regulations (England) 2007 impose restrictions on the nutrition and health claims that can be made in relation to foods (including vitamin and food supplements). These restrictions also apply to foods sold and/or advertised on websites. Only EU authorised claims, or those already submitted and awaiting approval, can be made in relation to food. The full list of authorised nutrition and health claims can be found on the Europa website and the Department of Health has produced Guidance to compliance on nutrition and health claims made on foods 
  • Allergens Information - the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation No.1169/11 and Food Information Regulations 2014 introduce new requirements for allergen labelling of prepacked and non-prepacked foods that come into force on the 13 December 2014.  Article 14 of the EU Regulation outlines specific requirements, as they apply to distance selling, and The Food Standards Agency has produced Technical Guidance to assist businesses with compliance.

Environmental Health Officers will be able to offer basic advice regarding your website but if you require more detailed advice you may have to employ the services of a private consultant or the Public Analyst to assist you in achieving compliance.  

What other things do I need to consider?

Delivery of foods sent by post or courier - all foods must be delivered in a way that ensures that it remains fit for human consumption. Foods that need refrigerating should be delivered as quickly as possible, ideally overnight, and may require packing in an insulated box with a coolant gel, or in a cool bag. Any packaging should be capable of protecting the food against mechanical damage and sources of contamination while it is in transit.