Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Reference Intakes

Front of pack labels

Back/side of pack labels


Reference Intakes FAQs

What does RI stand for?

RI stands for 'Reference Intake', and refers to amounts set out in law of nutrients. They are there to provide a guideline of the contribution nutrients can make to a balanced diet. Reference Intakes are the same across Europe and are based on a healthy adult eating a 2000kcal diet.

Are Reference Intake values targets or maximums?

Reference Intakes are guidelines as to the approximate amounts of nutrients needed for an adult to have a healthy, balanced diet. As such, they are not targets to meet or maximums, but can be a useful way of showing how products can fit into a diet.

Where can I find the RI for children?

There is one set of Reference Intakes and these are based on an adult with a diet of 2000kcal a day. There are no Reference Intakes for children, however

advice on diets for children aged 1-3 years can be found on the British Nutrition Foundation website.

How have the RI values been calculated/set?

The Reference Intake values have been set out in law, and were approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). They are broadly consistent with nutrient recommendations set out by national authorities. The same reference intakes are used across Europe.

Does alcohol have an RI?

Only nutrients which must be included within the nutritional information have an RI. As alcohol is not part of nutrition labelling it does not have one. For more advice on alcohol and NHS recommendations on units, visit the NHS Choices website.

Is there an RI for the whole product?

No, there are only Reference Intakes (RI) provided for individual nutrients (for example fat, saturates, sugars or salt). You could however use the front of pack labelling to work out how much of a specific nutrient, i.e. sugar is in the whole product, by multiplying the amount per portion or per 100g/ml by the total weight of the product.

What does it mean if the % of the RI of a food is over 100%?

The Reference Intake value given for a nutrient is a guide to the amounts of each nutrient which contribute to a healthy, balanced diet. They are based on a diet of 2000kcal. If the % RI of a food is over 100%, this means that it supplies over 100% of the reference intake for that nutrient.

Where can I find information about the RIs for all the nutrients?

The RIs for the mandatory nutrients can be found on the 'Reference Intakes' page of this website.

Front of pack labels FAQs

Why do the labels include percentages?

The percentages are given on the label to help put the nutrition information in the context of a balanced diet. They will tell you how much of an adult's reference intake the nutrition information represents. For example, the reference intake for salt is 6g. If a portion of food contained 3 g of salt, the reference intake information for that portion would be 50%. This can help balance what else you might choose over the rest of the day.

Why does the UK have front of pack labelling?

Some manufacturers, both within the UK and across Europe, provide front of pack labelling on a voluntary basis as a means of making it easier for consumers to use nutrition labelling on products. Most products must display mandatory nutrition information which is usually found on the back or side of packaging; the front of pack information is in addition to the mandatory information. UK law allows manufacturers to display this information on a voluntary basis

What is included in the value for 'sugars'?

The value is for 'total sugars', this includes sugars naturally present within fruits, vegetables and milk as well as sugars which have been added to the food. Labelling 'added sugars' is not allowed within the new food labelling legislation.

Why are other nutrients like protein and fibre not included on the front of pack labelling?

The front of pack information is voluntary, and in addition to the mandatory nutrition information which has to be provided (which is for more nutrients). As space on the front of pack can be limited, and to help standardise what people see, it was decided to show the 5 nutrients deemed to be the most helpful to consumers when looking to make healthier choices.

Why don't restaurant and café foods have front of pack labels?

Front of pack nutrition labelling is voluntary; so it is up to individual companies or businesses as to whether they choose to display this or not. Foods which are handmade, or are supplied by manufacturers to local retailers which sell to the public are considered exempt from supplying mandatory nutritional information also.

Do you need to add the fat and saturates figures together to get a total fat value?

No, the figure given for fat is for total fat, and this includes saturates. If you are looking for the total fat value then you only need to look at the figure for fat. If you want to look at the amount of saturated fat a product contains, you only need to look at the saturates value.

Why has the way allergens are labelled changed?

The principle behind the change in allergen labelling is to better inform customers about allergens by labelling these within the ingredients list. Although it may be confusing at first, it should help people with allergies get to know which ingredients they need to avoid, and help them to read labels better. It also means that information on allergens will always be in the same place on every packaging, making it easier to find when looking at products.

Back/side of pack labels FAQs

Can manufacturers choose what to include on the ingredients list or nutritional information?

Manufacturers must list all ingredients within the product, and they must do this in order of quantity. This information has to be preceded by the word 'ingredients'. Almost all products will have to display nutrition information. The nutrients which must be labelled are: energy (in kJ/kcal, fat, saturates, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt. Other nutrients, such as fibre, starch or polyunsaturates are voluntary. The decisions over whether nutrients are mandatory or voluntary are set out in the legislation and are not made by the manufacturers.

Why doesn't alcohol need to have nutrition labelling?

Currently any products with over 1.2% by volume of alcohol are exempt from providing nutritional information in accordance with the EU FIC regulations. Nutritional information on alcoholic beverages can be provided voluntarily by the manufacturer, but it is not legally required. The European Commission is, however, looking into the possibility of alcoholic beverages displaying nutritional information.

How do I know if sugars have been added to products?

Because the figure for sugars on nutrition labelling is for 'total sugars', it isn't possible to tell if a product contains added sugars just by looking at the nutritional information. However, if sugars have been added to the product as an ingredient (rather than being naturally present in foods, for example fruit or milk), then this will be included on the ingredients list. Words such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, honey, syrup or 'fruit juice concentrate' normally indicate that these ingredients have been added for their sweetening properties. However, this is a guide only and is not an exhaustive list.

Why do products no longer list gluten in their ingredients list?

As part of the new FIC labelling regulations, ingredients which are known to cause allergies must be highlighted within the ingredients list and, rather than write the name of the allergen (i.e. gluten), the name of the ingredient which contains this allergen must be identified, (i.e. wheat or oats). If the ingredient which contains gluten isn't obvious, gluten may be included after the ingredients in brackets, but for the most part, you will now need to know the name of ingredients that may contain gluten rather than just looking for this word. Coeliac UK contains more information on ingredients which contain gluten.

Will there still be an allergens 'contains' box on packaging?

There will no longer be a box on the packaging which tells you what allergens the product contains, although there might be a box which directs you to the ingredients list to look there. The ingredients list will not tell you if a product 'may contain' allergens – so these will be found in a box on the packaging If a product 'may contain' some allergens this will stay in a box, and will be found close to the ingredients list.


Last reviewed: 17 Dec 2014