When importing food, you need to know about regulations that apply to specific products and more general rules concerning labelling and additives. Failure to comply could cause delay and require action by the enforcement authorities. It is important that you familiarise yourself with the rules for importing food.

Importers need to be aware of the legislation concerning the import of 'high-risk' products of non-animal origin (Regulation (EC) No 669/2009, as amended) and that for products of non-animal origin contaminated by aflatoxins (Regulation (EU) No 884/2014). You can find out more information on the 'high-risk' products and aflatoxins pages. Imports of plastic kitchenware from China and Hong Kong are subject to restrictions under Regulation (EC) 284/2011. You can find out more on the plastic kitchenware page. 


What do you want to import?

Imported food trade information sheets

Information sheets for traders providing advice about importing certain foodstuffs, any current import restrictions that apply, and where you can find information on labelling, marketing standards, additives (colourings, flavourings and certain preservatives) and pesticides.

Importing composite products

A composite product is defined in European Union (EU) legislation as a ‘foodstuff intended for human consumption that contains both processed products of animal origin and products of plant origin and includes those where the processing of primary product is an integral part of the production of the final product’.

Legislation, advice and guidance for importers

Guidance on re-enforced checks on seafood

The purpose of these guidelines are to explain the interpretation and implementation of the specific procedures applying to the re-enforced checks (REC) requirements carried out on seafood, under Council Directive 97/78/EC.

Controls at point of entry into the UK

Some products can only come into the European Union (EU) through specific ports. For example, animal products (such as meat, dairy foods and fish) can only enter through a port with a Border Inspection Post (BIP). Some other foods that are not of animal origin have similar rules.

Legislation for importing food

Food which is intended for human consumption must meet the general food safety requirements of European Union (EU) law.

Importers and enforcement activity complaints

The relationship between enforcers and importers is generally good and both work together to ensure that the consumer is protected. However, sometimes enforcement activity can cause concern to individuals and commercial enterprises.

Suppliers and import licences

Importers must ensure that their goods are safe and legal before they are purchased from producers and imported into the UK.

Importing irradiated food

In the UK, local authorities and port health authorities are responsible for controlling imports of irradiated foods, including appropriate testing. Certain foods that have been irradiated may be imported into the UK, as long as they comply with certain rules.

Imports and food additives

All products imported into the UK must comply with European Union (EU) law on miscellaneous food additives (e.g. preservatives, antioxidants, colours, sweeteners, flavourings and emulsifiers).

Imports and food labelling

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has responsibility for providing general labelling information in England.

Banned or restricted products

Calabash chalk warning

Calabash chalk is not a conventional food, but is eaten by some pregnant women, traditionally those from the Nigerian and wider West African community, as a remedy for morning sickness. The Food Standards Agency has advised people, especially pregnant and breast-feeding women, not to eat Calabash chalk, because samples tested have revealed high levels of lead.

Import of feed and food originating in or consigned from Japan

Following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, safeguard controls have been reinforced on all imported feed and food products originating in or consigned from Japan. The safeguard controls are implemented by Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2016/6.

Foodstuffs with current EU restrictions

Specific products not of animal origin are currently under harmonised controls in the European Union (EU) that control their importation from specific non-EU countries.

Import ban on jelly sweets

There are restrictions within the EU on the additives permitted in certain jelly confectionery because there is a risk of choking. These sweets are widely available in Japan and the Far East.

Kava kava import ban

Kava Kava, a member of the pepper family, is as a traditional herbal remedy for the treatment of anxiety. The herb has been banned since 13 January 2003. This is because of concerns about its toxic effect on the liver. So you cannot import kava kava supplements, or foods containing this herb.

Pine nuts from China

Following consumer complaints about a long lasting bitter taste (‘pine-mouth’) that can occur after eating pine nuts originating from China, rules are being applied in China prior to export to the EU.

Rice products from China

From 12 January 2012 Commission Implementing Decision (EU) No 2011/884/EU imposed emergency measures governing the import of specific rice products from China due to unauthorised genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and repealed Decision 2008/289/EC.

Bivalve molluscs from Peru

A problem has been identified with the consumption of certain bivalve molluscs imported from Peru that were contaminated with the hepatitis A virus (HAV).

Betel leaves from India

Specific conditions are applicable to the import of betel leaves ('Piper betle') from India for the presence Salmonella.

Imported food and enforcement

Border Inspection Post manual and Official Veterinary Surgeons Notes

The Border Inspection Post (BIP) manual and Official Veterinary Surgeons (OVS) Notes are available electronically through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) website. They contain enforcement advice on import conditions for products of animal origin.

National co-ordinated food sampling programme

The Food Standards Agency has been working with UK local authorities since 2003 to support Enforcement Authority risk-based sampling and surveillance of food sold in the UK, whether it is imported or produced in the EU or UK.

Import controls at smaller seaports and airports guidance

A UK manual on the import controls for food and feed of non-animal origin at small ports and airports is available. The guidance is for port health local and enforcement authorities, and has been developed by the Food Standards Agency and the Association of Port Health Authorities.

List of External Temporary Storage Facilities (ETSF) in the UK

An External Temporary Storage Facility - ETSF (formerly known as Enhanced Remote Transit Sheds – ERTS) is a warehouse designated by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), where goods are temporarily stored pending clearance by HMRC, and prior to release into free circulation.

Contact the imported food team

For general enquiries about importing food contact the imported food team of the Food Standards Agency.


You can also contact us using the imported food enquiry form