Product safety

The advice sheets below have the latest information on product safety. If you need more advice call 01753 475111 (Regulatory Services option).

Food imitations

Pixel

In the guide

The law on the supply of articles that resemble food products

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

This guidance focuses on products that look like or imitate food but are not food. It is an offence to provide products that look like food and can cause injury or a health risk because of this.

Laws covering food-imitating products

A number of laws prevent the sale of potentially dangerous food-imitating products:

  • Food Imitations (Safety) Regulations 1989
  • EU Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures
  • EU Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 on cosmetic products (enforced by trading standards in the UK by the Cosmetic Product Enforcement Regulations 2013)

FOOD IMITATIONS (SAFETY) REGULATIONS 1989

These Regulations prohibit the marketing, import and manufacture of products that look like foodstuffs but that are not in fact edible. In particular they prohibit the supply of goods that have one or more of the following:

  • form
  • odour
  • colour
  • appearance
  • packaging
  • labelling
  • volume

… such that people, particularly children, could confuse them with food and put them in their mouth or suck or swallow, which may cause death or injury.

Injury can include choking, strangulation, cutting, poisoning, or even causing a child to vomit.

EU REGULATION (EC) NO 1272/2008 ON CLASSIFICATION, LABELLING & PACKAGING OF SUBSTANCES & MIXTURES

Under this Regulation, dangerous preparations such as detergents, drain and oven cleaners, glues, polishes, etc must not be supplied in a shape that:

  • attracts the active curiosity of children
  • misleads consumers
  • looks like packaging for:
    - food (for animals or humans)
    - medicines
    - cosmetics

EU REGULATION (EC) NO 1223/2009 ON COSMETIC PRODUCTS

This European law states that a cosmetic product must be safe for human health when used under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use, taking account, in particular, of the following, which should not endanger the health and safety of consumers due to confusion with foodstuffs:

  • presentation (and in particular its form, odour, colour, appearance, packaging)
  • labelling
  • volume
  • size

How to assess whether a product is safe

In order to assess whether a product can cause injury or a risk to health any appropriate harmonised European standards could be used. For example, the EN 71 series of standards covers the safety properties of toys and would be suitable to assess, for example, whether a food imitation releases a small part that could cause a choking hazard or contains a prohibited chemical such as lead or cadmium.

The following are examples of products that have been deemed to be food imitating and could cause injury or harm to health.

Relevant standard(s)ProductHazards and examination points
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties

BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elements

wooden apple Wooden applechoking hazard

toxicity - paints

BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical propertiescandle Candlechoking hazard
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties

BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elements

Christmas decoration - polystyrene lollipop Polystyrene lollipopchoking hazard
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical propertiesdecorative 'I Love Chocolate' magnets Magnetschoking hazard

magnets are easily detached and, because they attract each other, can cause serious damage when passing through the intestine (blockages, perforation of the intestine)

BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elementsnaphthalene moth balls Moth ballsnaphthalene may cause irritation, burning and poisoning
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical propertiesdecorative candle Decorative candlechoking hazard

grapes break off

BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elementscooling element resembling ice cube bags. The translucent cubes contain distilled water and ethylene glycol the product poses a chemical risk because the liquid contains ethylene glycol, which can be toxic if swallowed
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical propertiesdecorative candles Decorative candleschoking hazard
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties

BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elements

Christmas decoration in the form of a cupcake made of expanded polystyrene Polystyrene cupcakechoking hazard
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical properties

BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elements

decorative candle in the shape of a chocolate cake topped with cream and blackberries, packaged in a box with a cardboard base and a clear plastic cover, tied around with a brown ribbon Decorative candlechoking hazard
BS EN 71-3: Safety of toys. Migration of certain elementsshower and bath gel, wild strawberries Shower and bath gelproduct's detergent content represents a serious health risk (toxic pneumonia)
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical propertieslip glosses packed in plastic mini pots in the form of little tarts (chocolate and strawberry sprinkle, cherry feast, violet fancy, etc) Lip glosschoking hazard
BS EN 71-1: Safety of toys. Mechanical and physical propertiestwo fragrant novelty soaps, in the shape of a cake slice, in plastic wrappingNovelty soapschoking hazard

Penalties

Failure to comply with trading standards law can lead to enforcement action and to sanctions, which may include a fine and/or imprisonment. For more information please see 'Trading standards: powers, enforcement & penalties'.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: June 2018

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.