Food labelling is really useful, but is widely misunderstood and not used. That's why this month I'm focusing on food labelling, starting with the basics of food labelling.
Today's blog will explain what information should be on food packaging, what it means and why it is important.
Before we get started, I know labelling might not seem like such a glamorous blog topic, but it is practical and important. We've seen so many deaths due to poor labelling or a lack of understanding of food labelling, from allergy or food poisoning. Learning about food labelling helps us to look after ourselves and our loved ones.
Why is food labelling important?
It provides useful information about products.
It allows those with allergies or those following vegan/vegetarian diets to choose products that do not contain allergens or animal ingredients.
It allows consumers to compare products and choose the one they would rather.
Front of pack labeling:
Most front of packs have a traffic light label, which display the amount of energy (kcals), sugar, salt, fat and saturated fat per serving of the product. The amounts are coloured in either green, amber or red- like traffic lights! Green means the product is low in the nutrients mentioned, amber means it contains a medium amount and red means it contains a high amount.
The % refers to the % of the recommended daily intake achieved by consuming a portion of this product.
E.G. 1/2 the pizza below provides 35% of the recommended saturated fat intake and this is considered a high amount.
Important note on traffic light labels:
Manufacturers choose the serving size- so the amounts may not reflect an appropriate portion for you. E.G. a cake might display amounts per 1/12, or a packet of jelly sweets might give the amount per 6 sweets etc.
The red/amber/green is decided based on adult reference nutrient values, so it isn't a perfect guide for everyone- don't take it too seriously!
Back of pack labeling:
There is lots of information of the back of packaging, but some of the most important things are:
This has to list everything that the product contains. Ingredients should be listed by quantity, so that the ingredient present in the highest amount is listed first and the ingredient present in the smallest amount is listed last.
Allergens are highlighted in bold in the ingredients list.
E.G. in the soup label above milk in the only allergen present.
There may be an additional statement on allergens, such as "produced in an environment where nuts are used" or "may contain traces of X".
There may be a statement such as "suitable for vegetarians" or "not suitable for vegans" or "not suitable for infants under 12 months".
You all know what kinds of things these say "store in cool dark place" etc. But it is important to check the storage instructions, particularly if there are different instructions for the product as purchased and once it is opened. Pay particular attention to how long it should be stored.
Cooking or heating instructions-
Again these are generally self-explanatory, but it is important to check these to be sure you are heating the product sufficiently. The guidelines will be based on lab-based testing, so following them will ensure the correct temperature is reached and that the product is as it should be.
Back of pack nutrition information should include energy, fat, protein, carbohydrates (& of which sugars), fibre and salt per 100g, per serving and as a % of the reference intake (RI). A product may provide information for additional nutrients, like vitamin C or B12, iron, calcium etc- usually companies will add this information to focus on positive aspects of their product.
Why so many different amounts?
Per 100g information is provided to make it easier for consumers to compare products, as serving sizes vary so can't be compared like for like.
Per serving information helps consumers see the nutrition in one serving of the product without calculating based on per 100g. Beware however that the manufacturer's idea of a serving and yours may be VERY different!
The % of RI tells consumers how much of their daily nutrition they will get from the product- E.G. 5% of recommended fibre intake.
Manufacturer details and contact information-
The main reason for this information is so consumers know where direct complaints and inquiries.
Best before or use by dates-
These dates do not mean the same thing.
Best before dates indicate when a product should be eaten for it to be at its best. After this date the product will still be safe to consume, but it may not be as intended by the manufacturer.
Use by dates indicate when a product should be eaten by. After this date the product may not be fit for consumption, so foods should be eaten before this date.
You can see most of this information in action in the label below, but be sure to have a look around your kitchen and see what's the label of your favourite foods too!
Food labels often aren't given a lot of attention but they provide SO MUCH useful information, so we should be having a little look every now and then!
Is there anything on a food label you always check, or any food labels that you always check??
I like to look at the ingredients list- mostly out of interest, to see what's in it and what the biggest ingredient is.
Lots of love,
Little O x