There is a lot of information on a food label and they can be confusing and difficult to understand if you don’t know what you are looking for. In this section we are going to take a look at food labels and the mandatory labelling requirements in Australia, regarding the ingredients list, additives, the nutrient information panel and nutrient content claims.
Being able to read a food label will enable you to select healthier foods, which in turn means healthier canteen menus.
What's on the label ?Food labels contain a lot of information. Manufacturers have to follow specific rules for labels and this is monitored by FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand).
Basic information includes the following:
- Labels must tell the truth, be legible and contain the name or description of the food. Exceptions are very small packages, foods with no significant nutritional value (e.g. herb, spice, tea, coffee), foods sold unpackaged (unless a nutrient claim is made), foods made and packaged at the point of sale (e.g. bread from the local bakery).
- Labels must also have a list of ingredients. Ingredients must be listed by weight in descending order (i.e. the first ingredient contributes the largest amount to the product and the last ingredient contributes the least).
- Nutrition information panel (NIP) presented in a standard format showing energy, protein, fat, carbohydrate and sodium per serving and per 100g (or 100mL if a liquid).
- Percentage labelling – the product must show the percentage of the key or characterising ingredients or components of the food.
- The number or the name of any additives (e.g. monosodium glutamate may appear as MSG or 621).
- If the product contains any major allergens such as nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, etc.), shellfish, fish, eggs, sesame seeds, soybeans, wheat, gluten, they must be declared on the label. In addition, foods containing more than 10mg sulphite preservatives/kg must be labelled as containing sulphite as this is the level that may trigger asthma attacks in some asthmatics. This information is often found close to the ingredient section (see next slide.)
- Date marking includes use-by date, best before and ‘baked on’ or ‘baked for’. Food must be eaten before the use-by date for health and safety reasons (for example, yoghurt). The exception to this is bread that can be labelled ‘baked on’ or ‘baked for’. The best before date is used on foods with a shelf life of less than two years. Food may still be edible after the best before date, but may have lost some quality (for example, canned foods).
- If the product needs to be stored in a specific way to maintain quality, storage requirements need to be indicated on the label: e.g. keep frozen (ice-cream), refrigerated below specific temperature (milk) or store in a dry cool place (flour).
- Country of origin. The name and business address of the supplier of the food. This assists with consumer queries such as suspected food poisoning or where a food has been recalled.
- Some foods may contain a ‘nutrient content claim’ (health claim). These are explained in upcoming slides.
Food Labelling IngredientsIngredients are listed in descending order according to weight. In this particular example, wheat flour contributes more than any other ingredient so it is listed first. Sugar contributes the least so it is listed last. Note that the exact quantity of any food is not given. However, if the manufacturer advertises that the product contains a specific ingredient, e.g. multigrain, then the percentage of whole grains would have to be indicated on the label, e.g. wholegrain (15%).
Some products list an advisory statement such as 'may contain' or 'manufactured on equipment that also processes'. In the example, the manufacturer has indicated that the product 'may contain traces of nut, egg, or seed'. The manufacturer has not added these products during processing, but the product may have been contaminated.
Some manufacturers process different foods on different days, but on the same equipment e.g. cereal without nuts and cereal containing nuts, or some core ingredients may have been contaminated before being used in a particular product, e.g. flour stored at another site.
Food Labelling IngredientsAdditives play an important part in our food supply, and are controlled and monitored by FSANZ. Food additives can be used to:
- Preserve food to extend its storage life, e.g. sulphur dioxide – preservative (220) may be added to some meat to prevent the growth of microorganisms.
- Improve the ‘keeping’ quality of the foods, e.g. sorbitol – humectant (420), may be added to dried fruit to maintain the moisture level and softness of the fruit.
- Improve the taste or appearance, e.g. beeswax - glazing agent (901) used to coat apples to improve their appearance.
- Emulsifiers: prevents water and oil from separating from each other. Used in margarines, mayonnaise.
- Colourings: add or restore colour to foods, e.g. icing mixture is coloured to make it more attractive on cakes.
- Anti-caking agents: prevents food from clumping (flour, seasoning salt).
- Sweeteners: replace the sweetness normally provided by sugars in foods without contributing significantly to their available energy.
Food Labelling Ingredients - ExampleReference: Participant‘s Workbook pp .8-9 / Trainer’s Manual p. 14
Activity: Food label ingredient lists
This is an example of an ingredient list found on a strawberry yoghurt label.
Thickeners: increase the viscosity (thickness) of a food.
Natural Colours: add or restore colour to foods. In this example 120 (cochineal), a red dye from a female Mexican scale insect that lives on cactus plants (hence the word 'natural') and 160b (annatto), a reddish yellow dye from seeds of a Central American native plant.
Preservatives: retard or prevent the deterioration of food by micro-organisms, and thus prevent spoilage of foods.
For more information either consult FSANZ at: www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumerinformation/additives.cfm (This website link was valid at the time of submission), viewed 7 May 2010, or buy the booklet 'Choosing the Right Stuff'. This is available in bookshops and sometimes newsagents (not available from FSANZ directly.) It costs about $14.95 (2009 prices.)
Check the labels on page 8-9 of your (participant’s) workbook. Ask participants to check the ingredients, especially the first one. Is the first ingredient on each of the packets the ingredient you would have expected to be there? What is the next one? What does that say?
Can you see any listed allergens? (Often in bold or listed separately)
A nutrition information panel must be listed on nearly all packaged foods. Exceptions were mentioned previously.
These panels will list the nutrients for the food per serving (the serving size is determined by the manufacturer) and per 100g, or per 100mL if a liquid. To compare two products, use the per 100g column. The per serve column gives people an indication of what their nutrient intake would be if they ate the equivalent of a serve as described on the packet. Remember, that the manufacturer’s serving size may not reflect your own serving size or the serving size examples listed in the AGTHE.
The following are prescribed nutrients that must appear on the NIP: energy is listed in kilojoules (kJ), protein (in grams), fats (in grams) and must show the total quantity as well as the amount contributed by saturated fats (saturated fat is included in the total). Likewise for carbohydrates (in grams): both the total amount and the amount contributed by sugar must appear. Sodium (salt) (in micrograms).
If the product has a nutrient content claim ‘high in fibre’, ‘high in calcium’, ‘low in cholesterol’ etc, the manufacturers have to indicate the quantity of that nutrient in the NIP as well to substantiate the claim.
Food Labelling: Nutrient content claimsReference: Participant‘s Workbook p.9 / Trainer’s Manual p.15
Nutrition claims are statements on food packages about one or more specific nutrient. If a claim is made, the manufacturer has to include the quantity of that nutrient in the NIP. FSANZ is the regulator of these claims and provides a definition for some claims. For example: ‘low-fat’ means the product contains less then 3g fat per 100g of food.
Group discussion:What claims do you look for on food packages when ordering for the school canteen?
Answers may include: reduced-fat, low-fat, no-fat, low salt, reduced salt, no salt, high fibre, low sugar, no sugar, diet.
Low-fat: Less than 3g fat/100g food (or 1.5g/100g liquid)
Reduced-fat: At least 25% less fat than the regular product
Fat free: No more than 0.15g total fat/100g food
Light/Lite:The characteristic that makes the food 'light' must be stated on the label (regardless of whether the term refers to a nutrient or another characteristic of the food).
No added sugar: No added sucrose, glucose, honey, malt, fruit juice, etc.
Un-sweetened: No added intense (artificial) sweeteners, sucrose, glucose, honey, malt, fruit juice etc.
Diet: At least 40% less kJ than regular product
Low salt: No added salt: Salt free: Less than 120mg sodium/100g food or less 0.3% salt
Reduced salt: At least 25% less salt/sodium than the regular product
High (in) fibre: At least 3g or more fibre per serve
Some points to highlight:Don’t rely on the claims alone; check the label, reduced-fat does not necessarily mean low-fat (e.g. low-fat cheddar cheese ~ 23% fat vs. full-fat cheddar cheese ~ 34% fat), it just needs to be 25% less than the regular product. 94% fat free yoghurt/milk is regular yoghurt/milk (~4% fat). full-fat milk ~3.6% fat. Lite/Light may refer to the colour of a food , e.g. Light olive oil.
New regulations: FSANZ, Nutrition, Health and related claims, a short guide to the new Standard, April 2008 at www.foodstandards.gov.au/_srcfiles/P293%20FAR%20Short%20Guide.pdf (This website link was valid at the time of submission)