- 1. The Ingredients are listed from the largest amount to the smallest amount.
- 2. The Nutritional information panel lists the key nutritional attributes to the food
Food labels carry information that will help you to make food choices. Labels will list additives, ingredients and nutrition information such as fat and protein content. Foods that have a shelf life of less than two years must carry a ‘use-by’ or ‘best before’ date. Food labels can help people with food allergies, and may also make nutrition and health claims. A food label should list the country of origin of the food product, but this statement is not always easy to interpret.
Difference between ‘use-by’ and ‘best before’
Foods with a shelf life of less than two years must have a ‘best before’ or ‘use-by’ date. These terms mean different things. The ‘best before’ date refers to the quality of the food – food stored in the recommended way will remain of good quality until that date. It may still be safe to eat certain foods after the ‘best before’ date, but they may have lost quality and some nutritional value. By contrast, foods that should not be consumed after a certain date for health and safety reasons must have a ‘use-by’ date and cannot be sold after that date. You will find ‘use-by’ dates on perishables such as meat, fish and dairy products.
Some foods carry the date they were manufactured or packed, rather than a ‘use-by’ date, so you can tell how fresh the food is. For example, bread and meat can be labelled with a ‘baked on’ or ‘packed on’ date. You should:
- Check the ‘use-by’ or ‘best before’ date when you buy food.
- Keep an eye on the ‘use-by’ or ‘best before’ dates on the food in your cupboards. Don’t eat any food that is past its ‘use-by’ date, even if it looks and smells okay.
The food label list of ingredients
All ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight, including added water. So:
- The ingredient listed first is present in the largest amount.
- The ingredient listed last is present in the least amount.
If an ingredient makes up less than five per cent of the food, it does not have to be listed. Where there are very small amounts of multi-component ingredients (less than five per cent), it is permitted to list ‘composite’ ingredients only: for example, it may say ‘chocolate’ (rather than cocoa, cocoa butter and sugar) in a choc chip icecream . This does not apply to any additive or allergen – these must be listed no matter how small the amount.
If it’s called a meat pie, it must contain meat
The ‘characterising ingredients’ are usually mentioned in the name of the product or highlighted on the label. A characterising ingredient is the main ingredient you would expect to find in the food. For example, the characterising ingredient in a ‘meat pie’ is meat and the food label must state the percentage of meat in the pie.
All food additives must have a specific use and they must be assessed and approved by the country in which it is produced, for instance in Australia its Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), google your country to find the lists as they do vary . They must be used in the lowest possible quantity that will achieve their purpose. Food additives are given in the ingredient list according to their class, which is followed by a chemical name or number. For example:
- Colour (tartrazine)
- Colour (102)
- Preservative (200)
- Emulsifier (lecithin).
The same food additive numbering system is used throughout the world. Vitamins and
Minerals are also listed under food additives.
So please read the labels and be aware of what you are eating, just one more little step towards a better diet for you