Food Labels: Empowering Consumers

Food Labels: Empowering Consumers


Thursday, July 30, 2020

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Lifestyle preference, health status, religion and dietary controls are among the variety of reasons individuals seek information about their food. Information about food is typically presented by way of a food label. Food product labels are mandatory and guided by compulsory standards that are regulated by the laws of a country. These standards are designed so that consumers have all the information necessary about the product to make an informed decision based on their needs. Consumers must be aware of information contained on a label to assist them in preventing incidents such as allergic reaction or use of expired foods.

From a marketing perspective, a label must be “catchy”, so as to draw the purchaser's eyes, compelling them to buy. However, from a food safety perspective much more is required than attractiveness. According to the local pre-package food label standard, pre-packaged food must not be presented or described on a label in a manner that is false, misleading, deceptive or likely to create an untrue impression of the food.

A food label is any form of description that is affixed to a food or container, to provide information. It can be represented as a picture, tag, mark or any other suitable means. Food labelling is a direct communication tool from food manufacturers to consumers. While each label will be different, there are some “must haves” that are very important and must be present.

1. Name of the food

This is also called product identity. It must be a true reflection of the nature of the food; the common name is the name understood by all. In the absence of a common name, a unique name can be used as long as it is recognised by the authorities and descriptive enough that consumers understand what the product is.

2. List of ingredients

The ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight of ingredient at the time of preparation. Single-ingredient foods are exempted. Food ingredients that are known to cause allergic reaction must be declared.

3. Net content/drained weight

This describes the edible portion of the food in the container. Depending on the type of product, it may be in weight, volume or count. The declared units must be in the metric system; where imperial units are used it must be accompanied by the metric units.

4. Name and address

This includes the name and address of the manufacturer, packer, distributor, importer, exporter or vendor.

5. Country of origin

This is where the food was wholly manufactured; however, if food is further processed in a country that changes its characteristics, then the country of origin is the country where processing took place.

6. Lot identification

For traceability purposes, each container must be permanently marked with information linking it to the factory and container lot number. It is placed on the container and not on the label in case the label is damaged or removed.

7. Date marking

This is used to inform consumers when the food may no longer be at its optimum quality or safety. It can be stated as date of minimum durability, sell-by, best-before or used-by date.

8. Storage instruction

This tells the distributor and consumer how to store the food to ensure there are no food safety or quality issues.

9. Instructions for use

These tell consumers how to handle and prepare items to ensure the food is used correctly.

Food labels are food safety tools that empower consumers to make informed decisions at the point of purchase.

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