What Information is on a Food or Beverage Label and how to read a Nutritional Panel.
When picking up your favourite food or beverage product you may have taken the time to look at the information presented on the labelling. Other than the pretty pictures, bright colours, claims and marketing information all designed to catch your eye there is a lot of other technical information that can be found. The information discussed below relates to the Food Labelling laws specific to Australia as defined by FSANZ and the Food Standards Code. Other countries globally may have different requirements and standards so please contact your local authority to review the correct Labelling laws for your area.
The FSANZ Food Standards code regulates all information required on food and beverage packaging and the way in which it’s presented. For more information on specific aspects of food labelling please see the following link to the FSANZ website. It contains information on a range of labelling topics and is well worth a look – http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/labelling/Pages/default.aspx
Please keep in mind that if you are purchasing a product in Australia that isn’t packaged, say sliced ham or bacon from a deli, you can request to see the labelling from the seller even though it may not be displayed with the product.
The information required on a food and beverage label includes –
Manufacturer Contact Details – The name of the manufacturing company, their address and contact details such as phone number and website are listed. In the case of imported products, you will find the contact details for the business responsible for importing the product. In the case of products specifically manufactured for a brand, you will not find the manufacturers details, but the contact details of the brand owner such as the supermarket for example. Their head office details, phone number and website details.
Claims – There are two types of claims that Manufacturers can make on food and beverage products, either around Nutrition or Health. These claims are voluntary claims, meaning this information is not mandatory on every product. Manufacturers must have scientific evidence to prove the statement is correct and the claim must also comply with a set list of claims that has been pre-approved by FSANZ.
Nutrition claims are based on the nutritional content or ingredients contained in a product. Some common types of Nutrition claims include statements declaring the product low in fat or high in protein. These claims are highly regulated and products must contain specific levels of nutrients to support these claims.
The other category for claims on food and beverage products is Health Claims. There are two main types of Health Claims. General claims can refer to a specific nutrient or ingredient in the product and its effect on the consumers health once consumed. The easiest example of this is a statement saying “calcium is good for healthy bones and teeth”.
The second category covers claims made at a higher level which reference a link between nutrients or ingredients and serious diseases. To take the calcium a step further an example of this would be a claim around “calcium helping to prevent osteoporosis in the elderly population”.
The section of our Food Standards Code which outlines the rules for claims on ingredients and health is Standard 1.2.7., which can be found at – http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/code/Pages/default.aspx
Country of Origin Labelling – New labelling laws are coming into place in July 2018 that will make the Country of Origin labelling on our food and beverage products easier to understand. You may have seen some products already adopting the new standard. The new requirements are that food and beverage products must declare either the country where the product was made, produced or grown. In the case of products manufactured from a combination of ingredients sourced locally and from imported ingredients, a statement is required as to where it was manufactured and if the food or beverage was manufactured from a mix of local and imported ingredients or if it is manufactured from just ingredients that are imported.
Whilst Australia produces a fantastic variety of foods, we do import of lot of ingredients that we simply cannot manufacture here in Australia. The reasons for this are varied and can include factors such as the economics of manufacturing for our relatively small population compared to other countries or regions of the world. Australia’s current population is 23 million vs 323.1 million in the United States for example. Other factors can include the climate and environment required to grow certain ingredients, and ethnic, cultural and traditional reasons etc.
Allergen Labelling – The consumption of food allergens by some members of our communities can result in them suffering a range of reactions from rashes or itching, right up to life threatening anaphylaxes and even death. Allergen labelling on food and beverage products allows consumers who may be at risk of food allergies the information to know not only what is in the product but what other allergens may have cross-contaminated the product during manufacture. Cross contamination is where an ingredient is not directly used as an ingredient in a product, but that may have been used to manufacture a different product on the same processing line, or it may be used in the same facility in a situation where it may cause cross contamination. Cross contamination is controlled through the correct sanitary and cleaning procedures and is closely monitored with manufacturers performing allergen swabs on processing equipment and facilities as well as undertaking allergen testing on products themselves.
Those ingredients that are most likely to cause allergic reactions in those susceptible, include sesame seeds, fish and shellfish, gluten containing cereals (which includes wheat, barley, spelt, rye, oats, triticale), soy, peanuts, tree nuts, milk and eggs. Sulphites and Royal Jelly are also required to be declared. These allergens must be declared in a statement on the packaging that the product Contains: ingredients actually used in the product or that it May Contain: Ingredients that may have cross contaminated the product in some way, used on the same line or packaging equipment for example.
Ingredient Listings – Ingredients are listed on food and beverage products in order of addition. The ingredient with the highest usage level is first and the smallest amount of ingredient is listed last. Where water is added to a product but then lost during cooking, the water will appear in a listing taking this loss into account.
% Labelling is required when identifying the characteristic component of the food, for example if you had “cherry yoghurt”, the cherry would be the characterising ingredient and you would need to declare the amount of cherry in the total product by declaring the % addition in the ingredient listing, e.g. cherry (6%).
Compound ingredients are those ingredients that are made up of a number of ingredients. Let’s use the cherry yoghurt as an example. On the ingredient listing for yoghurt there would be a cherry based fruit preparation. The ingredient listing would then show for example “cherry fruit preparation (cherries (6%), sugar, water, thickener, flavour, acids etc)”. These ingredients can also be divided up in the total ingredient listing and not be declared as a compound ingredient.
All ingredients are given a code. When declaring an ingredient either the full name of the ingredient can be used, or the function of the ingredient is used with the food additive code directly after, for example Preservative (223). For more information on Food Additives and their function in processed foods, please see the Food Additives page on this blog.
Used By vs Best Before Dates – There is a lot of confusion as to what these two terms actually mean. Basically, a Used By Date is a date where the product must be consumed or used by due to health and food safety concerns if it is held over this date. Used by Dates are used on products that are short shelf life, high risk products such as meats. These products cannot be sold after their UBD has completed.
Best Before Dates are where a food is best to be consumed before that date, but if it isn’t the food will still be safe to consume after the date has passed, keeping in mind the quality of the product may deteriorate. An example of this would be a Brie cheese. If you eat it before it’s best before date that’s great. If you leave it after the best before date, it is still able to be consumed safely, but the flavour may have developed a little further and texture may have changed.
Storage Conditions – Manufacturers will always give you instructions on the best way to store their product. They may specify to keep refrigerated or frozen and may also recommend how long to keep it under these conditions once the package has been opened. This aspect is really important. As soon as you open a food or beverage product you expose it to the yeasts, moulds and bacteria in your environment and also to those you carry on your body. Depending on the type of product you have, it may be the perfect breading ground for certain yeasts, moulds and bacteria so you should try to consume these foods and beverages within the defined timeline.
Cooking Instructions – Manufacturers will put cooking instructions on their products to ensure the highest possible product quality and experience for the consumer when it is consumed. Food Technologists and Chefs go to great lengths on these instructions. Consumers all approach these instructions in different ways, so to make sure that the instructions are fool proof, the product is prepared in a number of ways to see how resilient it is. Different parameters such as cooking styles (oven, frying, boiling etc), cooking time, pot size, missing ingredients, temperature abuse etc is thoroughly tested multiple times before putting these instructions onto a label.
Product Weight – The packaging will always show the pack weight of the food or beverage product in the packet. This only covers the weight of the food or beverage itself, not the weight of the product plus packaging. Products are usually only sold by weight for packaged goods and often by the kg or unit for fresh fruit and vegetables.
Nutrition Panels –
Nutrition panels are such a wealth of information for consumers if you know how to use them properly. They provide all the key information on the nutrients that the food or beverage provides. There is a standard format that must be followed that shows the energy in a food in kilojoules, the level of protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugar and sodium that is present in either a serve or 100g/100ml of the product. An example of a nutritional panel is below.
Now let’s stop for a second and take a closer look. The nutritional content of the food or beverage is displayed either as the nutrients contained in either 100g/100ml or what is considered to be a serve of a product. For labelling purposes, a serve of a product is determined by the manufacturer and can vary greatly between products and the average consumer. The exception is when we are talking about a product that has been packaged into individual serves like an ice block for example which is a discrete unit that you are unlikely to eat half of and put the rest back into the freezer. A serve of soft drink poured from a large 2Ltr bottle or a serve of ice cream taken from a 1Ltr tub or a serve of cereal poured from a cereal box, that’s different story. Next time you purchase a product in a large pack size, have a look at the size and number of serves the manufacturer recommends for that product on the packaging. Then in the interest of portion sizes, have a look at how much you have taken as a serving and see if they are similar or quite different. When comparing products I recommend you focus on the nutritional information in the “per 100g” column. This column gives you a fixed value to make nutritional comparisons against, as the serving size can fluctuate between products. As every food or beverage product contains nutritional information per 100g, it also allows you to compare product against product.
The nutritional data in the “per 100g” column can also be read as a percentage. If the sugar content per 100g of a food or beverage contains for example 10.2g per 100g of sugar, then it contains 10.2% of sugar.
Nutrients – The nutrients displayed in a nutritional panel include the following –
Kilojoules or kJ– One of the reasons we consume food and beverages is to supply our bodies with energy. The components of the food (carbohydrate, fats, proteins, alcohol) are digested and broken down by the body into simple components including simple sugars, fatty acids and amino acids. A kilojoule or kJ is a measure of the energy these components provide the body and this is declared on a nutritional label as the number of kJ the food or beverage provides either per serve or per 100g.
Protein – Proteins are broken down by the body into Amino Acids. There are 9 essential amino acids that cannot be made by the body and must be sourced from food. Foods naturally high in protein include animal products such as eggs, meats, smallgoods, dairy products including whey protein, nuts, seeds, and vegetables such as legumes and soy. Animal products contain high levels of the 9 essential amino acids. Vegetarian sources can also supply these amino acids but they are at lower levels and sources may need to be consumed in combination to obtain the correct amount of certain essential amino acids. Protein provides 16.7kJ per gram.
Fat – Fat is listed as the total fat in a product. This includes all types of fat including saturated, trans fats, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. On the nutritional panel however, the main sub-category of fat displayed is Saturated Fat which shows the saturated fat portion of the total fat. Saturated fats are mainly found in food and beverage products made from animal sources such as meat, smallgoods, solid fats such as butter and lard, as well as dairy products.
After digestion saturated fats increase the levels of cholesterol in your blood so consumers who are watching their cholesterol level can use this information to make better choices when it comes to purchasing food and beverage products.
Just a note on fat. Fat provides an essential source of energy for our bodies whether it be in the form of an oil (usually from a vegetable source) or from a solid fat (usually from an animal source). When consumed fat provides flavour, mouthfeel, richness and satiety or a feeling of satisfaction. Low fat products which have had the fat removed, do not provide the same level of flavour, richness or satiety as their full fat counterparts. To compensate for the loss in flavour and mouthfeel, higher levels of sodium and sugars are commonly used to boost the flavour. This means that a low-fat product for example may not actually contain less kilojoules than the full fat version depending on the product. Please check your labels. From more information on Fats please see the Food Science Facts Fats page here. Claims for Omega 3, 6 and 9 fats are declared in this section of the Nutritional Panel. In terms of energy, fat provides 37.7kJ per gram.
Carbohydrate – Carbohydrates play a huge roll in providing essential nutrients, fibre, and energy to the body. The carbohydrates content of a product should be a section you become familiar with as the Carbohydrate level includes the total of all starches and sugars in a product. The sub-category of “sugar” is also displayed in this section so you can see how much sugar is present in relation to total carbohydrates. When looking at sugars per 100g you are looking at the % sugar in a product. For example, if a product has 11g per 100g of sugar, then it contains 11% of sugar.
Please keep in mind when you are thinking of sugar that there are 2 different formats of sugars when it comes to processed food and beverage products. There are added sugars which are added in a number of forms as an ingredient, please see the Food Science Facts Sugars page. Also, there are naturally occurring sugars (as we have already discussed on the Sugars page) which occur naturally in foods such as fruits. “No Added Sugar” products can still contain high levels of sugars depending on where the manufacturers are sourcing their sweetness. Ensure you look at your nutritional panels and ingredient listings when it comes to sugar free food and beverage products, especially those aimed at children.
Dietary fibre can also appear in this section if claims are being made by the manufacturer. Fibre is broken into 3 groups – Soluble Fibre, Insoluble Fibre and Resistant Starch. All three are essential to gut health. Carbohydrate contribute 16.7kJ per gram of energy.
Sodium – The sodium content of food and beverage products is displayed on the nutritional panel in mg either per serve or per 100g. Recommendations suggest that the average adult should be consuming around 5-6g of salt or 2000 to 2300mg of sodium per day. The majority of salt is consumed in our diets through processed and packaged food and beverages. A high intake of sodium has been shown to lead to high blood pressure and a higher risk of heart attack.
Salt is added to food and beverage products for a number of reasons, these include for flavour, to mask and balance sour and sweet flavours, and to improve the shelf life of products.
Typical processed food and beverage products that you know contain high levels of salt include smallgoods, hams, bacon, and salty seasoned snacks including pretzels, potato chips and roasted nuts. There are other products however that you wouldn’t consider to be typically salty which can contain high levels of sodium such as cheese, bread, rolls, wraps, pizza products, and pasta sauces.
%DI & RDI’s
Sometimes you will see 2 other pieces of information on Nutritional panel which are of interest – %DI and RDI. %DI is displayed usually next to the per serving column and represents the % of an average dietary intake consumed for each nutrient per serve of product. RDI stands for Recommended Dietary Intake. This is the recommended level of nutrients and energy considered to provide adequate nutrition to the average person to maintain health. RDI’s are different between age and sex and are based around the five food groups Dairy, Vegetables, Fruit, Grains (Cereals), and Protein sources. More information on RDI’s can be found at the following site –
I hope this information has given you some more tools to navigate through nutritional and labelling information on food and beverage products and how to make more informed choices at your next shop.
Copyright 2017 Food Facts for Healthy Eating