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What to look for in food labels?

Food labeling is crucial for every single unit in food supply chain. A food label is a direct means of communicating information to the consumer as per FAO. According to the Codex General Standard for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods (CODEX STAN 1-1985), a food label is any tag, brand, mark, pictorial or other descriptive matter that is written, printed, stencilled, marked, embossed or impressed on, or attached to, a container of food or food product. This information can also accompany the food or be displayed near the food to promote its sale. 

Why is it important?

  • There is a legal requirement to have labelling.
  • It helps consumers know what they are buying like product’s identity and its content. It will enable consumers to make comparisons of products.
  • It helps consumers make informed decisions like how to cook them, how to store them etc.
  • Labelling is extensively used by consumers to protect their health.

What do we find in food labels?

  • Food identity: The name of the food. It must be true representation of the product.  We do also find Net weight, Drained weight, Number of pieces or other types of quantifiers.
  • Ingredient list: Normally the ingredients used to manufacture the product is listed in descending order of weight.
  • Percentage of certain ingredients: The quantity must be declared in % next to the name of the ingredient/food, also known as QUID (Quantitative Ingredient Declaration).
    Example: Whole white rice (80%), Barley malt extract, Sugar, Salt, Vitamins (Riboflavin, Thiamin)
    When the ingredient is included in the name of the food as “Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies”
    INGREDIENTS:  Tapioca Starch, Flour, Potato Starch, Raw sugar, Coconut Oil, Dark chocolate (14%)(Cacao, Cacao butter, Raw sugar, Sunflower Lecithin), Hazelnut (8%), Hazelnut Butter( 8%), Bicarbonate Soda, Salt.
  • Food additives:  Example: Natural color [120], Preservatives [221], E920 etc. Normally, they are anti-caking agents, antioxidants, artificial sweeteners, colors, Foaming agents, raising agents, emulsifiers and others.
  • Allergen information:  The precautionary label may vary depending upon countries. In general, it is stated “May contain eggs and egg products”, “Manufactured in the plants handling milk and milk products”. They are also found in bold and/or italic and/or capital letters in the packaging as “CONTAINS GLUTEN CONTAINING CEREALS”. “MAY CONTAIN TRACES OF TREE NUTS” or “CONTAINS: MILK” OR “THIS PRODUCT IS MANUFACTURED ON EQUIPMENT THAT ALSO PROCESSES SOYBEANS AND PEANUTS”.·    
  • Details on date: Best by date / Use by date/Sell by/ Manufacture date/ Best before with various date formats.
  • Storage instructions like “Store in a cool and dry place”,” Refrigerate after opening” etc. Cooking instructions whenever applicable.
  • Nutrition declaration: It is presented per serving, per 100 g/ 100 ml or portions etc.  Mandatory nutrients: Energy value, protein, carbohydrate, total fat, saturated fat, sodium, total sugars
  • Country of origin
  • Contact details of manufacturers or distributors or importers
  • Additional logos/symbols like UTZ Certified, Organic, Vegetarian, Non-Vegetarian, Sugar-free, Carbon footprint etc. are also  mentioned in food labels depending upon the nature of product.


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