Food labelling in Australia is amongst the best in the world. It can be a bit confusing though but it’s the only thing we have to tell whether something is appropriate for us to eat. We need to know the ingredients, we need to know what is being marketed to us and what they brand is actually promising. To work it all out, we have listed a quick guide to food labels.
1. Nutritional Panel – This section contains the amounts of energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates, sugars and salts in a product. When you’re reading this, make sure you read what is on the percentage labelling (next) to decipher what actually goes into your body.
2. Percentage Labelling and Ingredients List– This section must show the key ingredients or components of food, including how much of it makes up the product, starting from the food with the highest portion to the lowest. If there are more ingredients listed, it is a sign that the food has undergone a higher level of processing. You can also use this section to find out how much artificial substances such as saturated fats, added salt or sugars have gone into it.
3. General Identifying Information – Labels must show the name of the food, brand, business address and batch or lot identification of the food. Be careful here because this is where the marketing comes in. A description such as mango flavoured yoghurt doesn’t actually have to contain mango.
4. Allergy or intolerance information – Nuts, crustaceans, milk, eggs, sesame, soybeans and wheat must all be declared in all foods. Cereals need to state whether gluten is present and sulphite if over 10 milligrams/kg in quantity.
5. Date marking
– Used by dates tell us whether foods should be eaten before a certain date for health and safety reasons.
– Best before dates are required on foods that will not have a greater shelf life than 2 years.
6. Weights and measures – A national measurement institute keeps an eye on what labels say and the quantities of products delivered to ensure that they are compliant with each other.
7. Storage and use – Instructions on how to retain food so it lasts until its used by or best before date.
8. Language and country of origin – English labelling is required as a minimum, though others may be present. ‘Product of Australia’ means that each significant ingredient is made locally and all or most of the processing happens here too. ‘Made in Australia’ may only mean that the food was transformed substantially here and at least 50% of the production costs were incurred here.
9. Nutritional and health claims – If a label claims it contains a certain substance such as sodium then it needs to do that.
The food labelling system does not distinguish between natural and added sugars. So naturally occurring sugars such as lactose and fructose are given the same importance as artificial sugars more likely found in junk food making it a harder to differentiate for the average consumer. However, check the ingredients list and this should make it clearer.
Some foods do not require a nutrition information panel. These include herbs or spices, mineral water, tea and coffee, unpackaged foods and food made at the point of sale such as muffins in a cake shop. This is also the case for small food packaging with a surface area less than 100mm squared. However, if a claim is made about any of these foods such as ‘high in fibre’, then a nutritional panel must be provided.