Food labels are there to give us information on what we are eating - this gives us, as the consumers, more of a choice. There are regulations that prevent manufacturers misleading food labels.
What is required on packaging?
- Name of the food
- List of ingredients
- Storage instructions
- Best before/Use by
- Name and address
- Nutritional information
- Quantitative ingredients declarations
- Special claims
The name of the food
This must take 1 of 3 forms:
- Name of a product required by law, for example milk chocolate
- The customary name of a product, for example doughnut
- Name or short description that suitably describes the product and ensures that consumers do not to confuse it with other similar products
Certain 'common' names for foods cannot be used if the percentage composition of the product does not meet the requirements, for example, a burger cannot be labelled 'Beef Burger' if the beef content is less than 65% lean beef.
The name has to describe what type of food it is, and what processes it has undergone, if any, like, smoked salmon.
List of ingredients
If the product contains more than 2 individual ingredients, a full list of all the ingredients must be given. These must be given in descending weight order as at the time of preparation. Most 'additives' must be stated in order of function and serial or specific name, for example preservative: E220 or preservative sulphur dioxide.
Flavouring may simply be labelled as 'flavours' omitting specific names. Modified starch may simply be referred to as 'Modified Starch'
On most pre-packed, perishable goods, there will be a set of storage instructions which will guide the consumer on how to keep the product as fresh as possible and for as long as possible. These can be important for maintaining food safety, for example 'refrigerate after opening'.
Some foods are sold in so-called 'prescribed quantities', for example all pre-packed bread is sold in multiples of 400g. Virtually all food must display a quantity. All the information on quantities refers to 'Net Weight', in other words the weight without the packaging.
Quantitative ingredient declarations
Quantitative ingredient declarations are made as a percentage of the ingredient or of the entire product when the ingredient or category of ingredient is:
- Highlighted by labelling or picture, for example 'extra cheese'
- Mentioned in the name of the product, for example 'cheese and onion pasty'
- Normally connected with the name by the consumer, for example fruit in a summer pudding
Labels such as 'low calorie', 'diet', 'high in polyunsaturates', 'rich in vitamins', must be clearly justified on the nutrition information. There are also specific regulations on claims, which must be adhered to.
When the item is sold to the ultimate consumer, the packaging must be completely sealed.
Labelling of alcoholic drinks
Alcoholic drinks, which contain more that 1.2% alcohol must be labelled as such. In fact, the specific alcohol content must be stated on the packaging in the form of 'Alcohol X%' or 'Alc X%'. This must also be given to drinks sold in pubs and restaurants.