Do we know everything that packaging labels should include?
Here is an example to show how important it is to read labels; some non-fat yoghurts can have almost twice as much sugar as unsweetened yoghurt, so the term “non-fat” can lead to confusion: the amount of fat is reduced, the levels of sugar and salt are increased and that’s it; the same can happen with “light” or “organic” foods of all kinds, removing fat and increasing sugar is quite common.
And what information do packaged food labels have to give us? Let’s take a brief look:
- Name: must be descriptive enough to know the content.
- List of ingredients: all ingredients used in the manufacturing process and remaining in the final product are listed in order of weight (from most to least). Not applicable to single ingredient products. All added additives must be included: colouring agents (E-100), preservatives (E-200), antioxidants (E-300), spices (E-400), acidity regulators (E-500) and flavour enhancers (E-600).
- Allergens: substances causing allergies or intolerances should be highlighted. There are 14 ingredients to be listed if present: cereals containing gluten, nuts, fish, milk and milk derivatives (including lactose), soya, crustaceans, molluscs, eggs, peanuts, celery, mustard, sesame, lupins and sulphites.
- Net quantity: the actual weight or volume of the contents.
- Date of minimum durability, use-by date: The date of minimum durability reflects the period during which the food retains its properties and appears as “best before…” or “best before the end of…”. The best-before date appears on perishable products, such as fresh fish or minced meat as “best-before date…”. In the case of frozen meat and fishery products, the “date of freezing” is included (click to download the EU information leaflet).
- Special storage conditions: shall always be indicated when the food has special requirements.
- Details of the company responsible: name or company name and address.
- Country of origin or place of origin: only in some circumstances and always in pork, goat, sheep and poultry meat; it is important to distinguish the origin of the original product and the origin of the packaged product, for example, you can find Peruvian asparagus packaged in Navarre and think that it is a product “from Navarre”.
- How to use: whenever necessary.
- Alcoholic strength: whenever beverages contain more than 1,2 % alcohol by volume, this must be indicated by ‘% vol’.
- Nutritional information: one of the most important contents to know what we are eating. All food packaged after 13 December 2016 must indicate energy value and the amounts of fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt (click to download the Community of Madrid nutrition information leaflet).
Additionally, some foods must include the batch number (identified by the letter L) and others may conform to specific regulations.
With this information it is easier to identify the products we actually buy and it is a good habit to always check it to avoid surprises. Of course, this does not mean that we should be alarmist and think that manufacturers and producers are cheating (e.g. additives are not necessarily bad) but it is always good to know as much as possible about our food.