Guide to the Labelling of Packaged Food
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Food labels contain important information to help consumers make decisions about:
Essentially food labels are there to provide us with basic information about what is in the food we eat.
All food labels must conform to the labelling provisions of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code including misleading information. Within South Australia, SA Health enforces this.
Food labels provide information to help us make healthier and safer food choices. They:
All food labels must give a name for the food which is either prescribed by the Code (for instance infant formula), or is a name/description that describes the true nature of the food. Under Fair Trading and Food laws, these names must be accurate and not misinform or deceive the consumer.
For food recall purposes, business contact information for food should be found on labels. You may also see other information that will help a business to identify when and where the food was made, for example a lot identification code.
It is mandatory for certain advisory and warning information to be on food labels. One example is the declaration of allergens present in the food.
Ingredients are always listed from greatest to smallest by how much they weigh including any added water and food additives. Sometimes within ingredients lists you will see a percentage in brackets next to a particular ingredient for example, apples (26%). This is known as percentage labelling. The percentage lists the proportion of the characterising ingredients/components included in the food.
Food that has a shelf life less than 2 years will have a date mark normally stated as either a 'use by date' or a 'best before date'.
Used if a manufacturer or packer believes that the food should not be consumed after a certain date for health and safety reasons. Foods labelled with a use by date cannot be sold after the date labelled.
Used on most other foods and can be sold after the labelled date has expired however the quality may be reduced. Examples of foods where best before dates would be used include shelf-stable foods like:
Where required for health and safety reasons, a manufacturer or packer will sometimes provide additional information on the how the food should be stored or give directions for how to use or prepare a food for example, ‘refrigerate after opening’.
You will be able to find nutrition information on most foods about the energy, protein, fat (total and saturated fats), carbohydrate (including sugars) and sodium content.
You may also sometimes see nutrition, health and related claims. These are voluntary statements that may be made by businesses on food labels (and in advertising) however if they are made, they must meet requirements prescribed in the Code.
Packaged foods will have a country of origin statement on the label.
Even where the food is fresh or not in a packet, the retailer must be able to provide to you on request any information about:
If a food is being sold after a use-by date, you can report it to the store in the first instance. Often this is just an oversight.
If a food is otherwise incorrectly labelled correctly you can report it to SA Health.
If you think use-by dates have been deliberately altered, scratched out or another sticker placed over the original, raise it with management and report it to SA Health.
SA Health will take action against any retailer that knowingly sells unsafe food, or sells food beyond its use-by date.