Reading labels – Anna Lewandowska

You often ask me what products to choose, whether a given nut paste is of the same quality as a nut paste of another brand. In this regard, I will try to present to you this important, but still neglected, point today. Reading food labels is a very important eating habit. The label is a valuable source of information that helps you make more favorable food choices. Appropriate selection of food products in the menu is one of the key elements of proper nutrition.

Perhaps for some of you today’s post may seem boring, but in my opinion it is worth knowing that the appearance of the product label does not only depend on the manufacturer, but it is also legally regulated. Let’s start!

Pursuant to Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, product labels must contain the following information:

Product name

According to the provisions of Polish law, it cannot be a name invented by the manufacturer, but the real name of the product. For example, cream should always use the name “cream”, not “housewife’s cream” or “cream cake”.

Composition

The producer is obliged to indicate the composition on the packaging, placing the ingredients in the order from which used the most to the one which is the least in a given product. For example, if the yogurt is mostly milk, it will appear in the main place. Next, live bacterial cultures should appear in the composition.

Food allergens

Obligatory allergens contained in the ingredients of products should be written in bold. If products that do not contain any allergens in their essential composition, and are produced or repackaged on the same production line with other products that contain them, the manufacturer is obliged to add such information. This is usually marked with the phrase “the product may contain traces …”.

The date of minimum durability or use by

Two different parameters appear on product labels: Best before or Best before. The first one indicates the date of minimum durability, after which the product does not expire. After this date, you can safely consume the product. On the other hand, “To be eaten” refers to products that spoil quickly and consumption of the product after the indicated date may have serious health consequences.

Net amount of food

Each package must also contain information on the net weight of the product. In addition, on products sold, for example in pickles, the packaging should contain information about the weight of the product after draining.

Special storage conditions or conditions of use

The producer is obliged to provide information on special storage conditions for products which undergo microbiological changes invisible to the naked eye. Juices are an example of such a product, as they usually need to be consumed within a few days of opening. The given data may also concern e.g. temperature or avoidance of sun exposure.

Instructions for use

It is obligatory if its absence would make it impossible to use it properly, e.g. powdered products that require heat treatment before consumption or the addition of liquid, or frozen products that must first be thawed before consumption.

Information on the origin of the product

In the case of products consisting of only one ingredient, e.g. coffee beans, the country of origin of the raw material must be specified. On the other hand, products consisting of many ingredients from different countries must have an indication of the place of packaging or production.

Manufacturer’s data

Manufacturers are required to inform about which company has produced or packed the product, and must provide the address of the production facility.

Nutritional value

According to the law, the label must show the energy value, the amount of fats fat (including saturated fat), carbohydrates, sugars, protein, salt, and the amount of any nutrient or substance for which the nutrition claim is made. These data must obligatorily be given per 100 g or 100 ml.

To sum up – the most difficult for you! 🙂 I hope you are still with me because I have prepared some tips for you that will help you choose the right product.

The most important rules

1. Choose products with the shortest possible composition – although the exception may be products with a high content of spices or the addition of vitamins and minerals.

2. The ingredients of the product are always listed in descending order and it starts with the one who has the most in the product. If sugar is in the first place, it is better to give up such a product.

3. Avoid foods high in salt, saturated fatty acids, and sugar.

4. Compare products, taking into account the composition, nutritional value, price and pay attention to the list of allergens.

5. Avoid products with many food additives. Many of them negatively affect our health.

6. Pay attention to the name of the product, For example, nut cookies and nutty cookies are not necessarily the same thing. A “flavor” statement may suggest that the manufacturer has added artificial flavorings instead of the nuts.

7. Products marked with “E” are not always harmful, eg E300 stands for vitamin C. If you are unsure about any food additive – you can use the official USDA database (free food base) and make sure that the additive is unfavorable.

By reading the labels you will find out exactly what you will eat. Remember that food labeling is to ensure that an informed decision to buy a given product is made. It is worth paying attention to all the above-mentioned rules when shopping. Want to know more about what food additives to avoid when shopping? Follow the articles appearing on the blog carefully, there will be plenty of content on this topic 🙂

Bibliography:

  1. Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011 on the provision of food information to consumers […].
  2. Nieżurawski L, Sobków C. The role of information on the label in the process of purchasing a food product. Journal Article. 2015; 3:290-296.