Since 2002, the law has been that all packaged foods and drinks (except those of a very small size) must be labelled with nutrient levels. The ‘nutrition information panel’ includes levels of the key ingredients and the total energy (fat, protein and carbohydrate), and sodium (salt) in food and drink. Levels are given per serve and also per 100g or 100ml of the food or drink. Below are some common questions and answers about food labelling.
Use the ‘per serve’ column to understand the nutrients in the food you are eating.
The ‘per serve’ column allows you to compare foods in a serving-size amount.
To choose between similar food items, compare the amounts of nutrients in the ‘per serve’ columns.
The ‘per 100g’ column tells you the percentage of nutrients in a food. For example, if a food contains 25g sugar per 100g of food, this means that it is 25 percent sugar. So a quarter of it is sugar.
Use the ‘per 100g’ column to understand how one type of food compares with another type. For example, you can see
how milk compares to snack foods. The ‘per 100g’ column will usually show that foods such as milk, fruits, vegetables and soups are more nutritional choices than biscuits.
Everyone needs some fat in their diet for healthy skin, and brain and eye development. Babies and young children should not follow low-fat diets or have very high-fat diets. Use food labels to check the amount of fat in different foods.
The sugar level is included under ‘carbohydrates’ and includes all sugar in the food. Sometimes the sugar occurs naturally, and sometimes it’s added. For example, many foods (including fruits, some vegetables, and milk) contain natural sugars. It’s useful to check whether the food has added sugar, and the total amount of sugar in the food.
Some cans, jar or packet baby foods may seem high in sugar. This is because most baby foods contain naturally occurring sugar (such as from fruit, vegetables or milk). They don’t usually contain added sugar, unless the sugar is necessary for taste, as with homemade foods, such as custards.
Many foods (particularly vegetables and some meats) contain natural sodium, and this is included in the sodium value.
At least 6 nutrients must appear on baby food labels: energy, protein, total fat (saturated fat doesn’t need to be listed), carbohydrate, sugars, and sodium. Food producers can choose whether they list any other nutrients, such as iron.
Ingredients are any substances used to produce the food, including food additives. Ingredients are listed in order of most amounts to least amounts. So if apple is listed before banana, the food contains more apple than banana.
The ‘use by’ date relates to food safety. For health reasons, don’t give your baby food that has gone past the ‘use by’ date.
The ‘best before’ date relates to quality. To make sure the quality of the food is high, eat it by the ‘best before’ date.
Food storage recommendations tell you how to store the food so that it’s safe to eat.