How to read food labels
Food labels contain a variety of information including:
- Nutrition Information Panel – this provides information on the amount of energy, protein, fat (total and saturated), carbohydrates (total and sugar) and sodium (this is an indication of the amount of salt). This information will help you to make an informed decision about what food to buy. Choose foods that are low in fat (especially saturated fat), sugar and sodium. By using the “per 100g” column of the nutrition information panel you can compare and choose the healthier option of two similar foods.
- Ingredient list – all of the ingredients contained in the food are listed in order of weight. You can use this to see how much sugar is contained in a product relative to other ingredients by how high it is in the ingredient list. Try to avoid choosing foods where sugar is one of the first few ingredients in the list.
- Percentage labelling – this tells you how much of the characterising ingredients are in your product. For example, percentage labelling will tell you what percentage of the strawberry yoghurt is made up of strawberries.
- Food Additives – food additives, including colours, flavours and preservatives will be included in the ingredient list in the form of numbers. If you are sensitive to a particular additive, and know its identifying number, this will help you to avoid foods containing the offending additive.
- Country of Origin – in Australia, the label of any packaged food must state the country that the food was made or produced in.
- Directions for use and storage – these include specific instructions such as “refrigerate after use”. When followed, these instructions help to maintain the safety and quality of the food.
- Information for allergy sufferers – products containing the major allergens, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g. almonds, cashews, walnuts), shellfish, milk, eggs, sesame, soybeans and gluten, are labelled as “may contain ….”. If you have an allergy to any of these foods or food components, it is strongly recommended that you avoid all foods containing these products.
- Date marking - do not buy or consume foods after their “use-by” date. However, food is still safe for consumption after its “best before” date.
The information included on food labels is regulated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
Food Standards Australian New Zealand has developed an interactive food label, where you can hover your mouse over an example of a yoghurt container to find out more information about labeling.