During this series of articles, we have spent time on the different food groups and why each of the basic food groups should be included in your daily food intake. Each group has a purpose and is used by your body for many different functions.

9 Facts About Food Packaging

Today, we will have a look at food labels and food packaging. Food labelling is complex and monitored by food laws in South Africa. Each label, however, must contain the following information:

An accurate name of the product
The ingredients in order of mass
All allergens
The batch identification number
Date of issue/best before date
Nutritional information
Name of the manufacturer or importer or distributor
Net content (metric units)
Endorsement information (where necessary)

We will look at each of these individually and discuss why it is important for you to know this.

An accurate name
Food packaging must provide the name of the product. This is usually on the front of the package. If it states that it is tomato sauce, it must be liquid with tomatoes in it.

The ingredients
All ingredients contained in the production of the product must be listed on the packaging of the food. Why is this important? Well, food producers must list the ingredients in descending order of mass. This means, if you are buying apricot jam, you would expect apricots as the main ingredient of the product. Therefore, apricots will be first on the list.

It is very interesting once you start reading the list of ingredients on products: just remember, the ingredients are listed in descending order. So, what was used in the highest mass will be first and lowest mass will be last on the list.

All allergens
Common allergens must be declared on food packaging. For example: “May contain traces of tree nuts.” There are eight major allergens: milk, tree nuts, eggs, peanuts, wheat, fish, shellfish, and soybeans. If you suffer from any of these allergies or are intolerant to any of these allergens, you are probably very accustomed to reading labels on packaging.

The batch identification number
This number makes it easy for food products to be traced. The ‘secret code’ tells a food inspector when and where a specific product was produced. It is used when, for example, contamination is detected, and the product needs to be recalled (in the worst-case scenario).

Date of issue / best before date
The ‘Use by’ or ‘Sell by’ or ‘Best before’ date must be stated very clearly on the packaging. ‘Use by’ is usually stated on refrigerated food and if this date has expired, the food is deemed not safe to consume anymore. ‘Sell by’ dates are a store guideline – it means that food still has a reasonable shelf life after it was sold. ‘Best before’ dates do not mean that food is unsafe, it just means the food is past its best. It is important for you to check these dates – especially to avoid waste – you don’t want to buy something just to go and throw it in your dustbin after one day.

Nutritional information
This is the information that will show you the percentage or mass of the nutritional content of the food you are about to eat. It usually includes the basic food groups and will also show the serving size, energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fibre, sodium, and vitamins and minerals.

Make sure that the serving size you are reading in this table is the serving size you are buying. Often, the nutritional information will have two columns: one showing the mass of the packet you are buying (like 500g) and the other the serving suggestion (portion suggestion) of the bulk packet you are buying (like 50g serving).

Name of the manufacturer or importer or distributor and net content
This is the name of the brand (or the producer) of the food. The net content is the mass of the food you are buying. If you are buying liquids, it will be stated in millilitres or litres.

Endorsement information (where necessary)
Endorsement information is labels and brands on the packaging if the content of the package is endorsed by a specific organisation – like the Heart Foundation.

There are very strict rules regarding certain words when it comes to food packaging. For example, ‘sugar-free’ and ‘fat-free’ are only allowed under certain conditions (these terms are strongly regulated by food labelling regulations).

What to look out for
By reading the content on the packaging of your food, you place yourself in a better decision-making position. You can see how much of what was added to the product you are buying (and what was not…). Take extra care reading the fat, sugar, and salt content. We usually don’t need added fat, added sugar or added salt to our food, if we wish to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Keep an eye on the information that is clearly stated on each package you pick up in the supermarket. This can make a huge difference to your health and put you in a position to make better, smarter, and healthier decisions!

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