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Here's an overview of a few common terms found on food labels orclick here to see an example and explanation on a real label:
Date marking: To help you determine how fresh a food is, manufacturers include the date it was manufactured or packed. A date mark will usually be in the form of a "best-before" date. Food with "best-before" date of two or more years is exempt from date marking.
Use by: Food stored in the recommended way will retain its quality until this date. Even if it looks or smells okay, but for health and safety reasons the product is considered unsafe to be sold or eaten after this date.
Best before: Not to be confused with use-by. It means the date which signifies the end of the period during in which the food must be consumed before any nutritional or quality properties are not compromised, after this date the product may have lost some quality or nutritional value and won't be at their best.
Product name or description: Every label should provide a product name, or an overview of what the food is. The label must include a name or description of the food sufficient to indicate the true nature of the food and to be specific enough to distinguish this product from other foods
Ingredients listing: By law, all ingredients used in the manufacture of the food must be listed and in descending order: the item listed first has the highest percentage in the product, and the item listed last has the lowest. Unless they're allergens or additives, other ingredients that make up less than 5% of a product don't need to be broken down - and can be listed as 'composite ingredients'.
Percentage Labelling: some foods that have characterizing ingredients or components are required to be labelled with a percentage declaration of the characterising ingredients and components.
Mandatory warning and advisory statements and declarations
Allergy advice: If you have a food allergy or intolerance, always check the food label. Common allergens must be declared in the ingredient list or in the mandatory advisory statement. These allergens include: milk, egg, cereals containing gluten, peanuts, soybeans, tree nuts, sesame seeds, fish, crustaceans, sulphites (greater than 10mg/kg). All food which contain or may contain traces of these allergens will have it on the label.
Nutrition information: By law, manufacturers and packagers must also include a specific list of certain nutrients found in a product. The package must display Nutritional information Panel setting out the energy (kilojoules), protein, fat, saturated fat, total carbohydrates, sugars and sodium content per specific serving size (e.g. 30g), as well as per 100g or 100ml - to help you cross-reference products. If a nutritional claim is made about any other nutrient (e.g. monounsaturated fat or dietary fibre), the quantity present must be included in the nutrition information panel and the product should comply with specific requirements set by FSANZ and The ANZFA Code of Practice.
Please note: There are a few exceptions to requiring a nutrition information panel such as very small packages; foods like herbs and spices, tea, coffee; foods sold unpackaged or foods made and packaged at the point of sale."
Storage and Use Instructions: Storage and Use Instructions (e.g. refrigerate after opening) are mandatory depending on the nature of the product and potential concerns on safety and health aims.
Size: A food label should also provide a minimum weight or volume measurement for the product, minus its packaging. By law, these measurements need to be exact - so you can be sure you're getting what you paid for!
Name & business address of supplier: If you're unhappy with a product, have a general enquiry, or want to ask a question about a specific ingredient, you should contact the product manufacturer. The term 'supplier' includes the packer, manufacturer, vendor or importer of the food. A business address means the location of the premises from which a business is being operated, and includes the street number, the street name, the town or suburb and, in Australia, the state or territory.
Country of origin: 'Product of Australia' means each of the main ingredients, and all or most of the processing, must have taken place in Australia. 'Made in Australia' means the food was simply modified or assembled in Australia and at least 50% of the production costs were incurred here.
Nutrition logos: Third party logos may also be included to indicate that the product passes certain criteria set by the particular body. Common examples include the Australian Dairy Corporation's "Dairy Good" Symbol and the Glycemic Index Limited "GI" Trade Mark.
Identification and batch number: This is a unique number that must be placed on packaging for purposes of identification. Required on packaged food to assist in the rare event of a food recall. It helps determine exactly where the product was produced, and when.
Where can I find out more?
The following Australian websites* provide a range of useful information about interpreting food labels
*Links to non-Candy Time websites within this section have been provided for information purposes only. Candy Time is not responsible for the content on those websites.