How to read product labels?
The product label constitutes the basic and most important source of knowledge concerning a product. A properly constructed label should include primarily a catalogue of mandatory information, dictated by the provisions of law. Moreover, the label should be easily accessible, readable, and clear. Reading the label should not be problematic for a typical consumer.
Basic mandatory information
The manufacturer or other entity responsible for food information is required to include the following mandatory information on a product's label:
- the name of a given product, for example "Chocolate covered candy with a mint filling"
- list of ingredients
- allergens with a mandatory distinction in the list
- the quantity of specific ingredients - for example when including an ingredient, according to the principle it is mandatory to provide its percentile content, for example "mint filling 30%"
- net weight of the entire product, expressed in weight or volume units, for example "250 g"
- indicating special storage or use conditions
- the product's expiry date or best before date
- name and address of the responsible entity, for example the manufacturer, distributor, or importer.
- use manual when necessary, in order to correctly use the product, as well as
- information concerning the nutritional value
The above list of mandatory information is not complete. Depending on the type of product the list may be limited or extended with other mandatory elements. For example, in case of cocoa and chocolate products in which a plant fat other than cocoa fat has been used as an ingredient of the chocolate, an information that it "includes other fats apart from cocoa butter" is provided.
A few words about the list of ingredients
For the consumer, one of the most important elements of the label is undoubtedly the list of ingredients. In accordance with Article 18 of the decree number 1169/2011 on providing consumers with information concerning food, the list of ingredients includes all ingredients of the food product in accordance with their decreasing weight at the moment of using them for manufacturing the food product. Therefore, when reading the list of ingredients it is worth to pay attention which ingredients are listed at the top - this is going to indicate that the given ingredient constitutes most of the product.
In terms of the list of ingredients it is worth to pay special attention to allergens - so important for more and more consumers who may suffer from food hypersensitivity or intolerance. Allergens should be clearly distinguished from the other ingredients - this may be done by changing the font, style, or underlining, for example "whey (from milk)”, "peanuts", "lecithin (from soy)”.
A following important aspect of the list of ingredients is the information concerning food additives. Food additives are substances not eaten as food on their own, allowed to be used to produce food products in a clearly defined manner and in clearly defined quantities. Food additives include natural substances like for example ascorbic acid (popular vitamin C) or curcumin (an element of the turmeric spice).
Food additives may be presented in the list of ingredients with their name or "E" number, in accordance with the decree number 1333/2008 on food additives. This does not concern food additives which are allergens - that is because those have to always be presented with their full name, and not only the "E" number, for example "sulfur dioxide", and not "E 220"; "lecithin (from soy", and not "E 322". Food additives are obligatorily accompanied by their technological function which they serve in the ready product, for example "antioxidant", "emulsifier", "acidity regulator".
Within the EU all food additives are approved basing on:
- a performed safety assessment,
- technological purposes, and also
- an assurance that using a given additive will not misguide the consumer.
Therefore, using food additives should be regarded as safe. However, there are certain groups of additives often used when manufacturing sweets, consuming which may have a negative impact on children's ability to focus and be active, so the label should include a proper information. These include coloring agents such as: Sunset Yellow FCF, Quinoline Yellow WS, Azorubine/Carmoisine, Allura Red AC, Tartrazine, Ponceau 4R. Meeting the expectations of consumers Wawel does not use these coloring agents in its products.
Authors: Centrum Prawa Żywnościowego, dr A. Szymecka-Wesołowska, D. Szostek