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New booklet explains food labels

New booklet explains food labels

Ever wondered why 'dated stock' can still be sold, or what information must appear on a food label? A new booklet from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) aims to make understanding the labels on food packaging more meaningful. 'Understanding food labels' is available at no cost.

"The number of people who want to know what's in their food has risen steadily, particularly as awareness of health issues such as obesity increases. Regulations ensure that manufacturers provide useful information to consumers so people can make appropriate food choices for themselves and their families. This booklet helps make those right choices even easier", says Carole Inkster, NZFSA Director (Joint Food Standards).

"Some people rely solely on the label to find out if the food is even safe for them. Conditions such as high blood pressure or and food allergies may need careful diet management. Labelling is written into the law because what's safe for some is not for others, and the label is sometimes the only way to tell the difference."

Most food labels should display an ingredient list, nutrition information panel and some form of date mark. Labels should also name the supplier if you wish to seek more information. Fresh fruit, vegetables and takeaways don't need to have a full label but safety information such as whether it contains nuts, should be displayed nearby or available if you ask for it.

"While information about food labels has been around for a while, there is some confusion about some aspects, especially date marks", says Carole Inkster. "We get many calls about expired date marks, and thankfully very few of these relate to expired Use-by dates – where the safety of the food is no longer adequate. This shows the vast majority of store owners are taking their responsibility of providing safe food very seriously". Product with Best-before dates on them can still be legally sold after the Best-before date has passed – this date mark is simply an indication that the product's peak quality has passed.

Safety information on food labels includes warnings about allergens, and a Use-by date or storage/cooking instructions. These are to ensure there is little chance of pathogen growth or toxin build-up by the time you eat it. Suitability information includes the Best-before date, percentage labelling (providing information for consumers to compare the amount of a key ingredient such as the strawberries in strawberry jam) and nutrition information (allowing consumers to see the amount of key nutrients in the product and compare this information across similar products – energy, protein, fat, carbohydrate (including sugar) and sodium).

Information that manufacturers can choose to put on their products such as advertising, nutrition claims and country of origin statements are also outlined in 'Understanding food labels'. The booklet is on the web at and printed copies are available by calling NZFSA's freephone number 0800 693 721 or email


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