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Labelling poster - how to read food labels

(March 2017)

Most packaged foods are required to have a label with important information to help you make informed choices about what you and your family eats. The information required varies depending on the food. Remember certain information about foods that are unlabelled (e.g. fresh fruit and vegetables, or food that is purchased from where it is made such as cafes, bakeries or takeaway shops) may still need to be provided. This information is usually either displayed with the food or provided if you ask for it, for example, if the food contains certain allergens or directions for using or storing the food safely.

FSANZ is responsible for developing and maintaining the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, which includes standards for food labelling.

This interactive resource explains the food labelling requirements set out in the Food Standards Code and what that information means. Click on the numbers to find out more about food labelling.

A useful poster is also available. You can download a copy here (PDF 372KB), or for a printed A2 version please email information@foodstandards.gov.au.

Food Labels - what do they mean?

yoghurt container ​​
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1. Nutrition information panel

This panel shows the average amount of energy, protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars and sodium in a serve and in 100 g (or 100 ml) of the food. The amount of any other nutrient or substance about which a nutrition content or health claim is made must also be shown (e.g. the amount of calcium must be shown if a claim about calcium is made).

There are some foods that don’t require a nutrition information panel, unless nutrition content or health claims are made, for example:

  • foods sold unpackaged
  • foods sold in small packages (e.g. about the size of a larger chewing gum packet)
  • foods made and packaged at the point of sale (e.g. bread made and sold from a bakery).
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2. Percentage labelling

Food labels must show the percentage of key or characterising ingredients or components in the food. Characterising ingredients or components are often mentioned in the name of the food or emphasised on the label of the food in pictures. The characterising ingredient for this strawberry yoghurt is strawberry and the ingredient list states that it contains seven per cent strawberries.

An example of a characterising component could be the cocoa solids in chocolate. Some foods, such as white bread or cheese, may have no characterising ingredients or components.

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3. Food identification

To help identify a food, food labels must show:

  • the name of the food
  • the name and business address in Australia or New Zealand of the supplier of the food
  • the lot identification of the food.

The name or description of the food must reflect its true nature (e.g. strawberry yoghurt must contain strawberries). If the yoghurt contained strawberry flavouring rather than real fruit, then the name would need to indicate that it is strawberry-flavoured yoghurt.

Also, if a food has a name prescribed in the Food Standards Code (e.g. honey), then the prescribed name must be used.

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4. Information for people with food allergies or intolerances

Some food ingredients and substances can cause severe allergic reactions and must be declared when present in a food. The ingredients and substances that must be declared are peanuts, tree nuts (e.g. cashews, almonds, and walnuts), crustacea, fish, milk, eggs, sesame, soybeans and wheat.

Sulphites (if added at 10 mg more per kg of food) and cereals containing gluten (e.g. wheat, oats, barley, rye and spelt) also need to be declared.

More information on food allergies can be found at our Food Allergen Portal.

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5. Date marking

Foods that should be eaten before a certain date for health or safety reasons must be labelled with a use-by date. Foods should not be eaten after their use-by date.

Otherwise a best-before date is required if the food has a shelf life of less than two years. Although it may be safe to eat a food after its best-before date, it may have lost quality and some nutritional value.

Bread can be labelled with a baked-on or baked-for date if its shelf life is less than seven days.

Read more about use-by and best-before dates.

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6. Ingredient list

Ingredients must be listed in descending order (by ingoing weight). So if an ingredient is listed near the start of the list, then the food contains more of this ingredient than other ingredients lower down the list.

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7. Labels must tell the truth

Under Australian and New Zealand consumer laws, labels are not allowed to be false, misleading or deceptive. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in Australia and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs in New Zealand manage consumer laws in each respective country.

Suppliers must also label foods with accurate weights and measures information. The National Measurement Institute in Australia and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs in New Zealand ensure that correct weight and measurement information is used on food labels.

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8. Food additives

Food additives have many different purposes including improving the taste and appearance of processed food or ensuring food is preserved safely. Food additives must be identified in the ingredient list, usually by their class name (e.g. ‘thickener’ or ‘colour’) followed by the food additive name or number. A thickener has been used in this yoghurt and is labelled as 'thickener (1442)'.

A full list of food additive names and code numbers can be found on our wesbite.

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9. Directions for use and storage

Where specific storage conditions are required for a food to keep until its best-before or use-by date, those conditions must be included on the label (e.g. Store below 4°C).

If the food must be used in accordance with certain directions for health or safety reasons, (e.g. cooked by boiling for a period of time), then those directions must be included on the label.

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10. Legibility requirements

Any labelling requirements must be in English, be legible and prominent so as to contrast distinctly with the background of the label. The size of the type in warning statements must be at least 3mm high, except on small packages.

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11. Country of origin

Australia and New Zealand have different country of origin labelling requirements. In Australia, the country of origin of packaged and some unpackaged foods must be stated on the label. Read more about country of origin labelling on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission website.

In New Zealand, country of origin labelling is required on wine only. Further information is available on the Ministry for Primary Industries website.

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12. Nutrition and health claims

Nutrition content claims are claims about the content of certain nutrients or substances in a food (e.g. contains calcium). Health claims refer to a relationship between a food and health. There are rules for when nutrition content or health claims are made on food labels. You can read more about nutrition and health claims on our website.

 

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