Things to be aware of regarding food labelling laws

Date: Dec 01, 2012
Document Type: Newsletter

The interest in all things food related has taken off in the past few years and many people may wish to venture out on their own and start some food related business of their own. Some will take the restaurant route while others who are adept at making a particular product, may find themselves mass producing something that may wind up being sold in a major supermarket chain. That’s when things get interesting because all of the sudden, the product will need to have a label, not to mention whether or not it will have a ‘best before’ or a ‘use by’ date. The body, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) have Codes in place that states that labels must be accurate and not misleading.

If you wish to know more, keep reading.

What’s the difference between the terms ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ on food packaging?

So what is the difference between the two terms? Well, the distinctions might be small, but still significant.

Best before: foods that are labelled as best before, signifies that although the date on the package may have passed, the product is still safe to consume on the proviso the item has been stored correctly, while still generally maintaining its colour, texture and flavour. The best before date is used more to identify when the food product may lose some of its qualities, rather than being unsafe to eat.

Interestingly, foods that are affixed with a best before date can still be sold after the date, as long as the item has not been damaged, deteriorated, or perished completely. Additionally, if the best before date is two or more years down the track, the Code does not require that the best before date to be printed on the packaging.

Use by: foods that have a use by date are generally regarded as unsafe to eat after the designated date because a build-up of bad bacteria may have occurred – even if the food in question still looks and smells good enough to consume. Additionally, it is also illegal for a business to sell an item after its use by date due to the danger the product may pose.

What do the terms ‘reduced’, ‘increased’, ‘lower’ or ‘more nutrients than…’ on food labels mean?

There may be some food producers who wish to make food that reduces, lowers or has more nutrients than other products, but what are the requirements in regards to such products? If comparative nutrient claims are made, the following requirements need to be followed:

  • foods that make nutrient claims with other food items must include a statement comparing the nutrient content between the two items;
  • outline the difference between the quantity of the nutrients between the two foods in percentage and fractional terms;
  • comparison statements must also be accurate and not be misleading.

What conditions are applied to nutrient claims?

Foods that are labelled ‘low fat’ obviously pique the interest of people who are conscious of purchasing such items. However, the conditions that nutrient claims can be made is rather interesting. Let’s use an example of chicken nuggets that have a ‘low fat’ label. The nuggets can meet the requirements of a low fat item if it is grilled, however if they were to be fried, the nuggets may not meet the low fat classification. As a consequence, if the manufacturer of the nuggets wants to label the item as ‘low fat’, the packaging must only include preparation instructions on how to prepare the nuggets that will meet the ‘low fat’ requirements.

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