Food Labels and Food Safety

Dr Parvesh Kumar
Food label represents the identity card of food products: it reports composition, ingredients and their relative amounts, it informs about quality, origin, processing and preservation.
This information gives the consumer the opportunity to consciously choose what to purchase. The label could concretely help us in protecting and improving our health, if our choices are supported by some basic knowledge of wholesome nutrition, based on a balanced and varied diet. In a wider perspective, this may translate into a reduction of obesity and chronic disease incidence – closely related to negative eating habits – and significantly impact on public health in terms of costs for individuals and medical systems. The study proposed highlights how, despite the reported nutritional information is often clear and comprehensive, consumers do not necessarily take the healthiest choice, but decision making process is also influenced by the ability to decode the label and its graphical representation, by socio-economic status and self-perception of psychophysical well-being. Food security and related issues won’t be debated in the following paper, but it is worth reminding that the label is also a key element to guarantee consumers safety.
Providing the product’s lot number, it is essential for tracing the product itself and to quickly recall it from the market in case of food alert. Consumer’s attitudes towards the nutritional aspect of the foods are increasing rapidly. In this context, labels of food products play a significant role in providing the relevant nutrition information to consumers. This study was conducted with a view of identifying important nutritional labeling aspects that consumers would examine at the time of purchasing. Ultimate objective was to draw conclusions that provide important information for the food processors about consumer behavior in related to food nutritional aspects and the purchasing intention. Pre-tested structured questionnaire was employed to collect data from random sample of 90 respondents. Rank Based Quotient test and descriptive analytical tools were used to analyze the data. This study shows that majority of the respondents tend to examine the labels when making the purchasing decision to evaluate the suitability of the food product for vegetarians, religious reasons, to avoid diseases related to food and to check whether the food is organically grown or not. Complicated life styles, their brand loyalty and complicated nature of food labels were the major reasons for not examining food labels.
The promising opinions of respondents on existence of food labels were to know the expiry date, to know the nutritional composition and as a legal requirement. Majority of the consumers importantly were concerned on nutrient status. Monosodium Glutamate content strongly influence the purchasing decision of considerable fraction of the respondents. Name of the food was rated the most important mandatory labeling information. Food safety, environmental protection, origin of the food and brand reputation were the most concerning factors when observing food labels in the process of purchasing food products. According to the Suggestions produced by the respondents, making information easier to understand, standardizing the presentation information, creating colorful and attractive labels were highlighted as the major suggestions. Eventually findings of this study suggests food producers should draw and implement the strategies by considering above key results in order to improve the status of food labeling as well as nutritional status of the consumers. On the food labelling, there are crucial aspects related to the product and even of the producer. The information is usually for the safety of the consumer and it is mandatory that every packaged food article has to be labeled and it shall provide the following informationo.
Name of the food
Name of the food/product is one of the first FSSAI Guidelines on Labelling of Food Products. As the name suggests, the name of the food product should be in clear format on the packaged product in clear font.
List of Ingredients
List of Ingredients means the elements which have been utilized for making the final product. It is very necessary that the manufacturer mentions all the ingredients fairly and do not cheat the end-consumer. The manufacturer can land in problem if tends to cheat the consumer.
Nutritional Information
Nutritional Information means the calories which gets from fats, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron present in the product. The calories are mentioned on all the products labels.
Declaration regarding Vegetarian or Non-Vegetarian
India is land where the eating of non-vegetarian for some is against the religious practices. Hence, according to the FSSAI Guidelines on Labelling of Food Products, the manufacturer on the label should mention whether the product is vegetarian or non-vegetarian.
Whether the product is vegetarian or non-vegetarian can easily be known by just looking at the small sign present on the corner of the label. Green colour indicates the product being vegetarian and red colour indicates that the product is non-vegetarian.
Declaration regarding Food Additives
Food additives are substances which are added to food in order to preserve flavor or enhance its taste and appearance. Hence, it is very necessary to give a declaration regarding the additives added on the label or the package.
Name and Address of the Manufacturer
In this, the name of the manufacturer and place of the manufacturing is usually mentioned. The manufacturer has to give complete address of his factory which includes street address, city, state, and zip code. Without mentioning any of these, products can be considered fake in the market.
Net Quantity
Net Quantity is also FSSAI Guidelines on Labelling of Food Products. Net Quantity here refers to the weight of the product. The weight of the product and the packaging weight are usually combined together and then mentioned in the Net Quantity.
Code No./Lot No./Batch No
A batch number or code number or lot number is a mark of recognition through which the food can be found in the manufacture and even recognized in the distribution. Therefore, the Code No./Lot No./Batch No should be definitely mentioned by the manufacturer according to FSSAI Guidelines on Labelling of Food Products.
Date of Manufacture and Best Before & Use By Date:
The date of manufacture is when the product has been manufactured and Best Before & Use By Date means by what date and month should the product be consumed. If the product is consumed after expiry date, it usually can harm the health of the human.
The consumer also should check Date of Manufacture and Best Before & Use By Date before purchasing the product.
Country of Origin for Imported Food
The country of origin of goods means the nationality of imported goods and even refers to the area where such goods have grown up or have been produced, manufactured or processed.
According to the FSSAI Guidelines on Labelling of Food Products, this also should be mentioned.
Instructions for Use
According to FSSAI Guidelines on Labelling of Food Products, the Instructions for Use should be mandatorily mentioned. As the name suggests, it usually should be instructing or guiding the consumer on how to utilize the product. Reading food labels will make it much easier for you to compare foods and find the foods that have the nutritional value your child needs. It will help you and your family make healthy choices about the foods you are buying.Food labels can help you limit the amount of fat, sugar and cholesterol in your diet by making it easy for you to compare one food item with another and choose the one with lower amounts. Conversely, you can use food labels to find food items higher in vitamins, fiber and protein.
The nutritional information found on a food label is based on one serving of that particular food. That is one of the most common mistakes people make when reading food labels. A food label may indicate that a food has 100 calories and only 5 grams of sugar, for example. But if you look at the number of servings, it may state three. That means that if you were to eat the entire package, you would be getting three times the amount shown on the food label. In this example, 300 calories and 15 grams of sugar. Don’t be fooled, always look at what makes one serving (which the food label information is based on) and how many servings in that package!
(The author is Assistant Commissioner, Food Safety, Jammu)