Understand food labels

Saturday December 30 2017

A tagging label is the most important marketing tool for a product.

A labelling tag is the most important marketing tool for a product. It should be attractive and eye-catching while at the same time informative. PHOTO | NMG 

By Caroline Makau
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Labelling is an important process in the food processing chain, and in value addition in general. This is because the label is the first point of contact between a consumer and the producer.

It is used to identify one product from another and to make a decision over which product to purchase. 

The label is therefore the most important marketing tool for a product. It should be attractive and eye-catching while at the same time informative. A dirty, confused, untidy label will not help to sell a product.

Simplifying food date labels is an important step in preventing food waste and ending confusion related to ‘sell by’, ‘use by’, ‘best before’ and ‘display until’.

Below are the labelling requirements:-

Name

This must inform the customer of the nature of the product. It may also be necessary to attach a description to the product name.

Ingredients

All ingredients of the food must be stated under the heading ‘Ingredients’ and must be stated in descending order of weight.

Nutritional information

When a manufacturer makes claims that the product is ‘low in sugar’, it must be supported with nutritional information (normally in tabulated form).

However, as a rule, it is recommended to declare nutritional information as consumers more than ever are investigating this information before making a purchase.

Medicinal or nutritional claims

Medicinal and nutritional claims are tightly regulated. Some are only allowed under certain conditions while others are not authorised at all.

For example, presenting claims the food product can treat, prevent or cure diseases or other ‘adverse conditions’ are prohibited.

While claiming the food is reduced in fat or rich in vitamins requires the food to meet compulsory standards and grades, in addition, the terms must be used in a form specified in regulations.

Date tagging

There are two types of date tagging:

Use by date: ‘Use by date’ must be followed by a day or/and month which the product must be consumed. This is employed on perishable foods that usually would be kept cold, for example, fish, meat, dairy products and ‘ready to eat’ salads.

Best before date: ‘Best before date’ is used as an indicator of when the product will begin to degrade from optimal quality. This includes when the food becomes stale, begins to taste ‘off’ or decays, rots or goes mouldy.
Shelf-life

If there are any particular storage conditions for the product to maintain its shelf life, these must be pointed out.
Business name and address

In addition to the business name and address, it is necessary to indicate the manufacturer or packager, if independent to the main business and the seller.

Place of origin

The food is required to specify its place of origin, especially if the name or trademark is misleading such as if the product is called ‘English Brie Cheese’ when it is produced in Kenya.

Instruction for use

This is only necessary if it is not obvious how to use or prepare the product, in which case the consumer’s own initiative must be used.

Presentation

The label must be legible and easy to read, also it must be written in English, however, the manufacturer may also include other languages.

Lot mark or batch code

It must be possible to identify individual batches with a lot mark or batch code. Manufacturers must bear in mind that the smaller the size of a batch, the smaller financial consequences in the case of a product recall.

Sectioning

All of the following must be in the same field of vision:
• Product name
• Date mark
• Weight
• Quantity
•Alcohol strength (if applicable).

Food additives

With a best practice, the items should be presented by their approved names (domestically), functional classes, and numbers of International Numbering System.

Barcoding

A bar code (often seen as a single word, barcode) is the small image of lines (bars) and spaces that are affixed to retail store items, identification cards, and postal mail to identify a particular product number, person, or location.

Consumer education is required to understand what labels mean. This must be implemented across the value chain. Agro- processors, NGOs and government agencies need to educate consumers about how to interpret labels through in store displays, web materials and public service announcements.

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Ms Makau is based at the Department of Dairy, Food Science and Techology, Egerton University.