Woman reading label at supermarket

What's on a food label?

Our guide to what’s what on the pack.

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Ingredients

Most packaged foods must have an ingredients list. Ingredients need to be listed in order of weight, from largest to smallest. So if sugar is the first thing listed on your cereal box, it’s the biggest ingredient.

Food additives

Food additives, such as colourings and preservatives, must be in the ingredients list. Most additives are listed by type, followed by name or number. For example, “preservative (potassium sorbate)” or “preservative (202)”. If you’ve only got a number, you’ll need a codebreaker.

Allergen information

Labels must clearly show if a food contains major allergens. These are: shellfish, egg, fish, gluten, lupins, milk, peanuts, sesame seeds, soybeans, sulphites (in high concentrations) and tree nuts (almonds, cashews and walnuts).

Nutrition information panel

A nutrition information panel gives you details of key nutrients in the food. It must show the average amount of energy, protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars and sodium. The information must be listed:

  • per 100g or 100ml
  • per serving.

Characterising ingredients

How much almond and apricot is in your almond and apricot muesli needs to be disclosed on the label. Companies have to show the percentage of a product’s “characterising” ingredients. That’s anything emphasised in the product name or label. However, the rules don’t stop them touting an ingredient, even if there’s very little of it in the product.

Product identification

The food label must show the supplier and the product’s batch number. This information is crucial in the event a food is recalled.

Date line

Any product that could spoil within a short period and make you sick must have a clearly marked use-by date. If the product has a shelf life of less than 2 years, it needs a best-before date instead.

Accuracy

Food labels must be accurate and correct weights and measures must be given. Manufacturers risk breaching the Fair Trading Act and the Food Act if they make false or misleading claims about a product.

Use and storage

When a food needs to be stored in a specific way – for example, it needs to be refrigerated – this information must be on the label. Any directions about how the food must be prepared to make it safe to eat, such as cooking before consuming, need to be shown as well.

Country of origin

Wine is the only food product that must have a country of origin label. Manufacturers can choose to list where other foods, or their ingredients, are from but they don’t have to. We’re campaigning for mandatory country of origin labelling.