Most consumers read labels for price, weight and to see if the food product is vegetarian or non-vegetarian. However, as education and income levels increase more and more consumers want to make the right choice about the foods they consume whether it is breakfast cereals, ready to eat foods, dressings, sauces or processed meats. They also want to understand what effect health claims will have on their own on health. Since consumers, who buy packaged foods, have higher levels of income and are educated enough they understand that reading labels can reduce the risk of disease, food poisoning or buying fake or sub-standard products.
In general, food product labels in India have the following information
- Product name and category of food
- An ingredient list in descending order of weight or volume
- Logo of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food
- Nutrition fact panel or information which includes energy, protein, carbohydrate, fats etc
- Nutritional claims quickly inform a consumer of nutritional value of a product for example ‘Low Fat’
- The shelf life (Use by or Best Before Date)
- Storage conditions when unopened and after opening packaging
- The name & address of the manufacturer, packer and / or seller
- The country of origin (in case of imported foods)
- Product’s weight/quantity
- Instructions for use/ preparation
Some Important facts about the information on the label
All food products have a shelf life. Shelf life is the most important label information and it is displayed as “use by” or “expiry date”. This means that the content of the package should not be eaten after this date as the contents inside the package may no longer be safe to eat or could cause health problems. Besides this there are a number of food products that display ‘best before’ date. This means that the food will retain all its properties right up to the ‘best before’ date if it is stored properly. A product that has passed the best before date may still be safe to eat but the product could have lost some of its properties, like taste, smell and appearance, however, it can still be sold if it has an ‘expiry date’ that goes beyond the best before date.
Another important aspect of the label is the “Batch Number” or “Lot Number” or “Code Number”. This number is used to trace the products if they need to be recalled because of some problem with the product which could make it unsafe for the consumer. Any food product that is tinned or packaged if found to be fake, contaminated or adulterated can be recalled using the Batch No. of the products during the dates in which the food was manufactured and suspected to be unsafe.
“Date of manufacture” means the date on which the food becomes the product as described on the label. “Date of packaging” means the date on which the food is placed inside the package or container (tin, bottle etc.) in which it will ultimately be sold.
Storage, preparation and cooking information
Food poisoning can occur if dangerous bacteria like Salmonella and Listeria grow in foods that have not been stored properly as per instructions on the labels. If food has to be stored in the refrigerator after opening it is mentioned on the packaging label, ‘Refrigerate after opening.’ If this food is stored outside the fridge it could deteriorate rapidly and would then be unsafe for consumption. The label also mentions the minimum temperature at which a particular food is to be stored as heat can also cause bacteria to multiply and make food unsafe. Most consumers will look for storage conditions if it is product they are buying for the first time and also read preparation instructions only if the product is new and they have not used it earlier.
Nutritional labeling helps to achieve health goals
Indian markets have opened out the international buyers so food labelling has taken on more importance. Another reason for the importance of food labelling is that besides providing information on the freshness of the product, the ingredients, nutritional facts and nutritional claims on labels help consumers to make healthier food choices. If food manufacturers can understand the consumer behavior from the kind of purchases that they make and understand the needs of the consumer then they will be able to develop products that are in demand and which are healthier. This will help to improve the health of a targeted consumer as is the case with fortified foods or foods specially created for pregnant and lactating mothers, senior citizens or infants. Health conscious customers read labels.
Those with high blood pressure want to avoid excessive amounts of salt while allergic people want to know if there are any ingredients in the products like peanuts if they are allergic and people with heart problems or cholesterol will find out how much trans fat or cholesterol content is in the product. A survey conducted found that about 71% of Indians take notice of packaged goods’ labels containing nutritional information and 59% of Indians mostly understand the nutritional panels and labels.
The Nutritional Information on the label intends to inform the consumer of the nutritional properties of the food. It is always better; the nutritional facts are mentioned in a tabular form as;
Nutritional facts per 100 gm
|Saturated Fatty Acids||g|
|Monounsaturated Fatty Acid||g|
|Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids||g|
Logos on the label
Logos are equally important aspects of pre-packaged food products as they indicate quality and standards. Consumers tend to look for FSSAI logo, Veg and Non-Veg logo, Agmark logo, Organic Logo, ISI Mark Logo and Radiation logo to ensure they are making the choice of food to the best of their knowledge.
Some important logos
FSSAI Logo & License No. is required to be given on the pre-packaged food product.
Lic. No. XXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Green Mark logo on the label of the pre-packaged Veg food product.
Green logo on the label of the pre-packaged Non-Veg food product.
AGMARK is a certification mark employed on agricultural products in India, assuring that they conform to a set of standards.
This logo indicates that the food is certified as being an organic product. Organic foods in India are currently regulated by APEDA.
ISI Mark logo should be available on the Packaged drinking water and would soon be implemented for Edible oils.
This logo indicates that the food has been processed using radiation technique.