Labelling

What does Brexit mean for nutrition labelling?

This is one burning question I have been asked several times – and one I have even wondered about myself, so having recently listened to a podcast on this topic with a senior European food law analyst (Peter Rixon, IEG Policy), I thought a short blog about this would be useful!

The general understanding is that in the short term there will not be any radical changes. Current EU regulations will continue to apply, including the most recent introduction of mandatory back of pack nutrition labelling. The UK actually helped to steer changes to EU food law that we now adhere to through the Food Information Regulation and it appears that negotiating trade agreements is the priority post Brexit!

 

However, looking at aspects of labelling such as front of pack traffic light nutrition – which is currently voluntary in the UK and has proven to be very successful despite not being popular with Italy (who put pressure on the EU Commission to take legal action against the UK as it is thought to discriminate against some of their products). France have recently launched a colour coding scheme indicating that this sort of labelling is likely to become more popular and that Brexit is not going to put a stop to it. There are also increasing pressures from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for traffic light labelling to become mandatory and for the same scheme to be applied correctly.

And what about health and nutrition claims? EU regulations govern these and it is the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) who is responsible for verifying them. It is thought that the UK will continue to apply the rules of the regulation with an opportunity to review them at a later date. There is an argument that the current rules prevent innovation and that deregulation could see advances in the functional food market. However, food businesses selling into the EU would still have to comply with the legislation.

So, in summary, it is envisaged that we are not likely to see the advances made in nutrition labelling becoming undone but instead, the UK has the opportunity to take the lead as there will be greater flexibility outside of EU regulation for us to do so. Whilst there will be the potential for change in the longer term, the emphasis post-Brexit will be on continuity and the avoidance of disruption.

AB Food Nutrition has many years of experience in food labelling and carrying out nutrition calculations for both mandatory back of pack nutrition labelling and voluntary front of pack multiple traffic light systems. Each project is handled with meticulous care to maximise accuracy whilst offering value for money and unparalleled customer support. For more information or to request a product recipe analysis contact Anne today.

Making nutrition & health claims -legally!

Being a registered nutritionist who has a specialism in food labelling, I just can’t help myself checking out the food information on packaging when I am out and about in supermarkets, convenience stores or farm shops (by the way – I’m not alone on this!!). Sadly, I do see lots of mistakes – particularly when it comes to nutrition claims, and this isn’t always restricted to what is on the label as I see mistakes in other commercial publications such as websites, and advertisements but also increasingly on social media posts. Claims are even popping up on fast food & catering menus that drop through the door such as ‘low fat’, ‘superfood’ or ‘healthy option’!

Quite often these nutrition claims pop-up in a very general statement or within a product description – and if the authors didn’t think they were actually making a claim that must comply with regulations, then I should point out that ignorance is no defence!

The regulation EC no. 1924/2006 (as amended by EU reg no. 1047/2012) defines nutrition claims as:

stating, suggesting or implying that a food has a beneficial nutritional composition due to presence/absence/increased or reduced level of energy or a nutrient. Only nutrition claims listed in the annex to the regulation can be used if the specific criteria for that claim has been met.

And a heath claim as:

Stating, suggesting or implying that a relationship exists between a food/food category/constituents and health. So even saying “good for you” may also be a health claim! Only authorised health claims can be used so long as products meet the conditions stated.

In a nutshell, it simply isn’t good enough to google information (other search engines are available!) about a food and then slap the nutritional/health benefits found all over labels, webpages and across your social media posts. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the nutrition information for your product is accurate in the first place so that you can check if any claims you want to make can be substantiated.

But that’s not all! One of the fundamentals of food labelling is that it must not be misleading so, the wording you can use must have the same meaning to the consumer as the claims listed in the annex or on the EU register. For example, saying a product “contains no fat” would be subject to the conditions for fat free. The same also goes for pictorial or symbolic representations. Medicinal claims that imply the food can prevent, treat or cure a human disease are a no go area – they are not permitted to be used on food!

And, if you want to make a comparative claim – this must be with foods of the same category so, for example you should not compare the calcium content of a yogurt with that of an orange! The key requirement is that the comparison helps consumers make informed choices. The comparison you choose should also be representative of the market, so making a reduced sugar claim on lemonade in comparison with the full sugar version in the range is permitted if the full sugar variant has similar sugar levels to other full sugar lemonades also available from competitors or brands.

There are additional statements required on the label (or presentation or advertising) of products that make health claims:

  • The importance of a varied & balanced diet and healthy lifestyle
  • Quantity/consumption pattern required to obtain the benefit
  • Statement to who should avoid using the food (if appropriate)
  • A warning if likely to present a health risk if consumed to excess

Every week the Advertising Standards Authority publish their weekly rulings, and for those companies who have been published for being in breach of the regulations/advertising codes, they generally remain on the website for five years!

The Department of Health have published detailed guidance and also a quick start guide containing a flowchart to help you decide whether you need to comply with the regulation.  When done correctly and effectively, communicating the nutrition and health benefits of your products not only enables consumers to value them more, but can help them to make informed dietary choices too.

AB Food Nutrition specialises in carrying out nutrition analysis of products and recipes and assessing the criteria for any permitted nutrition / health claims. We can also review commercial communications including website copy for compliance with the regulations. For a competitive, personalised quotation contact Anne.

Hooray – I’m FIR compliant…so now what?

You’ve got nutrition information on your product labels, so that’s it – job done and you are fully FIR compliant now….right?

Well, yes and no!recipe-on-table

Whether you have had your nutrition information calculated or analysed, it is only going to be valid for the recipe as it was at the time of the analysis.  If in the future you decide to tweak the recipe, change the way it is processed or launch new products, then you have to make sure you have the nutrition information updated and incorporated on the pack or label before you even begin selling the product.

Even if you never ever change the recipe, nutrient contents of raw materials can change over time so it’s good practice to review your nutrition declaration approximately every 2 to 3 years.  You may need to do this more frequently if you are using a lot of ingredients that have sub-recipes of their own, as your suppliers may also make improvements or changes to their products. Make sure you keep up-to-date specifications or information about all your raw materials so that you are aware if there are any changes that will impact upon your ingredients, allergen and nutrition labels.

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Is nutrition information here to stay? What about Brexit?

The idea that following Britain’s decision to leave the EU means that we no longer have to follow EU law is a myth I’m afraid.  A spokesperson from the Chartered Trading Standards Institute had said that any changes in food regulation wouldn’t come into effect until at least two years from now so in the meantime the current EU food regulations still stand.  The government has even stated that following Brexit there will be greater flexibility for front-of-pack nutrition information, as currently under EU law, it is only voluntary so, it certainly looks like it is here to stay!

If you have now found yourself in the unfortunate position that the 13 December deadline has passed and you have not implemented the new rules on nutrition labelling yet, make sure you take action as soon as possible.  AB food nutrition specialises in recipe analysis & nutritional labelling advice, and our confidential, personalised yet cost-effective nutrition labelling solutions make us the ideal partner for a food business of any size.

Contact Anne for further details.

Read my earlier blog for a quick reminder of what you should be doing to comply with regulationsxmas

Is sugar really hidden?

With all the headlines and TV shows around at the moment focussing on sugar and how we are consuming too much, one phrase I hear regularly is “hidden sugars” and how our food is “full of it”!

Having been involved in writing the information that must be shown on labels (otherwise known as pack copy) since my first job in the food industry some 18 years ago, this phrase really makes me sigh. By law all ingredients must be labelled – and that includes anything added that is deemed to be sugars, so it most definitely cannot be “hidden”.

Not only that, but one of the fundamentals of food labelling is that it “must not be misleading”, and I have been fortunate over the years to work with teams of labelling technologists who share my passion in making sure labelling is done with the consumer in mind. I can recall many hours deliberating over aspects of labelling information with such individuals, and then we still have to keep the marketeers in check to make sure they don’t get carried away with what I affectionately call “marketing fluff”! So, is it any wonder why we get upset when the media accuse the food industry of misleading and hiding things?

It seems that there is an overall lack of understanding amongst consumers as to what is actually classed as ‘free sugars’. As always, education plays a huge part because you can put all the information possible on a food pack, but it is useless if it is ignored or not understood.

The official definition of free sugars is, all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. Under this definition lactose, when naturally present in milk and milk products is excluded.

So how do we educate consumers to enable them to choose foods ain order to meet the new dietary recommendation – of which free sugars should not exceed 5% (population average) of total dietary energy?

Firstly, consumers need to understand which foods generally contribute the most free sugars in the diet – so that they can choose to limit or reduce the amount and frequency by which they consume them. These foods include chocolate and sweets, cakes and biscuits and of course sugar-sweetened drinks.

Secondly, they need to understand the names of different types of free sugars so they can look out for them in the ingredients list on pack, and because the order is in descending order by weight, if a type of sugar appears near the beginning of the ingredients list, the product is likely to have more free sugars than one in which any sugars are at the end. Some common names for those added to foods are sucrose, glucose, molasses, dextrose, honey, invert sugar, treacle, glucose syrup and maltose.

There has also been a lot of discussion lately about how we can improve the labelling of free sugars to make it easier for consumers to meet the new maximum sugar intake recommendations. Currently, under EU law, sugar labelling shows the total sugar content – this includes both the free sugars and naturally occurring sugars, and from December it will be mandatory to include this information on the back of most packaged foods and drinks. The UK Government has also confirmed that it will introduce clearer visual labelling (such as teaspoons of sugar) to show consumers about the sugar content in packaged food and drink – though this will be voluntary. The government has even indicated that Brexit will provide “greater flexibility” in relation to front-of-pack nutrition information.

So, in the meantime, I urge everyone to use the information on pack that labelling experts like me have worked so hard to provide. If you need some inspiration to help you cut back on those free sugars how about making some of these little changes to your diet:

Use fruit such as raisins, dried apricots, dates or bananas instead of sugar, which naturally add sweetness to breakfast cereals and plain yogurt.

Sweet-tasting, spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger are a great way of adding flavour when preparing foods at home.

Try just a thin layer of jam or marmalade on wholegrain toast.

Swap sugar-sweetened beverages to sugar free drinks or better still water, tea or coffee (without adding sugar!).

 

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