Nutrition Labelling

Will calorie counts on menus make us healthier?

Around two-thirds of adults in the UK are either overweight or obese – and this increases the risk of chronic health conditions including type 2 diabetes.  Nowadays, a significant proportion of the food people eat is consumed outside of the home.  People are also eating out more often – the UK population consumes more than 100 million takeaways and ready-made meals in a week1!  Evidence suggests that people dining out consume 200 more calories per day than when eating at homeand so it is clear that there needs to be a mechanism to reduce the amount people consume when eating out if current obesity rates are to be halted and reversed.

As part of the government’s childhood obesity plan for action, the whole food industry (restaurants, retailers and manufacturers) has been challenged to slash calories in foods by 20% by 2024 but this alone will not tackle the complex issue of obesity.  Interestingly, 79% of people agree that menus should include the number of calories in food and drinks3.  Although many businesses already provide nutritional information on their websites only a few provide calorie labelling at the point of choice.  The point of choice can include menu boards, printed menus, chalk boards or display tags. So, with this in mind, the government proposes to introduce legislation to mandate consistent calorie labelling in England for the out of home sector.

Calorie menu labelling has already been mandatory in Ireland for a couple of years. A study into the effect of this in a hospital staff/visitor canteen found that customers made healthier choices and fewer calories were purchased, particularly by males4.

Putting calories on your menus is a public health initiative that can even benefit your business.  A recent Diabetes UK poll found that 60% of people are more likely to spend their money in an eating establishment that provides traffic light labelling, and almost as many said they would be more likely to eat where there is calorie labelling on food menus/packaging5.

Displaying the amount of calories on food and drinks for sale however is a form of food labelling and the most important rule of food labelling is that the consumer must not be misled.  It is therefore important for food businesses to have clear procedures and methods in place to ensure that calorie information is kept accurate.  If ingredients in a menu item change, the calorie information should be updated as soon as possible.

Obtaining the calorie values for all your menu items might seem a daunting task at first, but with help from AB Food Nutrition this can be done quickly, easily and cost-effectively.  We calculate the nutrient profile of your recipes based on the ingredients, quantities and cooking methods used. We can even provide suggestions on how to improve the nutritional profile of your recipes so that you can offer customers healthier choices.  For more information, please contact Anne.

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1 https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/a_weighty_issue.pdf
2 Nguyen and Powell. (2014). The impact of restaurant composition among US adults: effects on energy and nutrient intakes. Public Health Nutrition 17(11) 2445-52.
3 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/calorie-reduction-the-scope-and-ambition-for-action
4 Calories on menus in Ireland – who’s counting? – Volume 74 Issue OCE4 – G.D. Ussher, S.E. Kielthy, K.A. Emerson, F.E. Douglas, O.C. Lyons, M.A.T. Flynn
5 https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news/poll-food-labels-influence-spending?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social-media&utm_campaign=foodupfront&utm_term=210518&utm_content=organic

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

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