What Can Food Labels Tell You?
What the label tells you
Did you know that by law nearly every manufactured or processed food must carry a list of ingredients? The main exceptions are dairy products, drinks with over 1.2 per cent alcohol, and chocolate and cocoa products. Ingredients have to be listed in descending order of weight, so if you check the first few items you’ll have a fairly good idea of where your money’s going.
Manufacturers don’t have to disclose the flavourings they use, but other additives such as colourings or preservatives must be listed either by E number or by their name and purpose. If you want to keep tabs on them, you may find it worthwhile to buy a book which lists all the E numbers and tells you what they are. Some supermarkets also provide pamphlets explaining the most common additives.
Decoding the message
Subtle changes of wording on product labels can mean a lot. A product called ‘strawberry yoghurt’ or ‘strawberry flavoured yoghurt’, for example, must by law contain at least some real strawberries (although it may have artificial flavourings as well). One labelled ‘strawberry flavour’, however, need not contain any real fruit.
A drink called ‘orange squash’ must be at least 25 per cent real orange juice, but one labelled ‘orange flavour’ may be completely artificial.