How To Understand Labels On Food Packaging

Food labelling is a great tool to enable us to make an informed decision about our health and food choices when shopping. Food labels can give you information on ingredients and nutritional content (such as fats, calories, carbohydrates), and how much they contribute to what an average adult eats every day. However, sometimes understanding food labels can be difficult,

so to ensure you're making the best use of the information, here is a guide to understanding food labels on packaging.

Labels On the Front

Producers are required to include the name of the food, a use by or best before date and information about the size or quantity of the pack on the front of the product, along with any warnings that apply specifically to the product.

Lots of food packaging now also uses a traffic light coloured coded system on the front of packets to indicate the healthiness of a food choice. Green is great, amber is okay in moderation, and red means a product should be considered a treat once in a while. The aim for a healthy life is to choose more 'greens' and 'ambers' and fewer 'reds'. Only the 'big four' nutritional values - total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt - are colour coordinated as they're the most important pieces of information to look at.

Let's take fat content as an example. Per 100g, a fat content of 3g or less is green (low), higher than 3g and below 17.5g is amber (medium), and more than 17.5g is red (high).

Labels On the Back

Usually found on the back of the pack is the per 100g/per portion table. Using the per 100g table is the fairest way to compare the nutritional values of different products. Otherwise, it can be difficult to tell whether any differences are due to a varied portion size or the actual content of the product. However, if you aren't comparing products and want to know nutritional information just about a portion of the food you're looking at, the per portion or per serving information is useful.

Other required information that is often found on the back of food packaging (but can also be on the front or side) includes a list of ingredients, any specific cooking or storage instructions and the manufacturer's contact details.

Food Labelling Terms explained


Energy is displayed as kilocalories (kcal) and kilojoules (kJ). These are both terms to express the amount of energy that a food contains. 1kcal is 4.2kj. The recommended daily intake for women is 2000 calories and for men it's 2500.


Saturates means saturated fat, which is less healthy than unsaturated fat. This is included alongside fat content, and as a guide, a high saturated fat content is more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g, and a low content is 1.5g or less per 100g.


The term “sugars” applies to the total sugar content of the food or drink you are consuming, and will include both naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. Sometimes this is displayed as carbohydrates.

Reference intake (RI) percentages

These are percentages given per portion to indicate how much the portion contributes to the average recommended intake of calories, fats, sugars and salt, each day.

The confusing terms

Some people can be misled by certain terms given on food labels. Let's clear some up.


This means there is no fat in the product, but remember to always check the ingredients for added sugar, as this is often used to replace the fat.


This means there is no sugar in the product, but remember to check the labels for fats which can replace the sugar.

Low fat

This means the product has 3g or less of fat per 100g.

No added sugar

This doesn't mean sugar-free. It means no sugar has been added, but there could be naturally occurring sugar in the food, such as in fruit juices, so be aware.

Low sugar

This means a product has less than 5g of sugar per 100g.

Reduced fat or sugar

This means the product contains at least 30% less sugar or fat than the standard version of the product.
Producers are legally required to include certain information on food packaging. However, if a food label doesn't have the information you are looking for then check online for more information, look for similar products or contact the manufacturer directly.

The Food Machinery Company supplies machinery and equipment for industrial food preparation, processing and packaging; including flexible packaging, vacuum packing, and even Thermal printers that could be used to print this information as the product is packed allowing food producers to change to meet new requirements in seconds.
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