Food and nutrition labeling



Generally, both foods present in nature, such as eggs, vegetables and fruit, and processed foods, such as biscuits and pasta, and products from the agri-food industry subjected to conservation treatments are used for nutrition. , such as frozen foods, canned foods and preserves. All packaged food products are supplied with a food label to be learned to read with due attention to understand all the information contained therein and have the right awareness of what you eat (read the Bufala).

The labeling of a product plays a particularly important role because it describes its characteristics and allows those who buy it to choose the one that best meets their needs. The label represents a sort of identity card of the product; it must therefore be written in a clear and complete form as well as being truthful. In this regard, the Community Regulation no. 1169 of 25 October 2011 and the subsequent integration with the Delegated Regulation (EU) no. 78/2014, introduced new rules on mandatory and voluntary nutritional information for the labeling of agri-food products, thus satisfying the need for common European rules, applied in all member states.

Food labels
The food label, to allow the consumer to easily access information on the product he is buying, must be:

  • clear
  • readable
  • understandable
  • indelible (must not unsubscribe)

he must not:

  • mislead the recipients
  • attribute healing or disease prevention properties  

The knowledge of the characteristics of the purchased product will allow the consumer to use it correctly and in the right time, to know where it comes from and where it was packaged, a particularly useful aspect in case of food emergencies, and to have information on the composition of the ingredients and the nutritional properties.

Next to the product name, the label must provide information relating to its physical condition or the specific treatment it has undergone (powdered, frozen, concentrated, smoked product, etc.).

Information contained on the food label
According to EU regulation no. 1169/2011 and the subsequent amendment of annexes II and III with delegated regulation (EU) no. 78/2014, the mandatory information is:

  • the brand, the sales denomination (name that identifies the product), the seat of the production or packaging plant and the place of origin or provenance of the product
  • the list of ingredients, starting with those present in greater quantity
  • the minimum storage term (Best before) and, in the case of very perishable products, the expiry date (To be consumed before)
  • the net quantity of the product (i.e. without the weight of the package), in products stored in liquid, the drained weight must also be indicated
  • there  match (the lot), which indicates the set of all the packages of a given food product, produced, manufactured or packaged in practically identical circumstances
  • the method of conservation and use
  • the nutritional characteristics in the form of a table

Some of the innovations brought about by the 2011 regulation were necessary to address some public health problems.

As for the wording vegetable oils and fats the generic indication of the category is no longer sufficient; the indications relating to fats must specify the nature of the oils and fats used (eg palm, coconut, soybean, rapeseed oil). In the case of oil blends the wording must be used in varying proportions accompanied by the list of the various oils making up the mixture (eg palm oil, coconut oil, hydrogenated fats, etc.).

One of the most important changes concerns the obligation to indicate the substances that can cause allergies (allergens) highlighting the name with a different print font in size, style or color, from that used for the other ingredients, in order to make it quickly visible. The goal is to allow the consumer to be informed of all the allergenic substances present in the food, in the form of ingredients, additives, flavorings, processing aids or other, which could cause allergies, hypersensitivity or food intolerances. In the case of milk and milk-based products (including lactose) for example, the word "milk" will be highlighted, and not the specific allergen (eg, "milk proteins"). Regulation no. 78/2014 also introduces the - obligation to indicate the presence of certain cereals causing allergies or intolerances and of food products with added phytosterols.

For the protection and safety of the consumer, prepackaged foods can be marketed only if accompanied by the "indication of the production from which they come (batch). The latter" consists of a so-called code alphanumeric, that is to say made up of letters and numbers, which indicates without the possibility of error the lot to which the foodstuff belongs, in order to be able to trace it and follow the path of food "from fields to table". Thanks to the indication of the match it is possible to promptly trace the product in case of problems, so as to be able to intervene immediately with corrective actions, withdrawals or recall from the market.

Article 9 of the regulation introduces the obligation to provide all prepackaged foods with a nutritional labeling with indications of calories (energy value) and the quantity of some nutrients, expressed per 100 grams (g) or per 100 milliliters (ml) or per serving.

The obligation of the nutritional declaration concerns all packaged food products except some categories of foods subject to their own rules on labeling, such as food supplements, natural mineral waters, foods intended for particular nutritional uses.

Nutritional labeling

Nutritional labeling is very important because it immediately provides the consumer with the information necessary to compare one product with another and to assess whether or not it meets their dietary needs, allowing them to make an informed choice.

The EU regulation no. 1169/2011 establishes the mandatory information to be reported on the label which can be integrated with one or more optional contents.

The mandatory nutrition declaration must indicate:

  • the energy value in kilojoules (kJ) and in kilocalories (kcal) per 100 grams (g) or per 100 milliliters (ml). One kilojoule corresponds to 1kcal x4.2

the quantities of:

  • fat
  • saturated fatty acids
  • carbohydrates
  • sugars
  • proteins
  • salt

The declared values ​​are average values ​​established on the basis of laboratory analyzes carried out, or calculations performed on the basis of the ingredients, or on established and accepted data (for more information, consult the food composition tables).

With diction fat we mean total fats, both those naturally present in food and those added during processing.The main components of fats are the so-called saturated fatty acids mainly, but not exclusively, present in foods of animal origin and the unsaturated fatty acids mainly, but not exclusively, present in foods of plant origin.

The saturated fat content must be indicated as there is a close correlation between their excessive consumption and the risk of cardiovascular disease. In this regard, to prevent its appearance through proper nutrition, people of all ages are advised to limit the consumption of saturated fats to no more than 10% of the total energy intake.

With the word carbohydrates all those usable by man are indicated, including polyols (or sugar alcohols), a particular class of carbohydrates naturally contained in some types of fruit and vegetables and often used as a sweetener (sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, etc.); with the word sugars, instead, simple sugars (glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc.) present in a food are indicated.

Even the content in salt, naturally present in the food and / or added, must be indicated due to the close correlation between its excessive consumption and high blood pressure; the reduction of a few grams of sodium (present in cooking salt) per day determines a decrease in blood pressure both in people suffering from high blood pressure (hypertensive) and in those who have normal values. For the Italian population the recommended levels of salt must be less than 6 grams per day. The label must bear the word salt and not sodium using the formula: salt = sodium × 2.5.

Other optional indications regarding the quantities of one or more of the following elements may be added to the mandatory nutrition declaration:

  • monounsaturated fatty acids  
  • polyunsaturated fatty acids  
  • polyols  
  • starch
  • fibers
  • mineral salts
  • vitamins

If on the label of a food product the presence of a substance that is thought to produce beneficial effects on health is described, the quantity must be indicated. An example could be the presence of omega-3 or beta-glucans (components of fiber their quantity must be indicated in the same area of ​​the nutritional label describing their presence.

Wrong eating habits, today essentially attributable to excessive eating, could also be changed with the help of information and food education campaigns. Careful reading of food labels, thanks to the information present on the nutrients and calories contained, can help educate and guide the consumer towards a correct diet.

In-depth link

Ministry of Health. Food labeling: what we need to know

Council for Agricultural Research and Analysis of the Agricultural Economy (CREA). Food labels: a guide to reading

Council for Agricultural Research and Analysis of the Agricultural Economy (CREA). Nutrition Labels: Reading Guide

Council for Agricultural Research and Analysis of the Agricultural Economy (CREA). Food composition tables

Regulation (EU) n. 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the provision of food information to consumers

Delegated Regulation (EU) n. 78/2014 of the Commission of 22 November 2013

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