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Do you understand and trust food labeling

Updated on March 26, 2015

What to look for

Food Labelling

There was a time when food labels were plain and simple. A brief list of ingredients and manufacturer's details were all that was on offer. These days, in the UK for example, food labels have a massive amount of information. So much is often packed onto a small label that it is hard to read and or understand. Then again perhaps part of that is down to my aging eyesight.

However, one thing that I know these days is, as much as some of the dietary information is useful, it can also be confusing. With Sell By Dates, Use By Dates and Best Before Dates, just sussing when the food in question will still be safe to consume can be difficult. As usual, also, we consumers do have to put our faith and trust in manufacturers and rely on their honest detailing of the goods supplied.

With the current British Government telling us that GM, genetically modified, foods are going to be grown in the UK, there is yet another additional worry. Legally just what do manufacturer's have to include on food labels and what information can they leave out

American egg carton
American egg carton

Food Standards

Countries such as the UK have a Food Standards Agency. Such agencies will offer guidance and help to those attempting to understand the maze of do's and don'ts and rights and wrongs.

Many consumers find food labels confusing and hard to understand as such labelling is constantly being amended.

In the UK, in recent years, we have seen a type of colour coded, traffic light system, used to illustrate nutritional values. Ingredients that are dangerously high, when it is best that they should not be, such as salt, would be shown in red. This sort of labelling makes sense and it does help those who have literacy issues.



  • Use by Date- This is the one to adhere to. Make sure that you use the product before the date. If you have not discard it.
  • Sell By Date- This is the date by which the product should no longer be on sale in the store. However the food may still be perfectly safe for you to eat.
  • Best Before Date- This is the date at which the quality of the food will deteriorate. The food may still be safe to consume but just be less fresh. Obviously food does not know to instantly go off on this date.

You need to use your common sense, eyes and sense of smell to assess if the food is safe. Make sure though that you do not eat food after its use by date. It is not worth the risk.


Most food labels include details of the calorific content of the food and its ingredients. Most of this is based on 100g of the food so remember to adjust accordingly. For example, if a tin of dog food lists the nutritional values for the ingredients based on a 100g, you will need to multiply this by three for a 300g tin.

Remember to look if the weight used is net or gross. Items such as tinned hot dog sausages will have a figure that includes the liquid and one that does not. Obviously the liquid will be discarded and so should not be included when counting calories and the like.

The net weight of items such as wrapped chocolates will be the amount once the wrappers have been removed.

Items that have lots of E numbers included in the list of ingredients will often be less healthy and may be more fattening. It would seem, as a rule of thumb, that this is the case.

Watch out for products that claim to be low fat or sugar free. The products may have included an artificial sweetener which might not be good for you. Low fat products often have nearly the same amount of calories as those that are not low fat.

Remember that some fats are good for you and so check what fats are included in the product. It is the saturated fats that can be harmful and so opt for foods that contain less of such fats.


We, the consumers, put a lot of faith and trust in manufacturers and retailers. If you come across foodstuffs that are improperly labelled contact the foods standards agency. Remember to read the labels fully in order to get the best description available of the product. After all we all know that "We are what we eat"


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    • profile image

      EMail name: 5 years ago

      Good reading. Need to know if there is a Food Standard Agency in the United States and address and telephone number or something similar. Much of the packaged goods I have been using lately do not give the proper weight of the article inside and I want somewhere to report it. I am tired of being ripped off.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Thanks Habee

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      I read all labels, but I often wonder how correct the info is. Great hub, as usual!

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Thanks frogyfish. Pregnant ladies need to be especially careful

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 8 years ago from Central United States of America

      ethel smith, I think more and more of us are reading labels - that is good as far as that goes. Yes, the labels can be tricky! Thanks for sharing your information and tips to help!