Laws Governing Your Food Labels

The advantage of having strong laws governing your food labels is that it enables you to compete on a level playing field. In other words, all food producers are subject to the same laws. It means you can be confident that your competitors are also abiding by these food labelling laws or they will face tough penalties by the authorities. It is vital that you make sure your food labels are legal. You are doing this to protect your customers who have every right to know exactly what they are eating.

Your first point of reference for your food product is the Food Standards Code. It consists of 24 sections so I recommend you read this legislation if you are selling food. The challenge is to find what is most relevant to you. A lot of it is common sense but you can easily miss something. Here is a summary of the important parts of the legislation but I recommend you do your own research and prior to printing your food labels you seek independent legal advice, something I am not qualified to give.

Section 1.2.1 identifies those food products and providers that require labelling. Those industries which are not required to label the food sold include restaurants, canteens, schools, caterers, prisons and hospitals. Also, food that is immediately consumed such as an ice cream in a cone does not require labelling.

Section 1.2.2 relates to identification. You must identify the name of the food and the name and address of the provider, i.e. your business name and address. Also, the net volume or weight is required.

Section 1.2.3 relates to allergies. You need to warn any potential customers if there is a possibility of an allergic reaction. This primarily relates to nuts and dairy products and gluten including wheat, barley, oats and rye.

Section 1.2.4 discusses all of the laws about ingredients. These ingredients should be listed in descending order by weight, i.e. the major ingredient at the top. Common names should be used rather than lesser known chemical names. Food additives as well as minerals and vitamins are also included. You should also read this section carefully to discover how water is treated as an ingredient as well as compound ingredients.

Section 1.2.5 addresses the issue of dates. The most common date to include on the label is the use by date. Now this has implications for your food labels. Unless, you are a very large food manufacturer, then most likely you will print labels in two runs. The first label is called the base label. Different information including a use by date then can be printed on that label.

You can also use the phrase “Best Before” instead of “Use By”. For baked products with a shelf life of less than seven days, it is acceptable to use “Baked On” or “Baked For”.

Section 1.2.7 relates to use and storage for your food products. For example, storage instructions may be to “keep refrigerated after use” or “store at room temperature”. The instructions are given to protect the health and safety of those consuming your food.

Section 1.2.8 is similar to Section 1.2.4 in that it relates to the ingredients. Section 1.2.8 relates to the nutritional components of your food, i.e. sugars, carbohydrates, fatty acids, fibre, etc. There are also foods that are exempt from these requirements and they include most alcoholic drinks, herbs and spices, vinegar, salt, tea, coffee, fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, chicken, water and sandwiches.

Section 1.2.11 relates to country of origin labelling. The laws changed recently. New laws for food labels began on July 1, 2016.

Reference: Australian Government – Country of Origin Food Labelling Style Guide v1.0 – Click here to download

The above is by no means an exhaustive list of the food labelling laws in Australia and New Zealand. It is a brief summary of 24 sections of legislation. You should familiarise yourself with this legislation before designing or printing any food labels.   

Content For Your Food Labels

Just for a moment, you need to put your marketing hat on rather than your legislative hat. If all you included on your food labels was just a summary of the requirements under the legislation, then your labels would look rather drab and boring. Labelling is primarily about selling. In other words, your food labels must grab the attention of your prospects and customers on a supermarket shelf, at a local market, on your website and even in your customers’ homes. Yes, repeat sales are important so you want your customers to recognise your labels so it is easier for them to buy your product over and over again.

One way around this dilemma of needing sales versus legal requirements is to have two labels – one with all of the legal requirements and one to sell. This second sales label might include images, a brief benefit of your food and how it helps your customer.

This second label will usually be printed in vibrant colours and have large fonts whereas the label for ingredients and nutritional content is typically black on white and printed in a simple and smaller font. However, don’t underestimate the importance of this label required by law as the information contained in it will be relevant to many of your customers. It is up to you to comply and make sure the information is accurate. There are penalties if the information is not accurate.

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