Color & Control:

Food labels: Read before you buy

Improvements are being made to the way nutrition facts and ingredient listings appear on pre-packaged food products and it’s none to soon for many parents with young children and teens.

Designed to facilitate more informed, healthier food choices, these new labelling protocols promise to standardized information and warn against potential harmful effects. Experts from the Canadian Food Agency suggest that the upcoming changes will facilitate faster nutrient comparisons between brands at a retail level. Serving sizes and levels of sugar and sweeteners will now be clearer as will new front-of-package nutrition symbols.  The goal—to help all of us make healthier food choices.

Obvious warnings will be placed on pre-packaged foods that contain more than 15 per cent of the suggested daily value of “nutrients of public concern”—saturated fat, sugars or sodium. As well pre-packaged take-away meals that include more than 30 per cent of the recommended daily intake will now have warnings.  Health Canada is also planning to limit the size of voluntary health related information such as; labels that proclaim an item high in fibre. While new rules are set to phase in gradually over 5 years, advocates hope that many companies will decide to comply earlier.

In Canada, common allergens and gluten sources must always be clearly declared on food labels when present as ingredients or components of ingredients. They will appear in the ingredient list or in a “Contains” statement located immediately after the ingredient list. Otherwise known as the priority allergens these are: eggs, milk, mustard, peanuts, crustaceans and mollusks, fish, sesame seeds, soy, sulphites, tree nuts (including almonds, cashews, and pecans), and wheat and triticale.

A food manufacturer that fails to declare the presence of priority allergens and gluten sources on the label of a pre-packaged food product could be in violation of the Food and Drugs Act and the Safe Foods for Canadians Act.

Parents and individuals with allergies and food sensitivities are also hoping that improved labelling and ingredient listings will also make it easier to avoid accidental adverse reactions at home, school and in the community. And, along with the rest of us, they plan to use the additional new information to help kids in their care form healthy eating habits that will stick with them for life.

Caroline Tapp-McDougall

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