Reading Food Labels

What is a label?

A label could be a piece of paper, cloth, metal or of other material that is fixed to the food package or container containing information about the food product. It could also be printed directly on the package or container.
By law it is mandatory that packaged food in the market should have a label displaying the required information of the product.
If the food is processed or packed in a container, the only way of knowing about the product is through a label.

Minimum information that should be displayed on the label:

  • Common Name
  • Brand/Trade Name
  • Date of Manufacture
  • Date of Expiry
  • Name and address of the manufacturer and distributor/packer
  • Country of origin for imported food
  • Contents/ Ingredients
  • Batch Number
  • Storage instructions, if any

Common Name:

Common name is the name that is common to a particular food. 
For example ‘Pineapple Jam’. It is common to any jam prepared using Pineapple.
Common name should be in any two of the three languages (Sinhala, Tamil and English) and the letters should be clearly visible.
By the common name, the consumer will know the type of food that he/she is purchasing.

Brand/ Trade Name

This is unique to the product. This is done for marketing purposes and the name can be given by the manufacturer, packer or distributor.
Eg:  In “Jacksons Pineapple Jam”; “Jacksons” is the brand name which is unique for identification of that particular product but ‘pineapple jam’ will be its common name.
Brand name should be displayed in any one of the three languages.
The brand/trade name should not mislead the consumer. Eg: if a brand name displays as “ Memory Malt” in a malted milk package, it may mislead the consumer as the trade name implies that malt improves memory.

Date of manufacture:

The date of manufacture should be displayed in the label. If the food is imported and repacked, the date of manufacture and the date of repacking should also be displayed.

Date of expiry:

All food labels should contain the date of expiry as indicated by the manufacturer depending on the ‘shelf life’ of a food item.
‘Shelf life’ is the length of time for which an item remains usable, edible or saleable.
All imported food items should have a remaining shelf life of 70% or more at the time importation, to minimize the chance of any food item being on sale past the expiry date. Therefore, the consumer is assured of purchasing safe and wholesome food.
The date could be in any of the following manner.
In instances where only the month and year is indicated, the date of expiry will be deemed to be the last day of that month.

Name & address of the manufacturer and distributor/packer:

All labels should have the name and address of the manufacturer and distributor/packer.

Country of origin for imported food:

If a package/ container contain imported food, the country of origin should be indicated in the label.

List of ingredients: 

The label should contain a complete list of ingredients used by their common names, in descending order of their proportions.

Batch number:

The label should indicate the batch number of that particular food item. It is important to trace back the item at the manufacturer if any adverse incidence occurs and also for any legal actions if needed.