Food labelling

General information

  • Nutrition information is legally required on all packaging larger than 10cm² (exemptions for some food items)
  • Food labelling is usually shown on the back or side of the product’s packaging as a table and may also appear on the front of the package (e.g. as traffic lights).
  • Common allergens are shown on the ingredients list in bold.

Recommendations to protect and promote healthy diets through labelling systems:

  • Providing practical advice to consumers around selection of healthier processed foods 
  • Introduction of “markers of processing” profiling models, on which public policies such as front-of-pack labelling (FoPL) could be based 

Nutrition information appears on the food label, alongside other information including: 

  1. Name of the food
  2. Weight of the food
  3. Ingredients, listed in order of quantity used
  4. Nutrition information 

Nutrition label – what’s on the table?

Video from the European Food Information Council (EUFIC)

Picture from Food labelling: nutrition information: Food Fact Sheet, BDA

Food labelling of ultra-processed foods

Existing labelling systems are not specifically designed for identifying UPFs based on NOVA 4 definition, and therefore cautious interpretation is required.

  • In a few countries, labels cite some ingredients which dietary intake is to be avoided, particularly in children (e.g. sweeteners, caffeine). As such, other ingredients and additives, and the degree of processing of foods, are not explicitly covered, anywhere, by existing front-of-pack labelling (FoPL) legislation.
  • Currently in Europe there are four labelling systems for all packed food products, three of which are based on colors (each one is significantly different from each other):
  • Traffic Light label (Great Britain)
  • Nutri-Score label (France)
  • Nutrinform Battery (Italy)
  • “Keyhole” label (Sweden, Norway, and Denmark)

They classify food products based on their composition of specific nutrients (e.g. saturated fat) that each system is assessing

Traffic Light Label

The 1st simplified nutrition label was adopted in 2013 by Great Britain and it is called ‘Traffic Light Label’

  • Uses the three traffic light colors, taking as a reference the amount of calories, sugar, salt, fat, and saturated fat in 100 g of product.
  • Color is applied to each of these ingredients, except for the calories.
  • Usefulness of traffic lights is evident on HFSS foods (= foods with high fat, sugar and sodium content).

Picture from Clodoveo  et al., Italian Journal of Food Science, 2021; 33 (4): 67–83

Picture from Food labelling: nutrition information: Food Fact Sheet, BDA

Nutri-Score

  • Expresses the overall nutritional quality of foods through the use of 5 colors, from green to red, corresponding to 5 letters of the alphabet, from “A” to the “E.”
  • Colour attributed to the food as a whole, considering the presence of ingredients and nutrients to be limited, such as simple sugars and salt, but also those positive for health, e.g. fibre, fruits, vegetables.

Picture from Clodoveo  et al., Italian Journal of Food Science, 2021; 33 (4): 67–83

Picture from Huybers  et al., Foods 2023, 12, 1738