What’s in a Label?

Walking through the grocery store I’m often amazed at the shear number of products available.  Sometimes it seems that there are 10 different versions of the same thing with the only difference being their label.  But have you ever considered what goes into designing a food label?  Today we’re going to go through the 7 things that are required to be a part of a food label and how they impact you.

  1. Proper Product Name: This means there needs to be a name/statement on the package that gives a truthful description of the product.  It makes sense, you should be able to know what exactly you’re purchasing!
  2. Nutritional Information: I’m sure at some point we have all looked at a nutrition label to determine calories, fat, carbs, etc.  This allows you to monitor your dietary needs and make purchasing decisions that best match what you’re seeking in a diet.
  3. Ingredient List: As simple as it sounds, the label needs to include what is inside the package.  Ingredients are listed in order of quantity (ie. the first ingredient on the list is the most abundant ingredient in the product).  In addition to simply listing the ingredients used, allergens need to be made known. 
  4. Name and Place of Manufacturer:  On every food product you purchase there is a section that contains the name and physical address of where the product was made.  This allows you to trace where your food came from and allows your to contact the company if you choose to do so.
  5. Accurate Statement of Net Quantity: This tells you just how much of the product you will be purchasing.  I almost always look at this section of a label when comparing prices between two brands.  
  6. Safe Handling Statement:  Meat products are required to give you a description of how to handle the product to keep it safe for your family to eat.  This may be a statement such as; “Keep Frozen,”  or “Fully Cooked, Ready to Eat,” or “Refrigerate After Opening”.  The purpose of these statements is twofold, keeping you safe and protecting the processor from getting in trouble if the consumer misuses the product. Picture this: It’s a beautiful, sunny, 80 degree summer day.  A woman is having friends over for a picnic and is planning to grill hamburgers. She goes to the grocery store and picks up ground beef, buns and pickles, which she then leaves in her car for a few hours while she runs other errands.  Once she is home, she leaves the ground beef on the kitchen counter for another hour before lighting the grill.  The party is great, but later that evening many of those in attendance become ill.  Well the buns didn’t make them sick, and it probably wasn’t the pickles, so that leaves the beef.  The ground beef label told her that she needed to keep the product refrigerated or frozen until it was ready to be prepared.  She didn’t listen to this and instead let the product reach an unsafe temperature, putting her and her friends at risk for getting sick.  Long story short, listen to the label!
  7. Inspection stamp:  All meat products are legally required to be deemed safe by a USDA inspector.  That’s right, all meat that is available for sale is legally required to be inspected for wholesomeness to ensure that the product is safe for human consumption. I hope to further discuss inspection in a later post and clarify what inspectors look for when determining product safety.

Many of the requirements of a label are there for your safety.  Knowing that your food is inspected, how to handle it, and if there are any known allergens or ingredients that you specifically react poorly too is necessary to keep you healthy.  All labels must be legally approved to be used.  What about other things you see on labels?  Certified, organic, natural, non-GMO?  We’ll cover some of these topics in future posts to help you better understand just what you’re eating!


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