LIFE

Why Cereal Asks To Be Stored In A Cool, Dry Place

There's more to food labelling than ingredients.

02/12/2016 10:49 AM AEDT | Updated 02/12/2016 12:52 PM AEDT
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What does it all mean?

They're the food labelling instructions we don't always pay attention to: 'store in a cool, dry place', 'consume with three days of opening' and even 'keep refrigerated' (we're looking at you, soy sauce).

Food labels are so packed with advice, allergen information, ingredients and star ratings that NSW Food Authority chief executive Lisa Szabo said it could be overwhelming.

They've created an information portal that helps you separate important information from the chaff.

"We recognise that with so much information out there it can be difficult to find it and understand it," Szabo said.

"One of our roles as the NSW Food Authority is to educate people by providing information to enable them to make informed choices and this initiative achieves that."

Here's what you can expect on your label, and what information you can request from market sellers.

Date marks:

A 'use-by' date indicates when the food must be eaten by, or thrown away.

A 'best before' date means the food is still safe to eat after the date, but you should check it's not damaged or deteriorated.

Allergens:

There has to be a warning if a food contains one of the nine most common food allergens: eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, sesame, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and gluten. This warning must be present regardless of the amount, which is why you often see the term 'may contain traces of nuts'.

Labels also have to list sulphites if they contain 10 mg/kg or more.

Country of origin:

Just because you can see the little kangaroo symbol doesn't mean it's 100 percent Australian. Here are some examples of food labels showing different levels of imported ingredients.

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Safety:

If a packet tells you to consume within three days of opening, it's because it's unsafe to keep it longer. Likewise cereal asks it be stored in a cool, dry place because otherwise it can speed up the used-by date.

You'll also find 'directions for use' on labels that tell you to cook foods like eggs or bamboo shoots thoroughly before eating. That's to eliminate the chances of catching something horrible like salmonella.

This means that if make your own mayonnaise with raw egg, or eat uncooked bamboo shoots, the onus is on you.

Market food:

If you buy your food from fresh markets and delis, you probably don't get any labelling advice at all. If asked, your market seller needs to tell you the following information:

Any ingredients that are allergens;

Directions for storing and/or preparing the food if these are required to ensure its safe use;

The country of origin of the food;

The nutrient content, if a nutrition claim is made on packaged food;

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If a nutrition claim is made, its nutrient content (as required on packaged food);

The percentage of fat, if a claim about fat is made;

The proportion of the characterising ingredient in a mixed food (eg. the proportion of 'strawberry' in 'Strawberry flavoured yoghurt');

Whether the food contains a genetically modified ingredient or is irradiated;

The proportion of offal in a meat mix; and

Whether a meat product is fermented, like salami.

Standard drinks:

When checking alcohol content, you can either go by the number of standard drinks or the percentage of alcohol. Ideally, you check both.

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Find out more about food labelling here.

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