Recently, the EU introduced regulations at European level to dictate the mandatory information that must be provided on the packaging of food products.
Below is a list of the different types of information that must be printed on the packaging:
Physical form of the product
In addition to the product specification, the label must indicate the state it is in, for example if it is powdered, concentrated, frozen, etc…
The nutritional table must indicate the calorie intake and the nutrients contained in the food product: Calories (kcal and kJ), Fats (of which saturated), Carbohydrates (including sugars), Protein, Fiber, Salt. The values must be expressed per 100 g or 100 ml of the product, or per portion.
The nutritional table, moreover, must be positioned in such a way as to be easily visible, usually on the back of the packaging, as the front is used for communication purposes.
Allergens and vegetable fat
In addition to the list of ingredients in descending order of weight, any potential allergens contained in the product must be indicated (the most common are: gluten, eggs, nuts, milk, etc…). In particular, there is the obligation to highlight the allergens using different characters (font, color or size) so that consumers can quickly identify them.
The obligation to specify the type of vegetable fats or oils used in the production was also introduced (for example: olive oil, palm oil, sunflower oil, hydrogenated fats, etc…). The generic indication “vegetable oils” is therefore not enough. Some companies took advantage of the legal vacuum caused by the previous law and did not specify the exact type of vegetable oils used, thus hiding the use of cheap and poor quality ingredients (for example, palm oil or rapeseed oil).
The characters used for all mandatory food information must have a minimum size of 1.2 mm (measuring the characters printed in lower case). For smaller packages (where the area of the largest surface is less than 80 cm2) a minimum font size of 0.9 mm is required.
In case of highly perishable products, the expiration date must be preceded by the words “Use by”, because after the date specified the product should not be consumed.
In case of products that can be consumed for a longer period of time, the correct wording to be included is “Best before”, which indicates that the product can be consumed beyond the specified date without endangering the health of the consumer, although it may present minor alterations of its organoleptic characteristics.
The manufacturer has the obligation to indicate the best way to preserve the product, with specific indications such as: “keep in a cool and dry place”, “keep away from heat sources”, etc…
The manufacturer’s headquarters address must be indicated in full (city, street and street number). The address of the production plant, however, is optional.
Country of origin
For some products such as fruits and vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, honey, fish, fresh and frozen meat, the country of origin must be specified.
The mandatory information on food products must be written using a language that can be easily understood by consumers. Information can be given in one or more official EU languages; this is a common practice as companies often use the same packaging to distribute the products in different countries.
In case of distance selling, the mandatory information on the label, with the exception of the expiration date, must also be published on the websites to make them available to consumers before the sale is completed.
Some products are exempted from this legislation, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, single-ingredient, unprocessed products and pre-packaged products.