How food packaging helps keep us healthy
From storage instructions to allergy warnings and nutritional information, printed food labels can help improve consumer health.
Food labelling and packaging is an essential element of a company’s brand, and helps a product to stand out on the crowded supermarket shelves. However, printed labels on food products can also play an important role in safeguarding and improving the health of consumers.
The most important elements of any food labels relate to food safety, as they help to safeguard consumers against nasty illnesses such as Salmonella and Listeria.
All food products in the UK include a ‘Use-by’ or a ‘Best Before’ date, and it’s important for consumers to know the difference between them. ‘Best Before’ dates refer to quality rather than safety, and foods are still safe to eat past this date. In contrast, you ignore a ‘Use-by’ date at your peril. These appear on perishable foods such as fresh meat, fish and dairy products, which are unsafe to eat past the specified date.
Food labels also contain important information on how a product should be stored. For example, you may be instructed to store a product below a certain temperature, or to eat within three days of opening. Cooking instructions contained on labels also help to ensure that food is prepared properly and cooked for the right time and to the right temperature.
This food safety information on labels is important for everyone to be aware of, but particularly for vulnerable groups such as the children, the elderly, people with existing health conditions, and pregnant women, who are at greater risk of food poisoning.
Almost 17% of adults in the UK consider themselves to have a food allergy or intolerance. This can range from bloating or a mild rash, through to severe discomfort and even, in severe cases, anaphylactic shock. In fact, around ten people die in the UK each of year of food-induced anaphylaxis. Given the potentially disastrous consequences, it’s easy to see the importance of having food labels with a clear list of ingredients and potential allergens. Under European law, 14 food allergens must always be labelled in pre-packed and non-prepacked food, including nuts, gluten, eggs and milk.
Food labels don’t just offer protection from illness and allergies, they can also help to actively improve our health.
The UK has an obesity epidemic, with over 64% of adults classed as overweight or obese. The food we eat is largely to blame for this, with many people relying on a diet of processed food that is high in salt, sugar and fat. Health professionals are constantly urging us to make healthier choices when it comes to nutrition, and food labels can help us to do this. As well as a full list of ingredients and standard nutritional information, many labels also include a ‘traffic light’ system – whereby a high fat content is denoted in red and a low fat content in green, for example. Although this system has its critics, many health organisations have seen it as an important step forward in getting us eating healthier as a nation.
Food packaging is so ubiquitous, that it’s something consumers tend to take for granted and not think about too deeply. But, from safe storage through to avoiding allergens and making healthier choices, the humble food label plays an important role in keeping us all fit and healthy.