The labelling of food products has undergone a major change with the adoption of Regulation 1169/2011 on food information to consumers.
As always happens with a new standard, a correct interpretation and application is a difficult task, and this time it has been no exception. Regulation has generated so many doubts that the European Commission itself has made a guide of questions and answers
regarding its application to clarify some of the points that aroused doubts.
With the application of the new standard, new errors have been added to the normally observed errors in the labelling of food products. What are the most common mistakes?
1. Name of the food
Article 17 of the Regulation states: “The name of the food shall be its legal name. In the absence of such a name, the name of the food shall be its customary name, or, if there is no customary name or the customary name is not used, a descriptive name of the food shall be provided.”
When there is a legal designation for food, no doubt arises: coffee is called coffee, and no room is left for disputes.
Doubts arise with the customary name, in other words, any name that is accepted as the name of the food, so that consumers in the Member State in which it is sold so not need further explanation. In this case we must interpret what the consumer understands without explanation, and the fact that there are other products on the market that are called in the same way, does not mean that this name is accepted as a common name.
In this case, therefore, it is safest to choose a descriptive name of the product, even if it is not so commercially attractive.
Faced with this problem, many food operators choose to replace the descriptive name to a more attractive trade name, and in this situation problems occur, because in many cases commercial or fancy names are very similar to the legal name, and creates confusion to the consumer. Result: wrong product labelling.
2. Address of the food business operator
The address must include street, city, postal code and country. Otherwise, it will be incomplete. At this point it is important not to complicate something that is relatively easy because it could create problems in customer supplier relationships (mainly when the product is made by a third party).
3. The date of minimum durability or the ‘use by’ date
On some labels, the date of minimum durability, it is not next to the phrase ‘Best before …’ / ‘Best before end …’ but is found elsewhere on the label.
When this occurs, indicate where on the label we can find it. Eg “‘Best before … / ‘Best before end …: see plug”.
4. List of ingredients
Two main errors observed in the list of ingredients:
• Labelling of certain substances or products causing allergies or intolerances.
According to the Regulations, the name of the substance or product as listed in Annex II shall be emphasized through a typeset that clearly distinguishes it from the rest of the list of ingredients, for example by means of the font, style or background colour. The aim is that people with allergies or intolerances can easily detect that the food is safer for them.
The common error observed in the labels is that allergens are not highlighted or the label is made incorrectly.
• Quantitative indication of ingredients
It is necessary to indicate the quantity of an ingredient when:
(a) it appears in the name of the food or is usually associated with that name by the consumer;
(b) it is emphasised on the labelling in words, pictures or graphics; or
(c) it is essential to characterise a food and to distinguish it from products from which it might be confused because of its name or appearance.
At this point, it is common practice to omit including in the list of ingredients the percentage of products that appear in the pictures of the label, or as part of the name of the food. Doubt also arises: when is an ingredient essential to characterize the food? Again, there is no regulation in this regard and we must turn to the interpretation of the standard.
5. Nutritional information.
• Nutritional table
Although Annex XV of Regulation regulates the presentation of the nutrition table, errors are frequent in this area.
The table must conform to the following:
|vitamins and minerals
|the units specified in point 1 of Part A of Annex XIII
Highlighted in yellow, denotes that mandatory nutrition information should be indicated in the table, and white, that the information is voluntary.
• Supplemented indication
In addition to the mandatory nutrition information, the information regarding the energy value can be repeated, or similarly, the information of the energy value together with the information on fat, saturates, sugars and salt.
This means that it cannot be only repeated in the fat, as it is legally wrong.
The difficult interpretation of the rules.
These are just some of the causes of incorrect labelling of products. But there are many more, such as nutrition and health claims, which can generate many questions.
However, are there tools to make the legislation more understandable? Both the European Commission and the AECOSAN have on their pages guides that can help to clarify some points You can also ask them specific questions. But the truth is that the material is insufficient and the answers may come after months of waiting, so many food operators, interpret and apply the rule blindly. As a result mislabelling.