Those of your read my blog last week about the new allergen labeling regulations coming into force in the UK in 2014 may have noted Hazel Gowland’s comment at the bottom about the legibility of labeling on prepacked foods – what you buy in the shops. I had suggested that we had sort of got that one hacked but as Hazel pointed out, all too often that is very far from the case.
Yes, the foods do all have their ingredients printed somewhere on the pack – but, how easy, or even possible sometimes, is it to read them? Printed in up to fifteen languages, in minute print, often on shiny wrappers in a colours which are very similar to the background colour – and all too often tucked under the fold of the wrapper. Even those with 20/20 vision, a spotlight and a magnifiying glass would struggle to read them.
Yet, the regulations (courtesy of Hazel I have quoted from the relevant sections below) make it quite clear that ingredients labelling needs to be easily legible and that it needs to warn the prospective purchaser of any dangers which may lurk within – such as one of the major allergens.
And this is not just nit picking. Not being able to read a label easily, or being misled by the packaging to believe that a product is safe for you when it is not, can have tragic consequences – such as the death of seven-year-old Deja Hay in 2008.
Deja, his mum and his sister were all allergic to cow’s milk. One hot day, Deja’s mum bought a carton of what she believed was pineapple and coconut juice (see below). In fact the juice also contained cow’s milk but the picture on the front was of pineapples and coconuts, not cows, and the cow’s milk was only mentioned in tiny writing on the side of the pack, English being only one of the four languages in which it was printed. Deja collapsed and died within half an hour.
Sweet wrappers and juice wrappers are amongst the worst offenders, but the ridiculous proliferation of languages appears on all kinds of products. If companies cannot sell enough product in individual countries to justify dedicated packaging (hard to believe), why can they not just use a plain pack with stick-on ingredients labels in the appropriate language for each country which could then be printed in a reasonable size?
If you find any particularly glaring examples of either multiple languages or tiny, shiny, same-coloured, illegible print, sending them to the customer service department of the relevant brand with a copy of the regulations below would be a good and worthy thing to do!
Food labeling legislation UK 1996
38 (1) The particulars with which a food is required to be marked and labeled……. shall be easy to understand, clearly legible and indelible and, when a food is sold to the ultimate consumer, the said particulars shall be marked in a conspicuous place in such a way as to be easily visible……not in any way hidden, obscured or interrupted by any other written or pictorial matter…..
General food regulation 178/2002 EC
Article 14. Food safety requirements:
3. In determining whether any food is unsafe, regard shall be had:…..
(b) to the information provided to the consumer including information on the label….. concerning the avoidance of specific adverse health effects……
Article 16. Presentation
………the information which is made available through whatever medium shall not mislead consumers.
Food Information Regulation 1169/2011
Article 13 – Presentation of mandatory particulars
1. …….mandatory food information (eg major allergens) shall be marked in a conspicuous place in such a way as to be be easily visible, clearly legible….and not in way way hidden or obscured …. by any other written or pictorial matter…….