It is important that consumers check the labels before buying pre-packed foods

Sunitha returned home with her purchases from a renowned sweets and savouries shop that has many outlets in various parts of the city. Though she frequented the shop, it had never occurred to her to look at the labels on the food products purchased from that store, the main reasons being that the items tasted good and people thronged the place.

However, during her chat with her friend later in the day, Sunitha learnt about the lack of compliance of norms set by the Food Authority, even by a few bigger companies, when it came to labelling.

This prompted Sunitha to look at the labels on the pre-packed food stuff and she was surprised to find that the items either had no labels or there were small stickers affixed to the pack with illegible information. The next day, Sunitha went to the store and questioned this but there was no proper response. Subsequently, she brought the issue to our notice.

We, in turn, wrote to the store, highlighting the provisions of the notified Food Safety and Standards Regulations on Packaging and Labelling that mandates requirement of labels with explicit information on all pre-packed food items, pointing out the violations and demanding that they comply with the Regulations at once. It was also mentioned that selling pre-packed food without labels was an unfair trade practice.

The manager of the store immediately visited our office and requested for a month’s time to set things right. However, the same violations continued even after a month and a half and we have now represented the matter to the Food Authorities and are awaiting a response.

Clear and legible

The Regulations laid down by the Food Authority clearly indicate that every pre-packed food should carry a label and has to be applied in such a manner that they will not become separated from the container. The contents on the label are required to be clear, prominent, indelible and readily legible for the consumer. If it is a container covered by a wrapper, the wrapper is expected to have the necessary information.

The labelling requirements include the name of the food, the list of ingredients, nutritional information, declaration regarding vegetarian/non-vegetarian and the food additives included, name and complete address of the manufacturer, net quantity, lot/code/batch identification, date of manufacturing or packing, best before and use by date, country of origin in case of imported food and instructions for use. All declarations made on the package are obligated to be legible and prominent, plain, unambiguous and conspicuous in size number and colour.

The Regulations also specify certain exemptions from labelling requirements. For instance, if the surface area of the package is not more than 100 sq cm, the label of such packs need not have information on the list of ingredients, lot/batch/code number, nutritional information and instructions for use. At the same time, this information should be given on the wholesale packages. Similarly, the date of manufacture/ best before date/expiry date are not required to be mentioned on the package having surface area of less than 30 sq cm. Only the wholesale packages need to carry the same. Also, in case of foods with a shelf-life of not more than seven days, the ‘date of manufacture’ is not mandated but only the ‘use by date’ is expected to be mentioned on the labels.

Now, this clause is a matter of real concern, as, without the date of manufacture, there is every possibility for old/expired stock being sold by the retailers.

Thus, it is imperative that consumers be alert and check labels before making a purchase and for the Food Authorities to carry out inspections periodically in order to ensure compliance.

(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details / queries contact 2491 4358 / 2446 0387 or helpdesk@cag.org.in)

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