The UK’s Minister for Public Health has introduced new food labelling guidelines which she says will make it easier for consumers to make healthy and informed choices about the food they purchase. The system will use red, amber and green colour-coding, together with percentage Reference Intakes  (replacing Guideline Daily Amounts), to help consumers check the fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar and calorie content of their food. 

Many of the major supermarkets, including Asda, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Lidl and Aldi, together with food manufacturers such as MARS UK, Nestlé UK, PepsiCo UK and Premier Foods, have signed up to the voluntary scheme. The UK Department of Health says that participating businesses represent more than 60% of food sold in the UK.

The label placed on the front of the food packaging will contain the following:

  • Information on the energy content in kilojoules and kilocalories per 100g/ml and in a stated portion of the product
  • Information on the amount of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt in grams, again in a stated portion of the product
  • Portion size information that means something to the consumer on a practical level, for example, half a pizza or half a can
  • The percentage of the daily maximum intake (Reference Intake) of each nutrient and energy content in a portion of the food, and
  • Red (high), amber (medium) and green (low) colour-coding of the nutrient content of the food

The colour-coding for each nutrient will usually be calculated on a per 100g/ml basis. However, where products are sold in portion sizes greater than 100g for food or 150ml for drink, manufacturers must also use ‘per portion’ criteria in the colour-coding system. This means that a product which accounts for more than a certain percentage (30% for food and 15% for drinks) of an adult’s recommended daily maximum intake for a particular nutrient will be labelled as red for that nutrient, irrespective of that product’s content per 100g/ml.

The current scheme aims to eliminate confusion around previous labelling systems used by food manufacturers and to allow consumers to establish quickly the content of the food they are purchasing. The move is seen as a preventative measure in tackling high rates of obesity and other illnesses. While plans to introduce a similar scheme in Ireland have been mooted for some time, there are no concrete proposals yet in place.