Understanding food labels: consumer information

When you buy food and drink in New Zealand, you should find labels on the packaging tell you about the food, including ingredients, nutritional information, and how to store it.

What food packaging must say

Nearly every food product requires a label, with varying degrees of detail. A food label must be in English. Other languages can be used as well as English, as long as they don't contradict the information.

Food labels must show:

  • the name of the food
  • a lot number which identifies where and when the food was packaged or prepared and the batch
  • a date mark
  • the name and address of the supplier or business in New Zealand or Australia, who can be contacted if more product information is needed
  • mandatory warning statements, advisory statements and declarations to identify certain ingredients or substances that may trigger allergies or be of concern
  • an ingredient list, including any food additives such as preservatives, flavours and colours. Food additives should be identified by their function and name or code number (for example, 'Thickener (pectin)' or 'Thickener (440)')
  • a date marking (usually ‘Use By’ or ‘Best Before’ dates) for most packaged food with a shelf life of less than 2 years
  • directions for use and storage to ensure the food will keep for the period indicated by the date mark. Directions may include how you should store the food to stop it spoiling or reduce the growth of pathogens that may cause illness
  • a Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) to allow you to compare the quantities of 7 key nutrients per serving, and per 100g (or 100ml if liquid)
  • the percentage of a product's characterising ingredient, if relevant (for example, cocoa in chocolate or strawberries in strawberry yoghurt)
  • the net weight or volume.

For more on what each part of a label should include:

How to read food labels

When food needs no label

Some foods don't have to meet all these labelling requirements. However, any specific health and safety information must be displayed nearby or be available if you ask for it. An example of specific health and safety information might be if food contains caffeine or substances that can trigger allergic reactions.

Foods that don't require every part of the label include:

  • small food packets like chewing gum
  • foods for catering
  • alcoholic drinks.

Foods that don't require any label at all include:

  • unpackaged food
  • food made and packaged where it is sold, or food packaged in front of you
  • ready-to-eat food delivered to order (for example, pizza)
  • whole or cut fresh fruit and vegetables in transparent packages
  • food sold at a fundraising event
  • food in an inner package not designed for sale without the outer package.
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