Since food habits are changing it is important to understand food safety when buying packaged foods. Packaged foods can cause your health as much harm as foods that lead to foodborne illnesses. Food allergy is one of the big risks so it is important to read labels and avoid foods you are allergic to. Globalisation has increased the import of foods from other countries so you should buy imported foods only if you have understood the labels.
Pre-packaged foods carry labels according to the FSSAI regulations which include:
- The name of the food
- List of ingredients
- Nutritional information
- Net contents
- Serving size
- Veg & Non-Veg Logo
- Name and address of manufacturer
- Country of origin (For imported food)
- Lot or batch number
- Best before and or Use-by-date, Expiry date
- Storage instructions and instructions for use
According to FSSAI regulations nutritional information is mandatory so consumers know how much protein, fat, vitamins, sugar, salt etc. the food contains in one serving size. Reading nutritional content will help you to remain within the recommended daily allowance (RDI) so you do not consume more than your body requires in one day.
Food safety entails that you pay attention to “best before” and “expiry date” labels on foods. These dates have been placed after the food testing laboratories have determined their shelf life. Best before dates along with storage directions help you avoid food safety problems because the food will remain high in quality only till the date mentioned when stored according to the instructions. Expiry date means that the food must be consumed within the date expiry date because after that date the food could lose its microbiological as well as physical stability, nutritional value and might not be safe to consume.
To maintain food safety you must watch out for packaged foods that have
- High calorie value like high fructose corn syrup and sugars (not more than 4 grams)
- If syrup, invert syrup, cane sugar, molasses or anything ending in ‘ose’ is one of the first three ingredients, or any sugars ending with ‘ol’sorbitol, xylitol, and erythritol because this means the food contains more added sugar.
- Salt/ sodium content that adds excessively to the daily allowance
- Saturated fats, trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils (4 grams per serving)
- Calories that add to your total daily calorie count
- Proteins per meal that exceed 25 to 30 grams
- Carbohydrates come from starchy food as well as sugars so count total carbohydrates before buying.
Some things you might not be aware of
Experts advise against buying packaged foods which are very colourful contain and have high flavours as those may contain synthetic colours & chemical flavours beyond the permissible limits. FSSAI has only allowed colours & flavours in certain food products and have prescribed standard limits. If you wish to avoid sugary drinks then avoid buying those labelled ‘beverages” as they will not be 100% fruit juice.
Don’t just go for low calorie or low sugar food but read the amount of calories and sugar on the nutritional information panel.