Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has today (Monday 2, November) launched an awareness-raising campaign encouraging consumers to spend a little longer looking at food labelling.
We have heard through forums and chatting with the general public that consumers tend to fall back on the ‘sight and smell test’ as they feel this means less food is wasted. Scottish consumers can have conflicting priorities, and we know that the price of food can be an important factor but the cost can be much higher to their health if easily accessible information on the label is overlooked or ignored.
Some of the country’s biggest supermarkets are supporting the #lookatthelabel campaign, which encourages people in Scotland to make safer, healthier and more informed choices when buying food and drink.
#Lookatthelabel aims to increase understanding of the importance of ‘use by’ dates, colour-coded nutrition labelling, storage advice and allergens information.
Fewer than one-third of adults (28%) report that they always check the nutrition content of food. The Front of Pack colour-coded labelling, which has been adopted by the majority of the UK’s major food retailers, provides nutritional information to help consumers make healthier choices.
With only one-fifth (22%) of Scots using product packaging for finding out information about food safety, and a third (32%) having experienced food poisoning, understanding the information on food labels is, according to Geoff Ogle, Chief Executive of Food Standards Scotland, one important way consumers can reduce the risk of food poisoning.
Mr Ogle added: “Food is important to all of us and perhaps not something we think too much about when buying it so we want to highlight the potential risks to consumer health, and that is why we are launching this innovative campaign, using blindfold imagery, which will hopefully inspire consumers to take a closer look at the label.”
“The #lookatthelabel campaign asks consumers to take a few extra seconds to look at food labels beyond the price, and spend a bit more time looking at what the information on labels is telling you.”
This is important from a public health perspective where we want consumers to be able to make healthier choices by swopping to products with more greens and ambers. From a food safety angle, we are encouraging consumers to pay attention to date labelling, content, storage and handling information. This is even more important for more vulnerable groups such as older people, children, pregnant women and people with allergies.
“How you’re going to store food isn’t something many consumers consider at point of purchase so we’re reminding people to look at the label when they’re at home putting their shopping away too.”
Which? Executive Director Richard Lloyd said:
"People need to know what's in the food they eat, so we welcome moves from Food Standards Scotland to promote clearer information through this campaign.
"Colour-coded labelling in particular helps consumers choose healthier options at a glance. We now want more manufacturers to follow the lead of supermarkets and commit to colour-coded labelling on their products.”
The one-month long awareness-raising drive will include press, radio, digital, poster and trolley advertising, social media activity and PR.
Case study – Christine Livingston, 35, Renfrew
Christine Livingston, 35, of Renfrew found herself feeling sick and having to take time off work after she ate a ready meal that was a couple of days past its ‘use by’ date.
A busy mum of two young girls she simply forgot to look at the label thinking her pasta dish that needed cooked in the microwave had been in the fridge for only a couple of days, when in actual fact it had been one week since her last big food shop.
Christine is used to checking the labels on certain food products when grocery shopping for allergy advice as she has a peanut allergy to watch out for but admits to not always checking for ‘use by’ dates or nutritional information.
Christine, who works as a manager at the David Lloyd Leisure Club in Renfrew, said: “A few months ago I became sick after eating a microwave meal on my lunch break at work. I was almost instantly unwell and couldn’t understand why. When I looked at the label I was shocked to see it was a couple of days out of date. I just forgot the length of time it was in the fridge and I didn’t think to look at the label.
“I’m now much more careful when buying food in the grocery store and spend a few seconds longer looking at the label, in particular checking fresh food for its use by date and storage advice.” Christine’s husband Iain, also 35, works as a transport manager in Glasgow. He also admits to not always taking a few seconds to look at the label of food.
He said: “I usually have a quick look at food labels when I’m in the supermarket but I’d never think to look again when at home. In the past I’ve put fresh pasta in the cupboard instead of the fridge or put tins of fruit or veg in the fridge instead of in a cupboard. Luckily, my wife Christine is a bit more switched on than me and reminds me to look at the label and check where food should be kept.”
But it’s not only food safety that Christine and Iain now look out for. The colour-coded food labelling found at the front of food packaging helps consumers understand the nutritional content of food.
Christine added: “Being a busy mum juggling work, school runs, visiting family and doing all the home cooking it’s easy to grab what’s on your shopping list. In the past, I’ve been shocked to discover the sugar and salt content in some food products that you associate with being healthy such as cereals and yoghurt.
“The Food Standards Scotland #lookatthelabel campaign has made me more aware of the importance of taking a few extra seconds for checking the fat, salt and sugar content. It’s especially important now I have two girls aged seven and four as I want them to eat healthy food that fills them up.”