To make informed decisions, it’s important to be able to understand food labelling. When you pick up an item of food, do you look at all the information a food label contains? What do all the codes and numbers mean? Let’s find out by looking at each part of the labelling system then go back to the virtual shop to review.
Use by date means precisely that – use by! Foods should be eaten up until the use-by date but not after, as they may no longer be safe to eat. They are found on perishable food products such as meat products, soft cheese and ready-prepared salads. Use by dates are different to Best Before dates – they are usually found on foods that last longer like frozen, dried or canned products, so are not relevant to fresh red meat products.
Guidance on how food should be stored to keep it safe. Meat, by law, must also have a storage temperature on the label i.e. Keep refrigerated between 0 and 5°at the bottom of the fridge. Keep cooked meat or leftovers in the fridge for 2 days, and if meat is in the freezer, ideally use within 3 months, and it’s best to defrost in the fridge.
Country of origin lets you know where your food has come from. In some meat labelling, additional information is required including country of slaughter, country of cutting and country of packing. There will also be a batch number which identifies traceability.
To be classed as Scotch Beef UKGI, Scotch Lamb UKGI or Specially Selected Pork, one of the requirements is that the animal must have been slaughtered in Scotland. You can check that the “Slaughter in the UK” code begins with a 1 to be certain that this is the case.
You can see where the animal has been born by checking this descriptor. Most country codes are straightforward enough – UK is used for the United Kingdom, as you’d expect, IRL for Ireland, BR for Brazil, and so on.
Although Scotch Beef UKGI, Scotch Lamb UKGI and Specially Selected Pork must be slaughtered in Scotland, it can be cut and packed elsewhere. This code indicates the plant at which your meat was cut.
Front-of-pack nutritional labelling is not required by law.
However, these labels are useful for gaining a quick overview of nutritional information. They use a colour-coded system: red = high, amber = medium and green = low. The greener, the better. Back-of-pack nutritional information gives more detail and is required by law, but is not as quickly deciphered.
If a product has 2 or more ingredients (including additives) they must be listed. Ingredients are listed in order of weight. Allergens must also be highlighted, usually in bold. Allergens include milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, soya beans, crustaceans and gluten containing cereals such as wheat.
Beef from cattle born and reared in Scotland on QMS assured farms.
Lamb from sheep born and reared in Scotland on QMS assured farms.
Pork products from the QMS assurance scheme, ensuring the highest levels of animal welfare.
Region Geographic Indicator for the UK.
Food has been produced, packed, stored and transported in the UK.
Indicates some part of the production process in Scotland but no official meaning.
Meat from farms independently inspected by the Scottish SPCA.
Certified organic product, made of 95% organic material.
Suitable for home freezing but not a frozen product.