• Thursday, December 07, 2023
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Importance of reading labels


Reading labels when you buy products in the shops can help you make good choices. Processed and packaged foods and drinks included. They are also found in cans, boxes, bottles, jars, and bags with a lot of nutrition and food safety information on their labels or packaging.

Hence for Cynthia Eke, a house wife says, “What I read is the ‘Best Before Date’ to ensure it has not expired. That’s all.”

This response is not different from most of the responses received by BusinessDay Consumer Business.

In another recent survey across major shopping malls in Lagos, findings show how most consumers ignore reading labels when they go out to purchase stuffs. The survey shows that 50 percent of shoppers rarely or never read the ingredients list too.

At first glance, this might seem extremely dispiriting to those who have agonised about how to meet regulations, however, it could all come down to meaning. The question remains, how much of the shopping basket is actually made up of frequent products that are not scrutinised each and every time of purchase.

It is interesting to note that many consumers readily acknowledge that they consciously do not read labels on products that concern public health information. Because they decide to indulge themselves, they know they might not like what they would find on the label.

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Others admit to be more swayed by price and avoid reading labels in case their decision is challenged. With everyone becoming more health conscious, the frequently checked label is the expiring date. While this means different things to certain individuals, the expiring date life is the length of time a commodity may be stored without becoming unfit for use or consumption. As it applies to foods, beverages, pharmaceutical drugs, chemicals, and many other perishable items, it gives an indication when to use the product.

While few people pay little or no attention about expiring dates as regards consumer products and drugs before consumption, health experts believe this has grave health implications, such as food poisoning, etc.

Though manufacturers determine expiration date on products to assist consumers and malls in determining freshness, these dates on product labels can be confusing. Here are necessary tips you need to always observe;

Packing codes

These codes, which appear as a series of letters and/or numbers on the pack- age, sometimes indicate the date or time of manufacture. Often, though, they simply appear as a meaningless jumble.

Either way, packing codes help manufacturers and grocers rotate their stock and quickly locate products in the event of a recall. But they are not meant to be interpreted as an indicator of either food safety or quality.

Sell-by dates

Most sell-by dates are found on perishables like meat, seafood, poultry and milk. The date is a guide for stores to know how long they can display a particular product. While an individual can buy a product before the sell-by date expires, one can still store it at home for some time beyond that date, as long as you follow safe storage procedures (check the Keep It or Toss It database for the shelf life of specific foods).

Milk, for instance, that has been continuously refrigerated will usually re- main drinkable for about one week after the “sell-by” date on the package. Experts say ground beef can be stored in the refrigerator for one to two days after purchasing it, even if the sell-by date expires during that time.

Born on date

This is the date of manufacture and has been resurrected recently to date beer. Beer can go sub-par after three months. While these products can be affected by sun, the light can reactivate micro-organisms in the beer. It is for this reason that extra care must be taken with beer in clear bottles, as opposed to brown or green.

Guaranteed fresh date

This usually refers to bakery items. They will still be edible after the date, but will not be at peak freshness.

Best if used by and use-by date

With emphasis on the best qualifier in this term, it means the product should retain maximum freshness, flavour and texture if used by this date. It is not a purchase-by or safety date. Beyond this date, the product begins to deteriorate, although it may still be edible

This is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.

Pack date

This is the date the item was packed, most-used on canned and boxed goods. It is usually in the form of an encrypted code not easy to decipher. It may be coded by month (M), day (D), and year (Y), such as YYMMDD or MMDDYY. Or it may be coded using Julian (JJJ) numbers, where January 1 would be 001 and December 31 would be 365. In even more convoluted coding, letters A through M (omitting the letter I) are often assigned to the months, with A being January and M being December, plus a numeric day, either preceded or followed by the numeric year.

Below are some food storage tips and hints –

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• Once opened, many of the dates be- come obsolete since the contents now become perishable. It is advisable to use products as quickly as possible after opening.

• Be sure to refrigerate leftovers in a covered container (not a can) and use within 3 to 5 days.

• Some canned goods (such as condiments and pickled items) will still retain some longevity if refrigerated. Most condiments will have a warning to refrigerate after opening if necessary, so check the packaging carefully.

• When buying foods, always check the expiration date. Select the date farthest in the future for optimum shelf-life.

• Fresher packages may be at the rear or buried. Depending on how quickly you will be using an item, it may be worth digging out the newer product, but be sure to re-stack for the grocer.

• Take a tip from grocers and rotate your stock at home. Rather than trying to decipher cryptic codes on cans, use a marker to write the purchase date on cans and packaged foods to help you judge the age.

• Regardless of the expiration date, do not take a chance on cans that are bulging or oozing from the seam. Dented cans should also be avoided.

• Many baking mixes contain dehydrated fats which can become rancid with time or leaveners that may lose their potency. Check the date.

• Optimum storage temperature for canned goods is 65 degrees F. Higher storage temperatures can reduce shelf-life by up to 50 percent.

• Most canned goods can be stored up to 1 year under optimum temperature. Citrus fruits, fruit juices, pickles, peppers, sauerkraut, green beans, asparagus, beets, and all tomato products should be used within 6 months. If summer heat brings your kitchen temperature to 75 degrees F. or above, even for a short time period, cut those storage times in half.

• Canned foods should never be frozen. The expansion can split the seams of the can or break the glass container.

• In general, foods canned in glass have a longer shelf-life. However, they must be stored in the dark since light can accelerate some natural chemical reactions.

• Examine cellophane, plastic, and box packages to be sure they are not punctured or torn. Once the seal is penetrated, the integrity of the contents is compromised.

• Get your food home quickly from the store and into proper storage.

• The bottom line is to trust one’s eyes and nose. If it looks bad and/or smells bad, toss it out.

Product dates

You might see one of three types of product dates on some foods you buy:

“Sell by” tells how long the store can sell foods like meat, poultry, eggs, or milk products—buy it before this date

“Use by” tells how long the food will be at peak quality—if you buy or use it after that date, some foods might not be safe any longer

“Best if used by” (or “best if used before”) tells how long the food has the best flavor or quality—it is not a purchase or safety date

Ingredients list

This tells you everything that a processed food contains. Did you know that the items are presented from largest to smallest ingredient? That is, there is more of the first ingredient listed on the label than any other ingredient. The last ingredient on the list is found in the smallest amount.

Nutrition Facts label

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires a Nutrition Facts label on all processed food. You can find nutrition information for fresh vegetables and fruits. Or you can call the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Information Center at 1-301-504-5414.

The Nutrition Facts label is all white with black letters. You can see a sample label below, along with a few key things to know about it. To learn more about the information on this label, go to FDA’s Labeling and Nutrition. Note: The FDA recently proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts label to reflect the latest scientific information linking diet and chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease. Proposed updates include a new design that highlights key parts of the label such as calories and serving sizes.

Anne Agbaje