Are Food Labels Effective Enough for Children’s Health and Safety?

Summer holiday is nearly here, when many children will be off school, which means parents need to pay more attention to arranging meals and snacks for their kids. A survey from Public Health England (PHE) revealed that children are still not eating their recommended portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Instead, many children are drawn to unhealthy foods due to cartoon animations on packaging.

As a consequence, the UK Parliament pointed out that 37% of Year 6 children (aged 10-11) were overweight in 2020/21. In response, the government is urging the manufacturing and retail industries to recognise the importance of clear food labelling and the potential harm that advertising foods high in fat, sugar, and salt can cause. Manufacturers play a key role in supporting children in fostering a healthy lifestyle by presenting clear nutritional information on food labels.

Nutrition Labels are Vital

Nutrition labels are vital tools that help parents make informed decisions about the food they provide to their children. These labels offer a wealth of information, including calorific content, macronutrient breakdown, vitamins and minerals, ingredients list, and serving size. Allergens are listed and emphasised in the ingredients list.

Traffic light labelling enables parents to better understand the nutritional content of food and compare products that are high, medium, or low in fat, salt, and sugar. Calories are also displayed on the label, helping parents to make healthier snack choices for their children.

Food labelling traffic light system

However, food labels seem not to be effective enough as many consumers find them difficult to understand. Let’s take a closer look at an example: yoghurt.

The Misunderstanding of Yoghurt

Yoghurts are a preferred daily snack for parents, with 67% happy to give them to their children daily (The Grocer). While yoghurts are associated with calcium, ‘good’ bacteria, vitamins, and protein, two in five parents believe that kids’ yoghurt contains too much sugar.

Yoghurt nutrition

Moxham from Yoplait explained that 4% of yoghurt by weight consists of naturally occurring lactose, which is not considered a free sugar. Policymakers and health groups often cite yoghurt-based desserts as high-sugar items, leading to misunderstandings about the category. The nutritional density of children’s yoghurt can vary significantly from that of yoghurt-based desserts.

There is a clear gap between the perceived and actual sugar content in children’s yoghurt. If yoghurt companies clearly present the sugar content on their food labels, it will help parents better understand the nutritional value of yoghurts and make healthier choices for their children.

Missing Allergen on Cookies

Beyond supporting a healthy lifestyle, ensuring the accuracy of food labels, especially allergen information, is a life-saving act. GS1 UK found that poor labelling is responsible for 56% of allergic reactions. Reactions to food allergies can range from a runny nose, coughing, and itchy skin to fatal outcomes.

Dancer Órla Baxendale had a known peanut allergy and always carried an EpiPen. On January 11, 2024, while preparing to perform on stage, she ate cookies from Stew Leonard’s in Connecticut. The cookies contained peanuts, which were not mentioned in the allergen information on the label. She then suffered a severe anaphylactic reaction, and despite using her EpiPen, she tragically died from anaphylactic shock.

It is heartbreaking to hear yet another tragic story caused by incorrect allergen labelling. This incident could have been prevented if the allergen information had been accurately presented on the food label. Even one death due to a food allergy is too many. To protect consumers from fatal allergic reactions, manufacturers must constantly review their labelling processes and ensure the accuracy of food labels.

Ensure Accurate Labelling & Live Reporting

Manufacturers play a crucial role in providing accurate and comprehensive nutrition and allergen information on food labels to help parents make healthier choices and prevent allergen-related issues for their children. From raw materials to finished products, it’s essential to gather precise data on the nutritional and allergen content of the products. The quality team should conduct periodic reviews and audits of labelling practices to ensure accuracy and compliance. If there is any error on a label, the quality team should take prompt action and inform the rest of the team immediately. This can be done via an end-to-end manufacturing information/execution system.

Harford Control not only offers advanced solutions to help manufacturers maintain high standards of accuracy and compliance in their labelling processes but also provides real-time actionable data to ensure seamless communication across the entire factory floor. Visibility is key to motivating the whole team to take action when prompted and thereby drive performance improvement.

When you need help on your label verification and/or real-time line performance visualisation and display, please reach out to us at info@harfordcontrol.com or give us a call on +44 (0)1225 764461.

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