Just the facts on labels

Brian Hartz
May 29, 2009
Written by
As fast-food restaurants and other foodservice providers face pressure to list calorie counts and even full nutritional information on menus, the importance of proper labelling is coming to the forefront of issues facing the baking industry.
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In April, a war of words erupted between the Centre for Science in the Public Interest and the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association over Bill 156, a private member’s bill in Ontario that would require fast-food restaurants that do more than $5 million in business, to limit trans fats and provide nutrition labels on menus.

According to CBC News, the CRFA vice-president Stephanie Jones called Bill 156 “a huge step backward,” in that restaurant chains have already begun providing this information to consumers, and thus the proposed legislation would undo all the effort these companies have put forth so far.

In rebuttal, CSPI national co-ordinator Bill Jeffery said those chains “have proven themselves to be much better at defeating nutrition labelling bills than delivering on their own promises to provide nutrition information to their customers.”

In the CBC News article, dated April 9, Jeffrey cited 2008 research by CSPI showing that “two-thirds of 27 restaurant chains ‘largely failed’ to give consumers nutrition information, and none of the 136 restaurants visited provided nutrition information on menus.”

To further muddy the waters, changes are coming to the way allergens must be listed on nutrition labels, and bakeries need to be aware of the new requirements to not only satisfy customers’ expectations, but also avoid fines and red tape.

nutrition-label
 
Luckily, organizations such as the Guelph Food Technology Institute stand ready to assist. GFTC’s business development manager Carol Finlan and product development technician Lori Alexander appeared at Traynor’s Wholesale Bakery show in late March in Hamilton to highlight how regulatory changes to product labelling will affect bakers.

In an overview of GFTC and the services it offers, Finlan stressed the need for bakeries to get any potential new products tested in a laboratory setting prior to putting them on sale.

“It’s very important as you’re trying to design a new product to record and keep track of these measurements because later on, when you want to produce the same batch again, you want to make sure you’ve really got the same product,” she told the audience of mostly retail bakers, “and the only way to do that is to have some basic measurements that you continue to look at.”

Also, having your products’ nutrition information certified by an organization such as GFTC can help keep you in the good graces of Health Canada and its enforcement agency; the Canadian Food Inspection Agency – especially, Alexander says, if you are making a health claim about your product.

“Anything that has to do with health or disease, Health Canada and/or CFIA will take a look at these claims,” she says, “and if your products are quite a bit off, they will make you take your products off shelves and re-label them.”

Alexander stressed that laboratory analysis is only one way of getting information for a nutrition label. It also happens to be the most costly method.

“Let’s say we have a cookie and we need to get a nutrition facts panel for it. How do we go about this? Laboratory analysis, nutrient database calculation, or a combination of the two,” she says.

“Laboratory analysis is testing samples of your product by chemical or instrumental means. It can be quite expensive. But sometimes it has to be sent to a lab, if, say, you are making a health claim, if you’re making a fortified product with more vitamins or minerals than our database can calculate, or if you are using ingredients that don’t have a lot of nutritional information available. For example, I just had a client come to me with seabuckthorn berries in their product. Those are fairly new to Canada and we don’t have them in our database, so that product would have to be sent to the lab.

“Nutrient database calculations use the nutrient content of the ingredients you are using, taking into account serving size of finished products. So we would use the product recipe, the ingredient information and anything else we could find through our database. So what we need for this is nutrient content information for your ingredients. The best-case scenario is having spec sheets from your suppliers if you are buying in large quantities. Having that information is very beneficial for us in assisting you. We can plug that it into our database and give you a more accurate picture of the nutritional information. We can also use it to help you come up with an appropriate serving size for your product.”

All well and good, but how much do these services cost?

According to Alexander, the first label is $350 and each subsequent label is $125. However, for frozen or par-baked items that come with manufacturers’ labels, the cost comes down to $100 for the first label and $75 for each additional label.

OK, so do retail bakers really need nutrition labels on their products? Not always, Alexander says, but for the most part, yes.

“If you’re selling at farmers’ markets, you usually don’t need labels. I’ve heard of a few farmers’ markets that are requiring them because of demand from customers who want to know what they’re eating.”

The rule of thumb, she says, is: “Anything that’s prepackaged has to have a nutrition facts panel.

“So if you’re packaging it the night before, then putting it out to sell the next day, you must have a label. But if the client is coming in and picking out the cookies they want, and then you put them in a bag, then you don’t need a label, but it’s something you should be prepared to offer if they want it.”

Allergens
As noted above, changes are coming to the way allergens are identified on food packaging. Firstly, Health Canada has proposed a new bilingual labelling statement, “Allergen and Intolerance Information – Contains …,” that will be required on packaging. At the moment this information is voluntary, but Alexander predicts it will be mandatory within a year.

“But because you are responsible for your consumers’ safety, allergens are something you’re going to want to identify on your labels regardless,” she says. “This can be done through complete and accurate listing of ingredients, implementing allergen-prevention programs, and cautionary labelling. Cautionary labels are the ones that say, for example, ‘May contain peanuts.’”

However, Alexander says, a bakery cannot use cautionary statements in a generic way, in lieu of using prevention programs in its facility.

“You have to know what’s going on, what else is being processed, what else is going through the lines. You can’t just say ‘may contain …’ and list all the allergens in a blanket statement just to get yourself off the hook.”

Secondly, Health Canada is trying to quash the use of the term “traces” as it relates to the amounts of allergens in food products.

“It is no longer acceptable because it can be misleading for consumers,” Alexander says. “It implies that there is only a very small amount of that allergen when in fact there could be a lot. There’s no way of knowing for sure.”

Finally, the actual list of allergens will be changing. Currently, the nine allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, eggs, milk, seafood (shrimp, crustaceans), soy, wheat and sulfites.

“Instead of just wheat,” Alexander says, “all gluten-containing ingredients, such as rye and barley, will have to be listed as allergens.”

The Baking Association of Canada has weighed in on this issue with criticism of the new labelling statement as well as Health Canada’s timeline – 12 months – for compliance with the new regulations. For more information, see the BAC Newsletter in the January/February 2009 issue of Bakers Journal.

Contact Lori Alexander at 519-821-1246, ext. 5042, or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

  Nutrition facts panel requirements:
 
  Language: English and French, in equal prominence.
Font: Sans serif.
Type size: 1.6 mm or 1/16 inch.
Colour: Black or dark ink on a white or neutral background. If black is not one of the inks used on your package, you can use the next darkest colour, such as navy blue.
Layout and positioning: Must be printed on a continuous space – no cutting off corners. For difficult-to-label packages, such as pies and buttertarts, the nutrition facts can be printed in a pamphlet for the customer to take home and read.
Weights: Must be in grams; kilograms can be used if product weight exceeds 1,000 grams.
Ingredients list: With some exceptions, such as flavours and colours, must be written in descending order proportional to weight. Components of ingredients must also be listed.
Shelf life: “Best before” date must be listed if shelf life is less than 90 days.
 

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