Understanding Food & Nutrition Labels
Why should I read food labels?
Whether you are concerned about your weight, or health, or for any reason, it is always important to know the kind of food you are putting into your body. Food labels help us to make safer and healthier food choices by:
- Listing ingredients used in the food
- Warning us if the food contains food allergens
- Giving us information on the country of origin for the food, and details of the local business entity responsible for it
- Explaining how to store, prepare or cook the food we buy
- Informing us the weight of the food
- Telling us which nutrients, in what amounts, are in a product
- Providing date of minimum durability or the 'use by' date
You can refer to SFA's Interactive Label, which illustrates the various features and information found on a complying label.
All prepacked food for sale in Singapore must be labelled with mandatory information such as name of food, statement of ingredients, net quantity and source of the food.
Mandatory labelling information must be easy to see. It must also be clearly legible, and should not be in any way hidden, obscured by any other written or pictorial matter. The following mandatory information are to be in printed letters not less than 1.5 mm in height. This means that the lowercase of the printed alphabet must be at least 1.5mm in height.
- Name of food
- Statement of ingredients
- Net quantity
The mandatory labelling information would also apply to pre-packed foods that are intended for human consumption and offered as a prize, reward or sample for the purpose of advertising.
A food label may also carry information which are not mandatory. Information which are mandatory for all foods would be indicated when you mouse over them.
Name of food and its supplier
To help identify a food, food labels must show:
- Name of the food
- Name and address of local business entity
A common name or description of the food must be stated on the label to inform the purchaser of the true nature of the products.
Sometimes, the "brand" name, "trade mark", "fancy" name, "sales" name or non-English names on food labels would include descriptive words. This should not be taken as a description on the nature for the food. Look out for the English naming or description of the food, as well as the statement of ingredients to find out the true nature of the product.
The food business operator is responsible to ensure that their prepacked food is not described or presented in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its product content. If in doubt on the product naming, you should approach the food business operator directly for clarification.
Statement of Ingredients
The statement of ingredients lists all the ingredients used in the food product, in descending order of weight. This means the ingredient listed first is present in the largest amount and weighs the most, while the ingredient listed last is present in the smallest amount and weighs the least.
This mandated labelling information is very important for consumers with allergies or food intolerances. Some food ingredients can cause allergic reactions which can vary from mild to severe. To safeguard public health and to be in line with international food safety standards, Singapore requires the statement of ingredients on labels of prepacked food to clearly indicate the following ingredients known to cause hypersensitivity to individuals:
||Cereals containing gluten
||Wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt, their hybridised strains and their products.
||Crustacean and crustacean products
||Crayfish, prawns, shrimps, lobsters, crabs and their products.
||Eggs and egg products
||Eggs from laying hen, duck, turkey, quail, goose, gull, guinea fowl and their products.
||Fish and fish products
||Molluscs such as oysters, clams, scallops and their products.
||Peanuts, soybeans and their products
||Peanuts, which may be declared using "groundnuts" or similar terms, and soybeans, which may be declared using terms such as "soya" or "soy".
||Milk and milk products (including lactose)
||Milk from cows, buffaloes, goats and their products.
||Tree nuts and nut products
||Almond, hazelnut, walnut, cashew nut, pecan nut, Brazil nut, pistachio nut, macadamia nut and their products.
||Sulphites in concentrates of 10mg/kg or more
||Sulphites directly added and/or carried over from food ingredients at a total concentration of 10mg/kg or more (calculated in terms of total sulphur dioxide).
You may notice that the allergens are sometimes declared using additional statements like "contains peanuts" / "may contain peanuts" / "manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts", to highlight the presence or potential presence of allergenic ingredients. If you need any clarification on the potential presence of these ingredients, please approach the food business operator directly.
The net weight declaration provides the actual weight of the food, excluding the packaging, for consumers to select and compare the quantity and the price of the similar product of different manufacturers.
Generally, the net quantity must be indicated in absolute value and not over a range of value:
- By volume for liquid food: in milliliters (mL) or in liters (L)
- By weight for solid foods: in grams (g) or in kilograms (kg)
- For canned solid food packed in liquid, the weight of the drained solid food should also be labelled.
Local Business Entity and Country of Origin
For imported food products, the name and address of local importer, distributor or agent, and country of origin must be declared on the labels. Food of local origin must be labelled with the name and address of the food business operator (i.e. manufacturer, packer or vendor).
The name and address of the local food business operator are used to enable food recalls when a product poses a possible public health and safety risk to consumers. As locally produced food products are manufactured by food business licensed by SFA, the declaration of the name and address of the local food business operator is sufficient to enable traceability. The declaration on country of origin is not required.
Food business operators may indicate that the food is of local origin on a voluntary basis. Food products that have undergone significant manufacturing process, which usually changes the nature of the original product, in a licensed food business in Singapore, may qualify to be labelled as a "Product of Singapore"/ "Made in Singapore". Food that are packed in Singapore, may only be labelled as "Packed in Singapore".
In addition, if you are concerned or dissatisfied with any food product, you may provide feedback to the local food business operator using the contact information provided.
Do you know?
1. Products labelled with the Merlion logo, the Lion Head Symbol or with the Barcode beginning with "888" may not be made in Singapore.
2. It is not mandatory for food business operators to disclose the origin of the individual ingredients used in a prepacked food.
- A packaged processed food may contain ingredients from multiple countries of origin. It would not be practical for food business operators to declare the country where each individual ingredient originates from. These ingredients would already meet the safety standards of Singapore before they can be used in food for sale locally.
- Consumers who are interested to find out the actual origin of an ingredient may wish to approach the food business operator directly.
Nutrition Information Panel
Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) allows the consumer to compare the nutrients among foods at the point of purchase. It provides information about the nutrient content of a food in per 100g (or 100mL for liquid food) and/or per serving of the product. The declaration of "serving size" and "servings per package" in the NIP are only required when the nutrients present are declared on a per serving basis.
The "per serving" column lists the nutrient content in one serving of food. Consumers may use this information to assess the nutrient contribution of each serving of food to their daily intake.
The "per 100g" column helps consumers to compare the nutrient content of similar products. Serving sizes recommended by food manufacturers may vary. Take care to compare the same portion. One way is to compare the nutrient values listed under the "per 100g" category in the NIP.
Most food products in the market are labelled with NIPs, although this information is only compulsory when a nutrition or health claim on food is made. In such instances, NIP must include the following information:
- energy, in kcal, kJ or both
- protein, in g
- fat, in g
- carbohydrate, in g
- nutrients that are the subject of a nutrition claim or health claim, in g
What are nutrition and health claims?
A nutrition claim suggests or implies that a food has a nutritive property. Examples include, claims like "High in fibre", "Low in fat", "Cholesterol free", "Sugar free". Nutrition claim is a voluntary statement which describes the amount of nutrient in a food or a group of foods.
A health claim states, suggests or implies that a relationship exists between consumption of a food product and health. Health claims include the following:
- Nutrient function claims which describe the health effect of a nutrient in growth, development and normal functions of the body, e.g. "Calcium helps to build strong bones and teeth."
- Reduction of disease risk claims which describe the reduced risk of developing a disease or health-related condition when consuming a food as part of an overall healthy diet, e.g. "A healthy diet rich in fibre-containing foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of some types of cancers."
- Other function claims which describe the health effect of other food constituents, e.g. "Probiotics helps in digestion"
All nutrition and health claims on food products must be truthful and verifiable based on scientific evidence.
Claims on food labels are useful in helping consumers make food choices. You can refer to the NIP or contact the local food business operator if you need further information about the product. Please also remember that no single food can provide all the nutrient you need, or prevent, alleviate or cure a disease/condition. Consumers with medical conditions should consult a doctor on their suitability for consuming food for health purposes.
Expiry Date Marking
The expiry date marking indicates the date which food should not be sold in Singapore. It may be labelled as "Use by", "Expiry date", "Best before" or "Sell by". It is illegal to sell food that have passed these dates. This is because these products may no longer be at a specific quality claimed by the food manufacturer.
A food business operator is responsible for placing the expiry date marking on food. If specific storage conditions are required for a food to keep until its marked expiry date, the food business operator must state the storage direction of that food clearly on its label. Examples include "Refrigerate after opening", "Keep refrigerated" and "Consume within 3 days of opening".
Expiry date marking is only mandatory for certain prepacked products. These include perishable or short shelf-life products (e.g. pasteurized milk, dairy products, chilled food products), products whose quality may deteriorate over time (e.g. cooking oil, juice drinks), products that are susceptible to contamination, such as insect infestation, after prolonged storage (e.g. breakfast cereals, flour), and infant food.
Specifically, the expiry date marking is mandatory for the following 19 categories of food:
- Cream, reduced cream, light cream, whipped cream and sour cream excluding sterilised canned cream.
- Cultured milk and cultured milk drink.
- Pasteurised milk and pasteurised milk drink.
- Yoghurt, low-fat yoghurt, fat-reduced yoghurt, non-fat yoghurt and yoghurt products.
- Pasteurised fruit juice and pasteurised fruit juice drink.
- Pasteurised vegetable juice and pasteurised vegetable juice drink.
- Tofu, "tauhu" or "doufu", a soya beancurd product made of basically soya beans, water and a coagulant, including "egg tofu", "taukua" or "dougan", and the soft soya beancurd desert known as "tauhui", "tofa" or "douhua", but excluding the oil fried tofu in the form of a pouch known as "taupok", and the dried beancurd stick.
- Food which is stored or required to be stored at a chilling temperature to maintain or prolong its durable life, including ready-to-eat minimally processed fruits and vegetables such as cut fruits and vegetables but excluding all other forms of raw fruits and vegetables.
- Vitaminised fruit juice and vitaminised fruit juice drink.
- Vitaminised vegetable juice and vitaminised vegetable juice drink.
- Liquid milk and liquid milk products excluding condensed milk, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and canned sterilised milk and milk products.
- Salad dressing.
- Raisins and sultanas.
- Chocolate, milk chocolate and chocolate confectionery in which the characteristic ingredient is chocolate or cocoa, with or without the addition of fruits and nuts.
- Breakfast-cereal with or without fruits and nuts except cereal in cans.
- Infants’ food.
- Edible cooking oils.
Do you know?
- The quality and safety of a food product is not solely dependent on its expiry date. Food products that are stored or handled incorrectly can be unsafe to consume even if their expiry date has not passed. If specific storage conditions are required for a food to keep until its expiry date, food manufacturer is required to state the storage direction of that food on its label. One important point to note is that once the packaging is opened, the expiry date would no longer be valid. Do check the food product for signs of spoilage (e.g. odour, bulging packaging, etc.) before consumption.
- Instead of expiry date, raw meat and fish that have not been subjected to processing can be labelled with a packing date as the deterioration tends to be clearly evident by physical examinations (e.g. off odour or colour) at point of purchase.
Top Tips for Savvy Shoppers
- Read the statement of ingredients and check if food products contain allergens or additives you wish to avoid.
- Read the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) to find out if food products meet your daily nutritional needs in terms of calorie or nutritional content.
- Make the best food choices by using the information provided on NIPs to compare similar food products.
- Take note of the expiry date markings on food products before buying them, and make sure you store your food products according to storage instructions, if any.
- Buy only the quantity you need and practice first-in-first-out (i.e. consuming food with nearest expiry date).
For more information on SFA’s labelling requirements, see Labelling Guidelines for Food Businesses.