Food labels: the useful guide to decipher them and the tips to avoid wasting

Reading and interpreting the labels of the food products we buy is important: we will avoid buying a product that is beautiful to look at but full of preservatives and dyes.


Food labels provide a series of indications that should help to understand how different foods and beverages contribute to a correct and balanced diet, including information on their nutritional content. Reading well the label of the products we buy is, in fact, the only way we can know something about what we eat or drink. And Italians know it well.


Here is a useful reading guide to decipher food labels where we can all come across every time we walk around the different departments of the supermarket and some tips to avoid wasting.

  • The name of the food can give you its description. Next, to the denomination the physical state in which the product or the specific treatment it has undergone must be indicated (for example «in powder», «refrozen», «freeze-dried», «frozen», «concentrated», «smoked»). For frozen products before sale and which are sold defrosted, it is mandatory to include the indication “defrosted” next to the product name.
  • Always inquire about the origin and provenance of what you eat. This indication, already obligatory for some products (beef, fish, fruit and vegetables, honey, extra virgin olive oil), is also extended to fresh and frozen meat of the swine, ovine, caprine and poultry species.
  • Pay attention to the list of ingredients that make up the food. This is the list that shows in detail all the substances used in production, in descending order and in weight. One of the most important news concerns the indication of the allergens that must be highlighted in order to immediately visualize their presence. Also the bulk products must report the indication of the presence of the allergens that we will find reported also on the products administered in the restaurants, canteens, bars etc. In the presence of “vegetable oils” or “vegetable fats” there will also be a special list that will indicate the specific origin (eg palm oil, coconut oil, hydrogenated fats, etc.).

    Here are the allergens:
  • Cereals containing gluten: wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelled
  • Crustaceans and shellfish products
  • Eggs and egg products
  • Fish and fish products
  • Peanuts and peanut products
  • Soy and soy products
  • Milk and milk-based products
  • Nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashew nuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, and their products
  • Celery and celery-based products
  • Mustard and mustard-based products
  • Sesame seeds and sesame seed products
  • Sulfur dioxide and sulfites
  • Lupins and products based on lupins
  • Shellfish and shellfish products
  • Attention to nutritional tables and calorie partitioning: in some cases are expressed in the “calories per 100g”, other in “calories per serving”. In the nutritional table, you can find information on the calorie and nutrient content of the food. The nutrition declaration may be supplemented with the indication of monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, polyols, starch, fibers. The indication of the energy value is related to the 100g/100ml of the food or the portion. The energy value is expressed as a percentage of reference intakes for an adult, that is, approximately 2000 kcal per day. They are also mandatory directions:
    ○energy value
    ○saturated fatty acids
    Fruit juices are rich in sugars: this means that they are not at all a valid alternative to fruit, or a juice, including those that are labeled “100 percent fruit”.
    When you buy the meat, avoid the product “mechanically separated”: this term means that the meat contains also bones and everything that is possible to extrapolate from the carcasses of the animals.
    Warning to whole foods: even if fiber-rich that they have no calories and they fill allowing us to stay in line, sometimes they are not all of these. The grain of corn whole, crushed into flour, it loses most of its good qualities during the refining process. It is indeed difficult to find pasta or biscuits entirely full most of the times it is a matter of refined flour with added bran. Therefore, you should check that on the label of the flour, which assumes full there is actually the words “whole wheat flour” in the ingredients.
    Always make sure of the expiry date of the product and please do not confuse this with the TMC. We need to distinguish two directions that you can find on the packaging of the product: the expiration date and the date of minimum durability (TMC). Knowing the difference can be useful to avoid that a product will be thrown away when it is still edible reducing waste.
    Store food properly to avoid waste. The storage conditions must be indicated to allow for the conservation and appropriate use of the food after opening the package.