Let's Look at Labels
Food labelling continues to confuse people when, in fact, it should enlighten them about their food choices! The whole point of food labels is to provide information without causing confusion. Under EU law, all wrapped foods are required to feature a label on the wrapper that clearly tells you the list of ingredients, the nutritional information, the storage instructions, the weight or volume of the food, cooking instructions if relevant and more.
So, when it comes to your sliced pan then, what should you be looking for?
First of all, and it might seem obvious, but the wrapper has to have the the name of the food on it – white bread, wholemeal, wholegrain, malted brown, etc. For bread that’s it, plain and simple.
The Ingredients List tells you what was used in the recipe to make the food. The ingredients are listed in order by weight, starting from the biggest quantity to the smallest. In other words, the first ingredient listed is the largest amount, right down to the last ingredient which is the smallest amount. A typical list in white sliced pan is: Wheat Flour (Wheat, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Thiamin, Niacin), Water, Yeast, Salt, Soya Flour, Vegetable Oil (Rapeseed), Emulsifiers: E472e, E481, Vegetable Fat (Palm), Preservative: E282, Flour Treatment Agents: Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), E920. (Allergens are highlighted here in Bold. Read on for more about Allergens!).
E numbers are codes for various food additives which play an important role in creating a nutritious product that consumers can enjoy safely. Many E numbers are actually naturally occurring foods, while others are extracts of natural products, like those from vegetable oils that are used in bread.
Emulsifiers help oil and water to blend together. For example, mustard is an emulsifier when you make French dressing – you shake oil and vinegar together with a little mustard, and the layers don’t separate out when you leave it to sit.
E472e - is used in baking to strengthen the gluten network in dough and help volume of the loaf and crumb softness. It is made from Tartaric Acid (which is used commonly in home baking as Cream of Tartar and it is found naturally in many fruits, mostly grapes and bananas) and from monoglycerides and diglycerides, which come from vegetable oil.
E481 is another emulsifier used in bread, buns and other bakery products as a dough strengthener and crumb softener to give the high quality that our bread is known for and that people in Ireland expect from their sliced pan.
E282 - Calcium propionate is a preservative that prevents mould and bread bacteria growth and is sometimes added during the Summer months when the weather is warm and humid.
(c) Allergens (if any) are highlighted in the list of ingredients, usually in bold or italics or underlined. In bread, these are Wheat (due to the Gluten) and Soya.
(d) Sometimes, the Quantity of certain ingredients has to be listed as a % if you mention a particular ingredient in the name of the food. In bread, this might include any seeds or wholemeal flour or bran, wheat germ etc. if added and named.
€ The Net Quantity (weight) – that’s just the weight of the loaf in grammes, with the packaging removed.
(f) The Best Before date or Use By date is the shelf life of the food. There is a handy rule of thumb to help you remember which is which – “Best Before is a Guideline, Use By is a Deadline”. People often use these phrases interchangeably, but they mean different things!
After the Best Before date the bread is still safe to eat, but it might be a bit stale. On bread you’ll see the date and month, for example: 31 May means its best before the 31st of May this year. You don’t need to include the year for short shelf life foods.
Just so you know, if food has a Use By date, that means that there might be a risk for food safety if you eat the food after that date, so be aware!
(g) Storage Information – generally bread wrappers advise storing your loaf of bread in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. This helps your bread to maintain its quality throughout the shelf life. Most bread can be frozen too which is very handy! Just make sure to thaw it before eating, or toast it, to make sure you enjoy it.
(h) The name or business name and address of the food business – this is the name and address of the bakery in case you’d like to write them a letter. Under EU law, an email address or website alone are not sufficient here, you have to have a postal address.
(i) The Nutrition Declaration is required on all our members’ loaves by law, to explain how many nutrients are in our bread. The Nutrients must be declared per 100g but there is an option to show them per portion too. So the nutrition panel of a sliced pan typically looks like this:
Per 38g Slice
Energy (kJ / kcal)
366kJ / 86.6 kCal
139.1kJ / 32.9 kCal
of which Saturates
of which Sugars
One you start reading food labels, you’ll become hooked! It makes shopping trips take longer as you read the label on everything you buy. It’s good to be informed!
For more information about bread labelling, check out our members’ websites:
For more information about food labelling in general, please visit: https://www.fsai.ie/consumer-advice/food-labelling
For more information about allergens: https://www.fsai.ie/consumer-advice/food-allergens