Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Understanding food labels

3-minute read

Food labels have lots of useful information. They can provide a guide for healthy eating and preparing nutritious meals for your child.

What’s on a food label?

All statements and claims on foods sold in Australia must conform to standards set by the government agency, Food Standards Australia New Zealand. They must show:

  • product name and description
  • ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date
  • ingredients list
  • nutrition information panel
  • health or nutrition claims
  • information for people with allergies
  • details of manufacturer or importer

Product name and description

All foods must have an accurate name. For example, a food called ‘Strawberry Snack Bar’ must contain strawberries, not just strawberry flavouring.

‘Use by’ or ‘best before’ date

Foods with a short life must have a ‘use by’ date. They are safe until that date if they have been stored according to the label.

A food past its ‘use by’ date should not be sold. It might not be safe.

‘Best before’ means the food should maintain its quality until that date. It might still be safe to eat after that time but it might not. The food might have lost some of its flavour or nutrition.

For bread, a ‘baked on’ or ‘baked for’ date is permitted if its shelf life is less than 7 days. Foods that will last more than 2 years, such as canned foods, do not need any date marking.

Ingredients list

All ingredients should be listed in order of weight in the food. The major ingredient is first.

The percentage of any ingredient in the product name must be listed. This shows whether you’re getting real ingredients or ‘fillers’ such as starches and sugars.

Food additives can be listed either by their name or number.

Nutrition information panel

Packaged foods have a nutrition information panel that shows, per serving and per 100g or 100 mL and show how much there is of:

  • energy/kilojoules
  • protein
  • total fat
  • saturated fat
  • total carbohydrate
  • sugars
  • sodium
  • dietary fibre

Very small packets, herbs, spices, tea and coffee are exempt.

When you compare foods, it’s best to use the ‘per 100g’ column. Food companies can choose their preferred serving size, and that might be quite different from what you would eat.

‘Sugars’ in the nutrition information pane include the sugars naturally in fruit, milk and vegetables, as well as all added sugars.

Health claims

Any claim for a health benefit can only be made for foods that meet set nutritional guidelines.

The food must have enough of a particular nutrient either naturally or added.

Cow’s milk has enough natural calcium to claim it’s a source, but oat or soy drinks must add calcium to make claims.

The food code prevents companies adding vitamins to foods with poor nutritional value.


Peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, sesame seeds, fish and shellfish, soy, wheat and lupin can cause allergic reactions in some people.

The ingredients list must highlight these foods. It must also list gluten (from wheat, barley, rye, triticale and oats).

Some people with asthma react badly to sulphite preservatives. They must be listed if they are present at 10mg per kilogram or more.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand has more information.

Health star rating

A government health star rating system permits stars from 0.5 to 5 stars. It helps you compare similar packaged foods. It is based on how much saturated fat, salt, sugars and kilojoules the food contains.

The star system is not compulsory. Food manufacturers and retailers are responsible for the correct and accurate use of the Health Star Rating system.

In general, the more stars the better for a particular food. A 5-star breakfast cereal is a better choice than a cereal with 2 stars.

Further information

Maternal child health nurses are available at the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby helpline on 1800 882 436 for advice and support with problems.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2019

Back To Top

Need more information?

Food Labels - Dietitians Australia

Smart Eating Fast Facts Food Labels How are food products regulated in Australia? What are health claims and what do they mean? Making sense of the glycaemic index What does low fat mean? What does low salt mean? Food Labels Food labels provide food safety information (e

Read more on Dietitians Australia website

Food Labels - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

Food Labels film

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

How to understand food labels | Eat For Health

Food labels can be very confusing and tricky to understand.

Read more on NHMRC – National Health and Medical Research Council website

Food labels & nutritional information | Raising Children Network

Nutritional information panels on food labels list energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates and sodium. These labels help you make healthy decisions about food.

Read more on website

What does low salt mean? - Dietitians Australia

Food Labels What does low salt mean? What does low salt mean? Nutrient claims such as ‘low salt’ are often used by food manufacturers to provide a point of difference with their product over others

Read more on Dietitians Australia website

Plain English allergen labelling - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

NEW legislation to make it easier to identify allergens in packaged foods.

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

Explaining kJs to kids -

Tools and information on the consumer education campaign in support of NSW kJ labelling laws for fast food outlets

Read more on website

Packaged Food - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA) works in collaboration with key stakeholders in the Australian food industry including Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) and the Allergen Bureau. In 2002, A&AA welcomed the introduction of the Food Standards Code 1.2.3, requiring mandatory labelling of the top eight allergens, including peanut, tree nuts, egg, milk, sesame, fish, shellfish and soy. Those with Coeliac Disease welcomed th

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

School Resources - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

ASCIA guidelines for prevention of anaphylaxis in schools, pre-schools and childcare: 2015 update358.34 KB Free Downloadable Resources National Curriculum Activities Primary School K-21.16 MB 3-41.12 MB 5-61.73 MB High School Allergy Awareness Resource for Senior Years1.34 MB 7-87.75 MB 9-105.5 MB Teen Video Clips EpiPen® Dating Food Labels Travelling #TAKETHEKIT New food allergy APP available Help Sheets If food bans don't

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

Tree nuts - Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

Not for profit organization that provides information, training and emotional support about allergies, with food alerts, labelling, support for parents and more.

Read more on Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.