Providing nutrition information on food labels is an important public health tool to promote a balanced diet as consumers can obtain specific nutrition information on individual food products and make informed healthy food choices.
Under the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) (Amendment: Requirements for Nutrition Labelling and Nutrition Claim) Regulation 2008, of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap.132) ("the Amendment Regulation"), with effect from 1 July 2010, all general prepackaged foods are mandated to carry a nutrition label, unless the food product is exempt prepackaged foods under Schedule 6 of the Amendment Regulation. The Amendment Regulation, however, is not applicable to formula and food intended to be consumed principally by children under the age of 36 months, and other food for special dietary uses. Users may find details in the Technical Guidance Notes on Nutrition Labelling and Nutrition Claims ("the Technical Guidance Notes").
The nutrition label aforementioned must include the information on energy and seven core nutrients, namely, (i) protein, (ii) carbohydrates, (iii) total fat, (iv) saturated fatty acids, (v) trans fatty acids, (vi) sodium, and (vii) sugars. Furthermore, the amounts of any claimed nutrients must be listed. If a nutrition claim related to any type of fat is made, the nutrition label should also include the amount of cholesterol. There are two options for labelling carbohydrates content on the nutrition label: (i) to define and label carbohydrates as "available carbohydrates"; and (ii) to define and label carbohydrates as "total carbohydrates". If the latter option is chosen, the amount of dietary fibre must also be provided. In case the term "carbohydrates" is used on nutrition labels, it will be assumed that the amount is defined and calculated as available carbohydrates. Additional information on other nutrients may voluntarily be included in the nutrition label, provided that such information is not false, misleading or deceptive in any respect of the food.
The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) has developed an online Nutrition Label Calculator (NLC) which enables food manufacturers and traders to prepare nutrition labels for prepackaged food products.
Nutrition labels generated by the NLC
The NLC can facilitate users to make nutrition labels basing on the nutrition information of foods obtained by (i) direct chemical analysis of food samples or (ii) indirect nutrient analysis of food ingredients. Users can select nutrients to be included in the nutrition label from a list of nutrients provided. In addition, users can add up to 10 other nutrients to be included. Basing on contents provided by the user, the NLC can prepare a nutrition label in tabular format showing nutrient contents in (i) absolute amount per 100 gram (g) or per 100 millilitre (ml) of food; (ii) absolute amount per package (in g or in ml) of food for food products with a single serving, or per serving (in g or in ml) of food for food products with more than one serving; (iii) a combination of the above; or (iv) a combination of the above with relative amount expression as a percentage of nutrient reference value stipulated in Schedule 7 of the Amendment Regulation (if such value is available). The term "% Chinese Nutrient Reference Value" (%Chinese NRV) is used in this context. For details of the nutrient reference values, users may refer to the Technical Guidance Notes.
Food manufacturers or traders can choose to present the nutrition label in a tabular format or a linear format (for small packages with total surface area of less than 200cm2). For linear format, since it is for product with smaller total surface area, nutrient contents will be presented in either (i) or (ii) as described above.
Users can choose to print the nutrition label in traditional (or simplified) Chinese, English or in both languages. Choice between traditional and simplified Chinese can be made at the Standard Header of the webpage before using the NLC.
Units used in the NLC
For energy, users can choose to present in kcal, kJ, or both. Units of other nutrients used in the NLC are listed below:
|g :||Protein, Total fat, Saturated fatty acids, Trans fatty acids, Monounsaturated fatty acids, Polyunsaturated fatty acids, Carbohydrates (Available or Total), Sugars, Dietary fibre.|
|mg :||Cholesterol, Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Iron, Zinc, Copper, Magnesium, Manganese, Fluoride, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Niacin, Pantothenic acid, Choline.|
|μg :||Iodine, Selenium, Chromium, Molybdenum, Vitamin D, Vitamin K, Vitamin B12, Biotin.|
|μg RE :||Vitamin A.|
|mg α -TE :||Vitamin E.|
|μg DFE :||Folic acid.|
For the nutrient(s) entered by users, unit(s) will be determined by users.
Data rounding in the NLC
During computation, all numbers will be rounded up to three decimal places (e.g. 234.1156 g is rounded to 234.116 g). The final values on the nutrition label will be displayed in two ways:
- Pre-rounded format: Energy (kcal and/or kJ) and all nutrients will be rounded up to three decimal places, and any respective %Chinese NRV will be rounded to the nearest 1%.
- Rounded format: Energy (kcal and/or kJ) will be rounded up to the nearest 1 unit. For nutrients with units pre-set, values in g will be rounded up to the nearest 0.1 g, mg to 1 mg, and μg to 1 μg, and any respective %Chinese NRV to the nearest 1%. Energy or nutrients with very small values per 100g (or ml) that meet the definition of "0" as stipulated in Table 2 of the Technical Guidance Notes will be set to 0, regardless whether the label is presented as per 100g (or ml), per package, per serving, or %Chinese NRV . For nutrient(s) entered by users with unit(s) determined by the users, the value will be rounded up to the nearest 0.1.
Information needed for nutrition label computation
The nutrient contents of the food products or ingredients should be made available before users proceed with the applications of the NLC. The nutrition information of foods can be obtained by direct chemical analysis of food samples through accredited laboratories or indirect nutrient analysis. Food manufacturers and traders should have read the Amendment Regulation, the Technical Guidance Notes and the Method Guidance Notes on Nutrition Labelling and Nutrition Claims ("the Method Guidance Notes") before using the NLC, particularly the parts on indirect nutrient analysis. If in doubt during the course of indirect nutrient analysis, direct chemical analysis should be used to obtain nutrient information. Users should be aware of the limitations of indirect nutrient analysis and consider carefully whether such method is suitable for their products. Moreover, only reputable food composition databases which are representative of their particular products and derived from appropriate testing methods should be used.
If indirect nutrient analysis is employed, users should apply the relevant adjusting factors (e.g. edible portions, retention factors, yield factors, specific gravities) to obtain the appropriate nutrient values of product ingredients and the respective weights. Calculations should be made by personnel with professional competence and are based on the best available data and adjusting factors.
Some examples of food composition databases, which contain nutrition information of food and may include their edible portions or specific gravities, are listed below. Some of them can be accessed online.
- US Department of Agriculture. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
- Food Standard Agency and Institute of Food Research UK. McCance and Widdowson's the Composition of Foods.
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand. NUTTAB 2006 Australian Food Composition Tables.
- Puwastien P, Burlingame B, Raroengwichit M, & Sungpuag P. (2000). ASEAN Food Composition Tables 2000 (1st Ed.). Thailand: Institute of Nutrition, Mahildol University (INMU). ISBN: 974-664-480-7.
- Yang Y, Wang G, & Pan X. (Eds.). (2002). China Food Composition Table 2002. The Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. China: Peking University Medical Press. ISBN: 7-81071-180-6.
- Yang Y. (Ed.). (2005). China Food Composition Table 2004 (Book 2). The Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. China: Peking University Medical Press. ISBN: 7-81071-678-6.
Examples on retention factors and yield factors can be accessed in the list below.
- US Department of Agriculture. USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors, Release 6 (2007).
- US Department of Agriculture. Agriculture Handbook No. 102, Food Yields Summarized by Different Stages of Preparation.
Furthermore, the International Food Composition Tables Directory compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is also available online (http://www.fao.org/infoods/infoods/tables-and-databases/en/)
Upon provision of nutrient information to the NLC by the users, it will then calculate the nutrient contents of the product, and prepare the nutrition label in a straightforward manner. Users should ensure that the nutrient contents so presented fall within the tolerance limits. Compliance test of nutrition labelling is based on laboratory analysis with specified methods. For details, users may refer to the Technical Guidance Notes.