Reading Food Labels

You can find out lots of information from the label on a food package – including what is in it, where it was made and the nutrition content.

Note: We at the NZ Nutrition Foundation are not the organisation responsible for food labelling. If you are a food manufacturer who wants to make a food label, scroll to the bottom of this page for links to resources. 

The Nutrition Information Panel (NIP)

Food products are required by law to have a nutrition information panel (NIP). This has information on how much of the following nutrients are present:

  • Energy (kilojoules)
  • Protein (grams)
  • Total fat (grams)
  • Saturated fat (grams)
  • Total carbohydrate (grams)
  • Sugar (grams)
  • Sodium (milligrams)

It is up to the food manufacturer if they want to display additional nutrients such as fibre, iron, calcium etc. However, if the product has had a claim made about additional nutrients, it is required to detail that nutrient in the NIP, for example, if a type of milk claims to be high calcium, then calcium must be shown on the NIP.

There are a few products that don’t have to have a NIP: very small packages, foods with no significant nutritional value (such as a single herb or spice, tea and coffee), foods sold unpackaged and foods made and packaged where you buy them (such as bread at the local bakery).

Resource from: Nestle | Food Labels

Serving sizes will vary amongst products, so use the Quantity per 100g column on the NIP to compare different products.

Ingredients list

Ingredients are listed in order of quantity present in the product, so the first food listed will be the major ingredient. If sugar or fat is listed in the first two or three ingredients then this food is most likely not a healthy choice.

Other information provided by the food label

Common allergens (such as nuts, dairy products, eggs, gluten and soy) must be declared on the product label. The list of ingredients makes it easier for people who are sensitive to certain foods or additives to check if they are in the food (for example, peanuts for those with a nut allergy). Food additives are also included in the ingredient list.

Country of origin labelling is voluntary in New Zealand. However, there should be contact details for the food supplier on the label.

Date stamps give information about food safety. Food should not be eaten after the ‘Use By’ date s the food may have spoiled and be a health or safety risk. You can eat foods after the ‘Best Before’ date as they will still be safe but may have lost some quality. The label should include directions how best to store the food.

More information

For food manufacturers

Last modified: February 28, 2022