On Grocery Buying

There are a couple of street-wise rules-of-thumb worth considering when it comes to labels on food grocery products.

1. If a product displays an endless list of ingredients or components – don’t eat it.

2. If there are more than three components that contain more than four syllables – don’t eat it.

3. If those components have more Xs and Zs than a scrabble set – don’t eat it.

We’re not looking for a triple word score here – we are looking to avoid a triple by-pass and at best we’re looking for something that has earned the right to enter the sanctity of our body.

Another simple notion is: don’t buy your food where you buy your petrol.

There’s a blokey school of thought that suggests cooking is just like painting: simply follow the instructions on the side of the tin.  Well, if you are into reading pack labels that at least is a good start, even if you do have to hold your potential purchase at arm’s length under a bright light to squint at the label.

Mind you, slipping melamine into your milk as they have been in China defies comprehension. This is the nation of melamine anything-you-want – plates, mugs, ashtrays, maybe the odd Olympic venue, who knows …but milk?  Content labels that look like a formula for a science experiment are one thing, but undeclared content is insidious. There would be no argument on that score from the 54,000 Chinese who have been affected.

But the reality is that in this country porkies on a lot of mandatory labels are the order of the day. According to a survey of 70 packaged goods conducted two years ago by the NSW Food Authority some 84 percent of the labels had an error in at least one of the listed components – and by a plus-20 percent margin.  Under-declaring trans fat levels, overshooting the nominated levels in low sodium and low fat products, it’s all a bit stinky really.

In the UK they have a traffic light colour coding system on labels.  A red light indicates that the product is high in something unpleasant. An amber light means it’s sitting on the fence – a bit of a mother bear entrant – and green is allegedly a healthier choice. The traffic light system is simmering away on the backburner here. But if the raw data for the labels is flawed, just how useful is this system really?  Perhaps it’s time for a no-nonsense food copper on point duty to feel the collars of a few manufacturers who are trying to run the lights.

Despite the sophistication and legislation surrounding food labels, it seems there are three labels on a product that still get the nod from consumers over and above all others: the Heart Foundation tick, the use-by date …and the price!

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