Labelling guidelines can guarantee safer food

Food labelling is regulated in South Africa by guidelines that relate to production, marketing and labelling of foodstuffs.

Laws with respect to the marketing and advertising of food are the Consumer Protection Act, the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, the Agricultural Products Standards Act and National Health Act and regulations that fall under each Act.

What does it all mean for the manufacturer and how does it affect manufacturers? Consumer expects a food supplier to comply with relevant laws relating to the product they manufacture, so the onus is on the food manufacturer to comply. In this abbreviated article, we take you through some of the guidelines.

Photo-by kellsie-on-Unsplash

Important do’s and don’ts for labelling your product

  • Information must be provided in English [Reg 7(1)(a)].
  • Pictures or graphics may not obscure or affect visibility, legibility or indelibility of the information on the label [Reg 7(1)(b)].
  • Labels may not be separate from the container holding the foodstuff [Reg 7(2)].
  • Specific letter sizes are prescribed [Reg 8].
  • Name of the Food: CODEX1 descriptions for established names to be used where these exist [Reg 9(a)].
  • Manufacturer, importer or seller’s name and address to appear [Reg 9(b)].
  • Storage instructions before and after opening [Reg 9(e); 32].
  • Net contents in SI units [Reg 9(f)].
  • Country of Origin: either “Product of [country]” or Produced/Manufactured/Processed/Made in [country]” and “Packed in [country]     [Reg 10(a)(b)(c)]. (For imported, single ingredient agricultural commodities in bulk,    which may change due to climatic, seasonal or other contingencies, there is    an                 option to label the names of the countries concerned [Reg 10(d)].)
  • Batch identification to ensure traceability of a food through production, processing          & distribution [Reg 11].
  • Date marking or coding must be used as follows: “best before”, “BB” and/or “use by” and/or “sell by”.  Products labelled with a “best before” do not become unsafe to   consume after the indicated date, typical example would be a bakery item.  “Use by”       indicates that the product could be microbiological sensitive and unsuitable for   consumption after the “use by date” example of such a product would be a prepared meal. “Sell by” indicates to the retailer that the product should be removed from                display and that it is still suitable for consumption, an example would be potatoes. [Reg 12].
  • List of ingredients [Reg 9(d)]: Must be listed in descending order at time of manufacture under the heading “Ingredients” [Reg 17]. Seasonal ingredients can            make use of ‘and/or’.
  • Added water must be declared except:
  • If it is used solely for the purposes of wetting a dry ingredient or additive
  • If it is part of a brine or syrup and declared as such
  • If the water added is less than five per cent of the finished product. This does not apply to raw-processed meats [Reg 18; 28].

Things not to do

  • Pictorial representation may not be false, misleading or deceptive or create an erroneous impression regarding character, origin, composition, quality, nutritive               value, nature or other properties in any respect. It is no longer necessary to use       “Serving Suggestion” [Reg 34].
  • No references to Department of Health, government or related officials [Reg 6].
  • Words, pictorial representations, marks, logos or descriptions which create an impression that the food is supported by, endorsed by, complies with or has been manufactured in accordance with:
  • Health practitioners (individually / professional association / consumer advisory organisations) [Reg 13(a)(i)].
  • Organisations, Associations, Foundations, other entities unless approved by the Director-General and can prove generic health promotion supported by evidence-          based nutrition and do not contradict these regulations in terms of nutrition            claims and criteria. This excluded religious certifying organisations, fauna and flora          certifying or endorsing bodies and organisations accredited by SANAS to certify certain quality aspects of foods and the safety thereof [Reg 13(a)(ii)].
  • The words ‘health’ or ‘healthy’ or ‘wholesome’ or ‘nutritious’ or words or symbols              implying health giving properties [Reg 13(d)(e)].
  • No claims of ‘complete’ or ‘balanced’ [Reg 13(f)].
  • The words ‘cure’ or any other medicinal claim including prophylactic and therapeutic claims [Reg 13(g)].
  • No negative or nutrition-related claims allowed for packaged water [Reg 14(3); 51(3)].
  • Any word, statement, phrase, logo, pictorial representation which implies healthy / healthier / additive-free / veterinary medicine-free / more humane treatment or rearing of animals UNLESS linked to specific protocols registered under the                 Agricultural Products Standards Act (APS Act) or National Regulation for                 Compulsory Specs Act.  Examples: ‘Grain fed / ‘Grass-fed’/ ‘Karoo lamb’/ ‘Natural        lamb’/ ‘Country reared’/ ‘Free range’/ ‘Pure’/ ‘Organic’ [Reg 47(1)].
  • Any word, statement, phrase, logo, pictorial representation which convey or implies similar concepts as expressed below which are NOT regulated in terms of            APS Act or National Regulation for Compulsory Specs Act UNLESS comply with               criteria in Guideline 7.  Examples: ‘Fresh’/ ‘Natural’ / ‘Nature ‘s’ /’ ‘Pure’ /                 ‘Traditional’ / ‘Original’ / ‘Authentic’ / ‘Real’ / ‘Genuine’ / ‘Home made’ /           ‘Farmhouse’ / ‘Handmade’ / ‘Selected’ / ‘Premium’ / ‘Finest’ / ‘Quality’ / ‘Best’          [Reg 47(2); Guideline 7].
  • ‘Wild’ for fish & other Marine Foods (regulated by National Regulation for Compulsory Specs Act) UNLESS qualified as ‘Wild caught’ which is PERMITTED [Reg 47(3)].
  • Frozen foods thawed for subsequent sale cannot label these as ‘Fresh’, UNLESS qualified as ‘PREVIOUSLY FROZEN’ in bold, uppercase, min 3mm height on label of            pre-packed food or poster near bulk food offered for sale [Reg           47(4)].
  • Forbidden wording for nutrient content claims including  rich  in;  excellent  source;  good source;  enriched;  enriched  with  X;  with  added  X;  contains  X;  Y%                  X  free;  packed  with  X;  or similar wording [Reg 52(4).
  • No claim may be made on the label that the food has acquired nutritive value from         nutrients or substances added for technical or sensory reasons. Example:   A product           may not claim to contain Vitamin C if the vitamin C is added as an   antioxidant [Reg              50(10) (a)].
  • Claims cannot refer to anything not in the package – provided if an adjunct then it must be clearly indicated and nutritional information can only be for what is in the      package. Example: A cereal product may claim to contain calcium if it is clearly                 indicated that milk has been added to the cereal [Reg 50(11)].
  • No claims for novel fibres [Reg 51(10) (a)].
  • No sugar added / No added sugar claims are NOT allowed for any food containing any one or combination of the following sugars: xylose and mono- and disaccharides        such as corn syrup, deionised, deflavoured fruit concentrates and juices,          dextrose,             dextrose syrup, fructose, fructose syrup, glucose, glucose syrup, invert     sugar,    lactose, maltose, maltose syrup, sucrose and sucrose syrup [Reg 52(13)].

Proceed with caution

Allergen-related claims [Reg 45; 46]:

Precautionary labelling:

  • Where there is a risk of cross-contamination then ‘Not suitable for people with (allergen) allergy’ at end of or under the ingredient list can be used.
  • Where an allergen control policy (CAP) is in place and allergen testing is carried out regularly, but cross-contamination risk is still possible then ‘May contain   (allergen)’          and may be labelled ‘Allergen control programme in place’ at end of or under              the ingredient list [Reg 45; Guideline 2].
  • Gluten-free only allowed if food does not contain:
  • Ingredients derived from significant cereals
  • Ingredients from significant cereals with gluten not removed via processing
  • Ingredients from significant cereals with gluten removed but presence of >20mg/kg          in final product
  • >20mg/kg gluten determined by ELISA5 or Codex methods [Reg 46(1)(a)].
  • Naturally Gluten-free / Special Dietary / Special Dietetic claims not permitted for cereals which by nature are free of gluten, but may use ‘This cereal product is by its nature gluten-free’. Example: Rice [Reg 46(1)(b)].
  • Hypoallergenic / non-allergenic / allergen-free only allowed if:
  • Hypoallergenic’ OR ‘Non-allergenic’ or similar wording – Only if chemically or genetically modified to a level not detectable by suitable testing [Reg 46(2)(a)].
  • Free from (allergen)’ OR ‘(Allergen) Free’ or similar wording – Only if tested to confirm absence of allergen using suitable testing [46(2)(b)].



Although this is a long list, it is not exhaustive and you are advised to ensure your labels are checked, prior to printing, to ensure you do not make costly mistakes.