, Australia

3 things you must know about the Food Standards Code

By Sarah Patterson

Nutrition claims

As an industry Dietitian I am always astounded by the number of claims in restaurants that are incorrect or illegal. Choice magazine brought this to light earlier this month with its exposé on FroYo chains.

What do you need to know?

Nutrition and health claim are defined as statements in relation to a food or property of food. They can be, expressed or implied, via representation, design or information.

In Australia majority of nutrition and health claims are regulated under the Food Standards Code (the Code). This year, a new standard governing these claims was introduced. The new standard allows a three-year grace period. During this time both the existing regulations and new regulations are operating. Meaning companies can choose to follow one, or the other, but not both.

What can you say?

The new standard in the Code splits claims into three categories. Each category has a set of conditions for making a claim.

1. Nutrition content claim means a claim about the presence or absence of, a nutrient, energy (kilojoules or Calories) biologically active substance; glycaemic index (GI) or glycaemic load. For example “low fat”, “Good source of calcium” or “low GI” are all nutrient content claims.

2. General level health claims talk to the effect a nutrient or component of food has on general health or functioning. They do not refer to a serious disease or the measure for a serious disease (these are called biomarkers e.g. cholesterol). An example of a general level health claim is “calcium is good for bones”.

3. High level health claims describe the relationship between a nutrient or component of food and a serious disease or the biomarker of a serious disease. An example of a serious disease claim is “Increased intakes of fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease”.

To make a general or high level health claim the food must comply with the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion (NPSC). The NPSC scores a food based on energy, its positive components, such as fruit, vegetable, protein and fibre content, as well as its negative components, such as saturated fat, sugars and sodium.

General level health claims can be either one of the preapprove relationships in the Code or a relationship self-substantiated by the business (following the requirements set out in the Code). High level health claims can only be one of the preapproved relationships in the Code.

What you can’t say?

Under the new regulations three claims are prohibited. These are claims that:

1. Refer to the prevention, diagnosis, cure or alleviation of a disease, disorder or compare a food with a therapeutic good

2. Directly or indirectly compare the vitamin or mineral content of a food with that of another food

3. Imply a food has slimming effects

Beyond regulations

While it can be easy to fall into the trap of claiming everything possible it is always valuable to consider the wider context or implications.

For example, research from Technomic showed that, although consumers saw claims such as low fat and low salt as signals of health, they also saw them as detracting from the taste of food. On the other hand foods that made claims around the fruit or vegetable content enhanced their perceptions of taste.


Please note that this article is not intended as legal advice or interpretation of the Code. If you have any questions please speak to an appropriately qualified lawyer or Dietitian.

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