Rounding Nutrition Values for Labelling

Note:  wherever ‘per 100g’ is mentioned, the option of ‘per 100ml’ is an alternative.

 

As we’re often asked about roundings for nutrition labels, we thought we’d try and explain your options within the latest legislation.

 

European Union and the United Kingdom

Although the UK has now left the European Union, the EU Food Regulations have been retained in UK law.

The EU Food Information Regulation 1169/2011, which makes nutrition labelling compulsory in most cases, doesn’t say how many decimal places should be used. 

As the law doesn’t cover roundings, both the EU and UK have issued Guidelines that cover this and many other aspects of nutrition labelling.

As they’re only guidelines, as yet they have no legal status.  But, the golden rule for all situations like this is:  don’t mislead your customer!

So, how many decimal places should the values on a nutrition label be expressed to?  Guidelines state:

 

a) low values of nutrients:

It May be expressed as 0 in the following cases:

  • Fat:  0.5g/100g or less
  • Carbohydrate:  0.5g/100g or less
  • Sugars:  0.5g/100g or less
  • Protein:  0.5g/100g or less
  • Saturates:  0.1g/100g or less
  • Salt:  0.0125g/100g or less

Note the discrepancy between fat and saturates.  In a product containing 0.4g/100g fat and 0.2g/100g saturates, the fat would be given as 0, while the saturates would be given as 0.2. 

In this case, in order that the information looks sensible to the consumer, we’d recommend that the fat value is given as 0.4, ignoring this guideline. Again, we’re keen not to mislead or confuse our customers.

In place of 0, it is also acceptable to put <0.5 for fat, carbohydrate, sugars and protein

and <0.1 for saturates

and <0.01 for salt

Also, if zero by these rules, you can even leave out the nutrient from the table altogether, but have a statement nearby saying ‘contains negligible amounts of … named nutrients.

Few people do this though, on the basis that it demands more labelling space than declaring the value!

 

b) higher values: numbers of decimal-places

The recommendations are:

  • Energy (both kcal and kJ):  use whole numbers, no decimal places, no rounding
  • Fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, fibre, protein: less than 10g/100g, express to one decimal-place 10g/100g or more, express to the nearest whole number with no decimals

Salt:

  • less than 1g/100g, express to two decimal-places
  • 1g/100g or more, express to one decimal-place

 

The question is whether to apply these roundings or not?

It’s clear that some of the guidelines have not been widely adopted.  Giving values of over 10g for Fat saturates etc. as a whole number is not usually seen.  Nothing wrong with this:  they are only guidelines.

The NutriCalc nutrition software offers the choice of using the roundings or not for the back-of-pack nutrition report.

United States

In contrast, The American labelling rules for nutrition labelling are laid down in FDA Regulations 21 CFR 101.9.  These regulations are very prescriptive, even defining the design of the Nutrition Facts panel.

Roundings for the numbers in the panel are also clearly defined and are mandatory.

a) low values of nutrients:

These are defined by the roundings given below.

For example, calories are expressed to the nearest 5.  So 2 calories would be expressed as 0 and 3 calories would be expressed as 5

b) higher values: numbers of decimal-places and roundings

The recommendations are:

Calories: 

  • 0-50 calories/serving:  nearest 5
  • over 50 calories/serving:   nearest 10

Fat, saturated fat and trans-fat:

  • 0-5g/serving:  nearest 0.5g
  • Over 5g/serving:  nearest 1g

Cholesterol:

  • all values:  nearest 2mg

Sodium: 

  • 0-140mg:
  • up to 140mg/serving:  nearest 5mg
  • over 140mg:  nearest 10mg

Carbohydrate, dietary fiber, total sugars, added sugars and protein:

  • all values:  nearest 1g

 

USA Roundings are prescriptive – no choices.

These roundings are mandatory, so they must be used.  It’s been found that, when exporting foods to the USA, the importer will usually check that the information, including roundings, has been presented correctly.

 

 

Comments:

The USA Regulations specify a great deal of detail about nutrition facts labels, including the layout and roundings. 

Their label is intended to be easy to spot and easy to use.  Possibly the simplification of the numbers has been overdone, however, there is no question that the USA consumer sees a familiar label on the packaging which is easy to read and interpret.

The use of ‘per serving’ with the prescriptive roundings makes the accurate conversion to per 100g or per 100mls for data entry impossible from small portions.  Also, it can be open to criticism that the serving size may not be appropriate.  However, on the basis that you must not deliberately mislead the consumer, we always recommend using a realistic portion size for an average adult.

By comparison, UK/EU Regulations allow a lot of freedom regarding the presentation of nutrition information.  But values will in general be more precise than in the USA.  The UK/EU use of ‘per 100g’ or ‘per 100ml’ values allows for conversion to values for a serving size although most consumers will find this painful.

 

Dr David F. Bartley

 

Rounding Nutrition Values for Labelling

As we’re often asked about rounding values for nutrition labels, we thought we’d try and explain your options within the latest legislation.

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