Decoding Symbols on the Packaged Food

A helpful guide to decoding symbols on packaged food

Nowadays, whenever you buy a packaged food product, you might find an array of symbols on it that might confuse you. But manufacturers and food regulatory bodies find these symbols extremely helpful for communicating important information about the food to their customers, so that they can make informed and healthy choices.

Sometimes, packaged food products, especially imported ones, come with special ingredients or usage-related information too, which must be conveyed to the customers.

Let us take a close look at certain food labels and their meanings:

  • Agmark - The Indian government issues this label for some 205 different commodities including pulses, cereals, essential oils, vegetable oils, fruits and vegetables, and semi-processed products. Manufacturers who are willing to mark their commodities under Agmark have to obtain a Certificate of Authorization from an Agmark laboratory.
  • Vegetarian and non-vegetarian marks - According to the Food Safety & Standards (Packaging & Labelling) Regulations, 2011, every package of ‘non-vegetarian’ food should bear the symbol of a brown, filled-in circle inside a square with brown outline, with sides that are double the circle’s diameter

    For food products containing only eggs, the manufacturer can provide additional details also.

    For vegetarian food, the symbol should consist of a green, filled-in circle, having a diameter of the minimum size specified, inside a square with green outline and sides that are double the circle’s diameter. These symbols can be displayed on the package with a contrast background, close to the brand name of the product, and on the labels, containers, pamphlets, leaflets, and any advertisement media.

  • FSSAI mark - It signifies that the food is hygienic and meets the approved safety standards set for food items, under thea Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act,2006. The FSSAI also issues a 14-digit license number to food business manufacturers and operators, which, along with the FSSAI logo,is to be displayed on the package.
  • Food Products Order (FPO) mark - It is issued by the Indian government for processed food items, like, jams, pickles, packed fruits, etc.
  • India organic mark - This is issued for organically farmed food products.

    Since the trend of importing food is on the rise, there are some international food symbols you should also know about:

  • GDA - Also known as Guideline Daily Amounts, GDA indicates the amount of sugar, fat, sodium and calories in a food item. In other words, amounts greater than those mentioned in GDA should not be consumed, if you are planning to follow a healthy, balanced diet. Also note that since the calorie requirements for a healthy adult woman is lesser than a man, the GDA on food labels are mentioned as per a woman’s needs. The GDA for kids is different as well. So, note that an adult needs about 2000 calories, 70g fat, 90g sugar, 20g saturated fat and 2400mg of sodium daily. And a child between 5 and 10 years will need 1800 calories, 85g sugar, 70g fat, 20g saturated fat and 1400mg of sodium every day.

So, next time you go shopping at the supermarket, you should be able to pick the healthiest and most nutritious product for your family.