Ease of reading of mandatory information on Canadian food product labels


Mary Alton Mackey, 379 Markland Drive, Toronto, Ontario, M9C1S1 Canada.
E-mail: maryaltonmackey@sympatico.ca


Food product labels present individual product information, safety, nutrition, electronic inventory, container and environmental information, in various formats, languages and images. Some information is mandatory; much is promotional. The food label is an essential tool for regulators of safe food handling, nutrition policy and fair competition. Mandatory information on food labels in Canada is required to be presented in both English and French, readily discernable, prominently displayed and legible. This study examines the ease of finding and reading of mandatory label components on selected Canadian food products. A validated typographical scoring system assessed the lists of ingredients on a purposive sample of 100 food labels representing foods in all groups in Canada's Food Guide. Seven percent of the ingredient lists were easy to read; 26% were difficult to read and 67% were very difficult to read. Well-educated resourceful readers in consumer focus groups examined food labels for key elements that influence ease of finding and reading information. Focus groups and typographical scoring identified: colour contrast, case, print style, print size, space between the lines, reverse print, organization, justification, type of surface, hyphenation and print reproduction as factors that affect ease of reading. Print that curves around a container, lack of paragraphing or point form organization make reading difficult; text blocks at right angles to each other make comparisons difficult; separation of the nutrition facts table from the list of ingredients makes decision making tedious. Inadequate spacing between lines of print creates problems for readers of English and exacerbates problems for readers of French. Words placed over illustrations, busy backgrounds or watermarks increase reading difficulty. Hazard statements, instructions and storage information imbedded in other information without added space or appropriate heading is difficult to find and read. Canadian consumers echo consumers in 28 European countries who find label information difficult to find and to read and want clear guidelines/regulations on the placement and the typography of mandatory food label components