Hong Kong food products with healthy sugar or salt levels to be labelled for easier consumer choice

The Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food is also pushing for lower levels of salt in condiments, and calorie count in restaurant menus

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 9:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 October, 2016, 11:29am

About 100 types of pre-packaged food such as yoghurt and biscuits are likely to come under a labelling scheme that identifies products with lower salt and sugar content.

Bernard Chan, chairman of the Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food, said the scheme aimed to provide consumers with a clearer and easier means to identify healthy food. It is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of next year.

Currently there are 100 existing types of pre-packaged food and drinks meeting government standards of low sodium and sugar.

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This includes 65 types of sodium-free or low-sodium food, such as yoghurt and dried fruits, and 38 types of food including soya milk and biscuits that are free from or low in sugar.

“The government is encouraging the [adoption of] our labels. When the scheme is rolled out, these products can be involved immediately,” Chan said.

He added there would be four categories for the labels – “low sodium”, “no sodium”, “low sugar” and “no sugar”.

“These food items might have their own labels now. We hope to standardise them in the future,” he said.

A spokeswoman from the Food and Health Bureau said the shortlisted food already meeting health standards were from a database prepared by the Nutrition Association and the Department of Health, which had nutrition information on a total of 200 types of food.

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Chan said while the food label scheme would better assist health-conscious people to choose their food, the long-term goal for the committee would be to reformulate sauces and condiments.

Overseas experts from the committee’s international advisory panel are expected to meet local condiment manufacturers to discuss how to reduce sodium from their products.

“Some manufacturers told us that sodium in their products was not only for taste but also as a preservative. If a product is sodium free, its shelf life may be shorter,” Chan said of the challenges faced.

Meanwhile, the committee is also encouraging restaurants to state the calorie count of food items in menus. The call came after 20 canteens in public hospitals launched a trial scheme in July.

According to Chan, who also owns a restaurant, the cost of having nutritionists measure food calories took up less than 1 per cent of his operating expenditure.