Almost two-thirds of nutrition labels on food packaging assessed by the Consumer Council failed to meet legibility standards advised by the government.
Of 100 samples of packaged food purchased in August and September last year, 51 featured writing smaller than the standard set out in the Centre for Food Safety's guidelines.
The council, which conducted the study jointly with the centre, said the labels' poor readability wasted the government's efforts in introducing mandatory nutrition labelling in 2010 to help consumers make informed choices.
Michael Hui King-man, chairman of the Consumer Council's publicity and community relations committee, admitted few shoppers may read such labels.
"But even if a consumer wanted to find out what they are actually eating, they may find it difficult," he said in releasing the study results yesterday.
The height requirement for English letters is 0.8mm on small packages and 1.2mm for packages of more than 400cm square. Chinese characters, on any size of package, should be at least 1.8mm tall.
In the worst case found by the council, the English characters on a box of Four Seas biscuit sticks were written in letters only 0.48mm in height, smaller than a pinhead.
Sixty-three of the labels - almost two-thirds - were difficult to read, the council found. Maxim's cheese mamon cake had poor contrast - yellow words on a gold background. Other problems included low print quality and print in "hidden" positions.
The food centre's principal medical officer for risk assessment and communication, Dr Samuel Yeung Tze-kiu, urged manufacturers to improve labels and to follow the guidelines even though they were not legally binding. He did not rule out incorporating them into law.
"The guidelines were issued just over a year ago," he said. "We need to give time for the trade to make adaptations."
Maxim's promised improvements as soon as possible.
The study's results were published in the latest issue of Choice magazine.
Also published in the magazine was a report that found eight out of 12 dehumidifier manufacturers made exaggerated claims on their products' capacities.
The capacity claimed by Fortress for its dehumidifiers was 24 per cent lower than that measured in a laboratory test commissioned by the council. Both were measured under 30 degrees Celsius and 80 per cent relative humidity.
Hui said the large deviations were unacceptable. The cases were referred to the Customs and Excise Department to see whether they breached trade description laws.
Fortress handed its own test report and certificate to the council. The report said it reached international standards.