Feature Article
Front of Pack Nutritional labeling regulation: news from Israel

  • Carmit Safra RD BSc, MSc 1, Ronit Endevelt RD, Bsc, Msc, Ph.D. 1,2
    1Nutrition Division, Public Health Services, Ministry of Health, Israel
    2 School of public health University of Haifa

    On 1 January 2020, regulations concerning the nutritional labeling came into force. This action was a breakthrough, which requires a prominent red mark on the front of the food packaging, if sodium, saturated fat and/or sugar, exceed threshold values. This move was initiated and led by the Nutrition Division of the Health Ministry under the management of Prof’ Ronit Endevelt and the Division staff, together with the Food Service and other departments of the Public Health Services at the Ministry of Health, and the lead of the general manager of the Ministry of health and his vise manager.

    As dietitians and nutritionists, we know about the big gap between the written dietary recommendations, and the supermarket, where decisions are made. We always explain to our patients/friends/family what to eat and what to buy, but at the point of sale, with habits and temptations, it is difficult to make the right healthy decisions.

    The purpose of the icons on the front of the pack is to help consumers in various food stores to choose better. The icons will help the general population, and patients get answers to questions that arise in the shopping path. Like which yogurt should I choose? That’s a cereal deal, does it contribute to my health too? Or - which crackers contain less sodium?

    Indeed, for years there has been no significant change in the incidence and prevalence of obesity in adults and children and in diabetes, and chronic morbidity is increasing in Israel. At the same time, the food industry is developing ready-to-eat products with increasing availability. These products are often rich in sugars, saturated fats, and sodium and ultra-processing. These components are associated with overweight, obesity and chronic comorbidities.

    Many studies in the field show that front of pack labels help consumers understand the nutritional content of the product and make a more informed decision than having the information on the back of the packaging. Indeed, in Chile, many report a more informed choice, a significant reduction in not-recommended food consumption, and less attention to marketing statements. Dozens of other countries have also opted for the front of pack labeling voluntarily or regulatorily.

    Judgmental symbols in the front of the pack enhance the food environment, as they are understandable among all consumers for their range of understanding, including children even before reading. In addition, such symbols encourage product reformulation.

    To create the change, the World Health Organization recommends Judgmental symbols on the front package as part of comprehensive measures to promote a healthy diet. In recent years, dozens of countries have led or supported the development of FOPNL (Front pf pack nutritional labeling. Based on this, the Israeli Ministry of Health has set regulations on that matter. The regulations include two main issues:

    1. A prominent front of pack logo indicating that the food contains a high amount of sodium, sugars and / or saturated fats
    2. Additional information at the nutritional information, back of the pack, including the amount of sugars from the total carbohydrate and expressing this amount in household measures. For example, the amount of sugar in (g) in one teaspoon: 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon
    The following table lists the red icon threshold values. These values will change in 2021 and will be stricter:
    In 100 grams
    In 100 ml In 100 grams In 100 ml
    2020 2020 2021 2021
    Sodium mg 500 400 400 300
    Sugars gram 13/5 5 10 5
    SFA gram 5 3 4 3
    As with any rule, there are exceptions. The regulations specify red symbol exemptions and sugar spoon expression in products such as Food supplements, infant formulas, and food containing only one component and very small packages.

    An important section in the regulation emphasizes that the fact that food is not marked with red symbols does not justify its marketing as if it is recommended or meets the requirements of the Ministry of Health.
    Indeed, we already know about a very significant decline in the sugar, sodium and saturated fat levels of various products. The food industry has done a great job of reducing these components to avoid the red symbols.

    But as with all realities, there are going to be conflicts. For example, diet drinks, which are not recommended by us especially for children, will not be marked with a red symbol, Tahini (Sesame spread) with salt added not for technology reason is not just one component of food, and therefore will no longer be exempt from the red symbol and will be marked by for its saturated fat values. 

    This is the red FOPNL 

    To complete the move, the Ministry of Health recommends a green, voluntary symbol, reflecting the new nutritional recommendations.
    The ministry has appointed a committee to determine the conditions for the green symbol. The principles that accompany the committee's work are:
    • The new dietary guidelines for Israel, in light of the Mediterranean diet.
    • Attention to the whole food and the degree of processing and not only on its components
    • Determine food groups and conditions for the symbol according to the best foods and not the best product relative to the category

    The food groups agreed to the green symbol include milk, yogurt, cheese, tofu, soy drink, certain vegetable oils, seeds and nuts, grains, legumes, tahini, tahini salad, fish, eggs, poultry, fruits and vegetables. Each group was assigned separate nutritional profiling that constitutes the conditions for the symbol. 
    This is the green label

    It is also important to know that green markings may also contain unpacked foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and unprocessed fish and eggs.
    The green labeling will be on products but also as shelf signs

    These pictures demonstrates an example of shelf signs