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'E For Additives' - How Muslims Should Read Food Labels

My family can't read food labels. They get confused. So long as there's a "V" logo for vegetarian they'll pick it up...

My family can't read food labels. They get confused. So long as there's a "V" logo for vegetarian they'll pick it up. While we all need training to understanding what they mean, Muslims in particular have extra need to check what they are consuming.

In Bradford, England, more food packets are getting a 'Halal' accreditation, which is both positive and negative. Positive for the huge Muslim community here who contribute to the economy of the city. Bad because, if it says Halal, we trust it completely, blindly. Who checks every ingredient and who knows if it's healthy, Tayyib (pure) and actually good to eat?
'This book is one which in a sense I wish need never have been written. I would prefer to live in a world where we harvested our foods fresh from the earth, ate them immediately and never had to give a thought to food preservatives, artificial emulsifiers and stabilizers...' - Maurice Hanssen, author of E For Additives
Maurice Hanssen's book 'E For Additives' was first published in 1987 without any later editions or updates. No doubt food labelling and food laws have changed in the last thirty years. Regardless, the book provides masses of information about all existing E-numbers, their possible effects and pesticides.

The contents page includes:
1. How to Read the Label
2. Why Are There Still Secret Ingredients?
3. Golden Eggs and Pink-Fleshed Fish
4. The Colour Problem
5. Flavourings
6. P for Pesticides?
7. Is It Kosher?
8. Do Additives Affect Ability?
9. Hyperactivity in Children
10. The Avoidable 57 Additives
11. The Natural Opportunity for Profit
12. The E Number Categories

Chapter 1. How to Read The Label, As a Muslim
Since many of our readers have emailed us about understanding food labelling and I feel concerned too, here's Hanssen's guide to understanding the ingredients list, along with contemporary labelling regulations.

Food Laws
Food labels were first made mandatory in 1986. This food labelling law states that the label must be clear to understand, not misleading, with all ingredients used (if more than two) and any health warnings.

Food must also display a ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date (they are different), the manufacturer's identity, country of origin, and storage instructions.

Under UK labelling law, food batches must be coded (with 'L' and number etc.) in case manufacturers recall them or the food needs to be traced.

MUSLIM ISSUE: You may buy food from your Muslim greengrocer oblivious to its origin. Then you realise it was packeted in a war torn country, or an occupied state and begin boycotting the greengrocer. That's not good business. You make the change by not buying it! Write to the manufacturers, the governments, the councils; alternatively buy from local providers - do not harm that Muslim business. If you're going to abandon an item for its origin, reject all the products from the same place.

Weight of Ingredients
All ingredients used have to be listed in order of weight and time used to prepare the food. Dried and reconstituted ingredients (with added water) should be listed as such.

Unless you're an expert in 'e' numbers how could you possibly know what you're eating?

Branded or made up names are not allowed to label the product-proper names should be used to identify what the packet contains.
'The ingredients must be listed in order of weight, according to the amounts that were used to make the food, starting with the largest ingredient and ending with the smallest.' - Nutrition.org.uk
MUSLIM ISSUE: When fasting, on a detox or just hitting the gym, ignoring to read the ingredients could adversely affect your body. In an attempt to improve your health, the first few ingredients of a food item should not include: aspartame, sugar, caffeine, sweeteners or e numbers.

No Added Sugar
'No added sugar' does not mean it has zero sugar or healthier qualities. Companies still dupe us with health fads and diet products by branding items as 'low sugar' or 'no added sweeteners'. Is Diet Coke any healthier than regular Coke? Not really.

Sucrose, lactose and fructose are all considered sugars by manufacturers; high amounts of naturally occurring sugars from fruit etc. can still exist in the food without any added sugar, and artificial sweeteners are just poison to your body so always read the ingredients label for exact amounts.

MUSLIM ISSUE: 'Sugar' is a nickname of Diabetes in the Pakistani community. Sugar does not cause or seriously add to a diabetic's condition. But reducing it in general is no doubt better for you. Saturated fat like sugar is bad for you, and when combined they are lethal to weight gain. All the following have added fats and sugar (the bad stuff) so avoid especially when fasting: biscuits, cakes, rusks, cookies, scones, rice pudding, Ras Malai, Mithai (ghulab jaman etc.), puff pastries.

Flavourings
The word 'flavour' is misleading so check how it is presented. 'Strawberry flavour' means there's no strawberry in it. 'Strawberry flavoured' suggests a significant amount of flavouring is derived from strawberries, and just 'strawberry' means it contains whole strawberries. The flavour language business is not a legal rule yet therefore it is very confusing for consumers. Be alert.

MUSLIM ISSUE: Brand packeted foods could be labelled 'tomato and cheese' flavour, but read closer and the ingredients say made from artificial flavours or animal rennet. These are not necessarily Halal, even with the 'V' logo on front. Ask the retailer and contact the manufacturer for a breakdown of exact ingredients.

Alcohol
Drinks that have more than 1.2% volume of alcohol need to state so with the strength of alcohol. Also, beverages with a high caffeine content (more than 150mg/litre) must be labelled, unless coffee or tea.

MUSLIM ISSUE: This means many drinks that contain less than 1.2% are still unlawful, illegal (Haram) to drink for Muslims according to all four schools of thought (Hanafi, Shaffii, Habali, Maliki), despite contemporary scholarly opinions that they're 'okay if they do not intoxicate'. Alcohol is alcohol. Only Imam Abu Hanifa showed flexibility towards alcohols made from ingredients other than grapes.

On the Nutrition.org.uk website GM foods and allergens must also be displayed by law:

Genetically Modified (GM) ingredients
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or ingredients produced from GMOs must be listed on food labels if more than 0.9%. However, any food made with GM technology (e.g. cheese made with GM enzymes) and products like milk and eggs from animals fed on GM feed do not have to be labelled.

MUSLIM ISSUE: In these cases, the animal and its produce could be Halal to eat, but its welfare and feed beforehand might not have been pure (Tayyib). One of the reasons we talk about 'conscious' and organic food is that before you buy your slaughtered (Zabiha) meat or box of eggs, you must check for your own spiritual well-being what treatment that animal went through. One of the Islamic rules of Zabiha meat is to protect the animal before slaughtering.

Allergen Information
Since the European regulation came out in December 2014, there are 14 food ingredients that must always be clearly highlighted (as bold, or a different font) as they are known to causes intolerances. These ingredients are:
  • milk, eggs
  • peanuts, nuts from trees (including Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts) 
  • fish, molluscs (such as mussels and oysters), crustaceans (including crab and shrimps),
  • soybeans, cereals containing gluten (wheat, barley, rye and oats), lupin, celery, mustard, sesame seeds, 
  • sulphur dioxide and sulphites

Date Marking
Pre-packed foods require a date to indicate their shelf-life. This is expressed as either:
  • A best before date [day, month, year], or
  • For food with 'life' between 3-19 months, a best before end date [month, year]
  • For food with 'life' between 6 weeks and 3 months, a best before/use by date [day, month]
  • If food is perishable within 6 weeks after packing, a sell by/use by date [day, month]
There's no harm in buying overdue products, especially if reduced, because the duty is on the shopkeeper to sell high quality goods so they should not be bad or 'gone off'. If the food you bought has deteriorated you are within your legal rights to complain first (1) to the retailer, (2) then local Trading Standards Officer (the local council), and (3) the Managing Director of the food company, who will usually send you a coupon and refund your cost.

Packaging
Finally, all food labels should have a warning if the product has been radiated, and the words ‘packaged in a protective atmosphere’ if the food is packaged using a packaging gas such as argon or nitrogen.

MUSLIM ISSUE: Always wash your fresh fruit and vegetables and let them air dry. There is no scientific harm to irradiated food or packaging gases as they are processes to keep food fresher for longer.

We hope that provides readers with more know-how about the food you buy everyday. Read!

More legal info
+ Food Labelling and Packaging, gov.uk
+ EU FIC Food Labelling Regulations

Buy 'E For Additives' on Amazon 
Main image + Wikipedia

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