What all those pictures, signs and symbols on food packaging mean?

Ever look on the back of food products and wonder what all those pictures and symbols and numbers mean? Well we can tell you!


Much our food has to be stored and transported so packaging is necessary. For the food to be sustainable it’s important packaging has the lowest possible impact on our environment and can be reused or recycled. That’s why packaging symbols are all over our products. For example, for packaging materials that can be recycled, the internationally recognised recycling label is the icon with 3 chasing arrows or ‘Mobius loop’. To help consumers and recyclers further identify plastics a ‘Resin Identification Code’ is used on for example yoghurt pots, food trays. This is represented by the ‘chasing arrows’ symbol surrounding a number between 1 and 7 that identifies the plastic resin used.

For everyone concerned to ensure their food is from sustainable sources, sustainable certification labels on products help us choose foods are produced by responsible companies who don’t harm the environment and respect their work force. If we’re lucky enough to live close to food producers who sell direct, a market or farm shop where we can source fresh local produce, and talk directly to the growers, farmers and fishermen we know where our food is from. However most of us rely on shops or supermarkets and increasingly people in developed countries order their groceries online – therefore sustainable certification is crucial in helping us to make the right choice.

Even sustainable food labelling isn’t straightforward though, as a wide array of labels are in use and before you buy it makes sense to ensure your purchase is as green as you think it is – so it’s a good idea to check what the label actually means. Labelling linked to sustainability can cover the product, its sourcing, processing and packaging. This handy guide highlights some packaging symbols and internationally recognised labels that will ensure the food you have selected meets internationally recognised sustainability criteria.

signs and symbols meaning packagings

Image credits: Greenfacts
What all those pictures, signs and symbols on food packaging mean? |  Source: Sustainable Friends

World Sustainability Organization