Dispatches reveals serious concerns about labelling of fat in foods


More than half of a range of everyday supermarket foods tested by Channel 4 Dispatches contained higher levels of fat than stated on their label, with some products having so much fat that they breached regulations. 11 samples of one “low fat” product had such a high level of fat in them they did not qualify as low fat foods at all. (The Truth About Low Fat Food: Channel 4 Dispatches, 8pm, Monday 8 April)

The programme took one sample of 50 types of products comprising different foods and different brands, and from different stores and had them analysed by a laboratory to compare the actual amounts of fat which they contained compared to what the manufacturers stated on the packaging.

More than half of the products contained more fat than was declared on the label. Examples included one Vesta Chow Mein ready meal and a Youngs Fisherman’s Pie which both contained more than 50% more fat than declared on the label.

Even products with nutritional claims about their fat content had higher levels of actual fat compared to that stated on the package. Nine out of eleven packets of ASDA Lean Mince Beef had more fat in them than the label indicated, with three packets containing 22% or more fat. In one case, the lean product had more fat than ASDA’s Premium Beef mince.

Channel 4 Dispatches analysed 11 packets of Quorn sausages. All of them contained more fat than declared on the label. So much more that the laboratory results showed they did not meet regulations set out defining the levels of fat a product must contain to be classed as “low fat”

The industry guidance on acceptable margins of error for labelling says that foods can contain up to 30% either side of the amount of fat stated on the label and still be considered accurate enough for consumers.

Therefore a pack of Quorn 10 low fat chicken fillets which contained 27% more fat than stated, and a jar of Lloyd Grossman Bolognese sauce, which contained 28% more fat than stated still pass the industry’s guidelines despite having nearly a third more fat than declared on the label.

Jon Griffin, Public Analyst at Kent Scientific Services tests hundreds of products for their nutritional content every year. He says the programme’s findings on those products that fall outside the margin of error are in line with his results: “There is the potential for thousands to be inaccurate …not only fat, I mean you’re looking at other nutritional information as well”.

In response to Channel 4 Dispatches, Quorn said: “Independent tests …on the same product and batch as those conducted by Dispatches… along with the frequent tests we conduct as standard show that the fat levels of Quorn low fat sausages are as stated on product packs (2.7g per 100g) and, as a result, are fully compliant with European regulations and can accurately be described as low-fat food.”

Premier Foods said the average fat content of their Vesta Chow Mein “is largely influenced by how the noodles are… fried [including the temperature of the oil and the length of cooking]. We have checked all our data and conducted new tests on the product which all confirmed that the current labelling is accurate, allowing for the nutrition tolerances of [industry accepted variation] in fat levels.”

ASDA told Channel 4 Dispatches: “Beef is a natural product there is inevitably going to be a slight natural variance in nutritional values [between packs of mince]. We regularly test hundreds of samples to calculate the average fat content of a portion and make sure that the values we put on our packs are as accurate as possiblebecause we never want to mislead our customers, we also put a label on the pack that says the meat is typically less than 12% fat’.

Young’s Seafood Limited said: “We take these matters extremely seriously. [We have retested packs from the same batch and our results show that] these pies were found to be containing the right level of fat. We have reviewed the processes in our UK factory [and found it possible a factory colleague] was slightly too generous when hand sprinkling cheddar cheese …to the top of this particular pie. This would explain this one off, isolated reading. We have since briefed the team…to ensure this doesn't happen again."

Top 10 foods with higher than labelled fat content


Declared fat per 100g

Fat results per 100g

% Higher

Satisfactory / unsatisfactory*

Youngs Fisherman’s Pie ready meal 340g





Vesta Chow Mein ready meal 161g





Quorn low fat sausages pack of 6 300g





Asda lean beef mince 500g pack





Lloyd Grossman Bolognese sauce jar 425g





Quorn 10 low fat chicken fillets 520g





Snack a Jacks Cheese flavour

3% fat 120g





Morrisons low fat NuMe Beef in Ale With Mash ready meal 375g





Sainsburys Chicken Tikka Biryani ready meal 500g





Morrisons NuMe Low Fat Chicken in Peppercorn Sauce ready meal 375g





*The Satisfactory / Unsatisfactory rating refers to guidance on nutrition tolerances published by LACOTS (Local Authorities Co-ordinating Body on Food and Trading Standards)in 2003 which relates to how accurately packaging needs to reflect that actual ingredients and content in the product. This guidance allows a certain leeway in terms of accuracy (depending on how much fat was being measured). This tolerance is:

+/-30% for declared values more than 2% and less than 5%.

+/- 20% of the declared value for declarations more than 5%

A satisfactory rating is within these variances, an unsatisfactory rating is outside these variances.

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