Consumers who scan nutrition labels on pre-packaged foods for fat content might be surprised to learn that some of the information may not be accurate, according to a Canadian researcher who has tested hundreds of products.

'There are a significant number of products which have values on the label on the carton which are not correct values.'—Bruce Holub, researcher

Over the past eight years, Bruce Holub, a food sciences professor at the University of Guelph, has tested a range of products including baby biscuits, breakfast waffles, pancake mix and chicken fingers and has found surprising results.

"There are a significant number of products which have values on the label on the carton which are not correct values based on direct analysis," Holub said.

20% variability allowed under federal regulations

While federal regulations legally allow for 20 per cent variability on the food labels, Holub said that up to 15 per cent of products surveyed exceeded the legal limit. Holub identified two products, breaded fish sticks and frozen breakfast waffles, as two offenders but he declined to name the companies that produced the products.

Holub's research is ongoing and his study has not yet been released.

Nutrition box ingredients

Food labels must list:
• Calories
• Fat
• Saturated fats
• Trans fats
• Cholesterol
• Sodium
• Carbohydrate
• Fibre
• Sugar
• Protein
• Calcium
• Iron
• Vitamin A
• Vitamin C

A spokeswoman for Food and Consumer Products of Canada, an industry association, says there will always be variation but she says for the most part labels are accurate. Phyllis Tanaka says her group shares regulatory responsibilities with Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

"It's a two-pronged role — [our] industry looks after making sure that they've done their work properly, and the CFIA has a role to do monitoring of pre-packaged goods to determine if there is compliance out there."

Health Canada in 2003 introduced a new program requiring most foods to be labelled with a standardized nutrition box.

Holub notes that he handed his research over to the Canada's food watchdog over faulty nutrition boxes and said it took a year before the labels were changed.

123 food label investigations conducted in 2006

'We do not allow for information that's inaccurate to continue to be in the marketplace.'—Charmaine Kuran, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Charmaine Kuran, manager of nutritional claims at the CFIA, declined to comment on Holub's research as she's not seen it but she says the agency conducts regular inspections and pursues all complaints.

"We do not allow for information that's inaccurate to continue to be in the marketplace so it would normally be asked to be corrected immediately," she said.

In 2006, the CFIA investigated 123 food label complaints. Six companies were taken to court and received fines.