Easy to use, consumers need only type in the name of a food product into the website’s search field to see how it rates and compare it with similar products on the supermarket shelves. All consumers need to remember is that the more stars a product has, the healthier it is.
Initially, the FoodSwitch STARS website only allows you to search by product name, but it’s anticipated that in time the site will also have the functionality to search by product category.
When using the website, consumers will find there can be quite a lot of variation between similar food products on our supermarket shelves – and that’s makes food manufacturers nervous.The George Institute for Global Health uses the health star rating scheme’s calculator, plugging in nutrition and ingredient information already held in the database in the FoodSwitch app, to award a HSR for each product.
The George Institute said at the time of launch their database is accurate to December 2013 but it will be updated on a regular basis.
Earlier this year, the government’s original HSR website, designed to help businesses roll out the new system and provide information about the ratings to consumers, was pulled down within hours of its launch.
Speaking to ABC News on Thursday, Professor Bruce Neal of the George Institute and the University of Sydney, said: “We got sick of waiting for the Government’s website. Poor diet is now the leading cause of premature death and disability in Australia. One of the key changes over the past 50 years has been the progressive addition of salt, fat and sugar in our food.”
A spokesperson for Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash said the Minister does have concerns about the FoodSwitch STARS website because “food companies are best placed to calculate star ratings for their products as they may hold information not available to the Institute”.
The spokesperson for the Minister said the Health Star Rating label would be displayed on food packages voluntarily over the next five years and “should be considered the primary source of information.”
In response, Professor Bruce Neal, told consumer organisation CHOICE: “I think to say that companies are better placed is wrong. Big companies may have the internal expertise but small to medium entities in particular are likely to need help using the system.”
“We have the fox looking after the chook house. What we need is health experts setting health targets and industry experts to help figure out how to achieve them.”
Some food products should start displaying star labels in the coming months. The George Institute said it will be conducting a trial of the new star labelling system to assess it’s effectiveness. Consumers can participate in the trial at www.foodswitchstars.com.au