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FoodSwitch FAQ

Packaged foods can often be too high in salt, fat, sugar and energy. FoodSwitch can help you find out what’s in the food you’re eating, so you can make simple switches to healthier choices when you’re doing your shopping.

About FoodSwitch 


Q. What is FoodSwitch? 

A. FoodSwitch helps you get immediate, easy-to-understand information about packaged food products as well as a list of similar foods that are healthier choices. You can do this by scanning the barcode using your smartphone camera with the app, or typing the name of the product into the search tool on the website.

Each product you see in FoodSwitch has been rated using either a colour-coded ‘traffic-light’ labelling system or the new Health Star Rating system. It’s easy to see at a glance how healthy a food is based on nutrients like fat, sugar, salt and energy, as well as for its amount of other important food components such as protein, fibre and, for some products, calcium.

You can then share this information and your healthier shopping lists with your friends and family. 

Q. Why have The George Institute and Bupa collaborated on FoodSwitch? 

A. FoodSwitch is part of a broader relationship between The George Institute for Global Health and Bupa with the aim of helping Australians make healthier food choices. Current food labels can be difficult to read and understand – our goal is to empower individuals by providing access to information and innovative tools. FoodSwitch is a key step toward helping Australians make healthier food choices – starting in the supermarket aisle!

Understanding how FoodSwitch works 



 Q. How do I understand the results if I’m viewing results in Traffic Light Label mode?

A. Each product you see in FoodSwitch has been rated for its amount of total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. The ‘traffic light’ ratings tell you if a product is low (green), medium (amber) or high (red) in these food components, based on widely-accepted nutritional standards.

 Q. How do I understand the results if I’m viewing results in Health Star Rating mode?

Each product you see in FoodSwitch has been rated for its amount of energy, saturated fat, sugar and salt, as well as for other important food components including protein, dietary fibre, fruit vegetables nuts and legumes (FVNL) content, and for some products, calcium. The Health Star Rating (HSR) considers all of these factors to give you an idea of how healthy the product is overall; a lower star rating indicates a less healthy choice and a higher star rating indicates a healthier choice.

Q. How are healthier choices identified? 

A. This depends on the food preference filter you are using.

Each filter first identifies healthier choices by comparing the overall nutritional value of foods based on the Health Star Rating score algorithm, taking into account a range of different factors important to general health including fats, sugars, salt, energy, protein, dietary fibre, fruit vegetables nuts and legumes (FVNL) content, and for some products, calcium.

If you’re using the SaltSwitch, EnergySwitch, FatSwitch or SugarSwitch filters, the healthier choices listed must also have a lower amount of the relevant nutrient (salt, kilojoules, saturated fat, and total sugar respectively) than the product you scanned.

If you’re using GlutenSwitch, the healthier choices in GlutenSwitch include only gluten-free alternatives.

 Q. How can I tell if a food product contains gluten?

A. If you are using the GlutenSwitch filter, the gluten status of the product will be indicated in coloured words and by a coloured band, regardless of whether you are viewing results in Traffic Light Label mode or Health Star Rating mode.

  • Contains gluten (red) – this product contains gluten.
  • Likely gluten-free (amber) – this product is not marketed as gluten free but has no gluten-containing ingredients listed on the label.
  • Gluten-free (green) – this product is reported as gluten free by the manufacturer and/or is naturally gluten free. Please check the label.
  • Unknown (grey) – this product has not yet been classified as gluten free or not and its gluten status is unknown.

Foodswitch screen shot

 Q. Why is there a difference between the amount of salt displayed in FoodSwitch and its filters, and the amount of sodium on the nutrition information panel of the packaging of a product?

A. FoodSwitch and all its filters display values for salt, while the nutrition information panel on the packaging of a product usually lists sodium. The difference is that salt is made up of sodium and chloride. To get the salt content of a product, you need to multiply the amount of sodium by 2.5. FoodSwitch has already done this calculation for you.

Q. Where does the nutritional information come from? 

A. FoodSwitch is powered by a large, independent packaged food products database in Australia, the result of years of ongoing research by food and health policy experts at The George Institute. However, as there are always new products coming on the market and some products only available in certain locations, not all food products available in Australia are in the database yet. This is why we encourage FoodSwitch users to help us add to the database.

Q. What if the product I scan isn't in the database? 

A. If you scan a product that isn’t in the database, you’ll be invited to help us by taking three photos – one of the front of the product, one of the nutrition information panel and one of the ingredients list. The app will then automatically email these pictures to us so the item can be validated and added to the database.

Please note that with users contributing more than 200 new products to the database every day, it can take some time for the product to appear in the FoodSwitch app. In addition we need to complete a series of quality control checks. 

Q. How can I be sure the information is correct? 

A. The database is updated regularly by The George Institute’s team of researchers along with the help of FoodSwitch users who can send in feedback about a particular product through the app, on the website, or by email at mobilefeedback@foodswitch.com.au. You’ll receive alerts from time to time when the database is updated and/or a new version of the app becomes available.

Q. Why does the app not include information about colours, preservatives, additives and GI? 

A. At this stage FoodSwitch does not include information on colours, preservatives, additives, glycaemic index (GI) and glycaemic load (GL). However we are collecting additional information and future versions will aim to include more functionality. FoodSwitch already has additional SaltSwitch, FatSwitch, EnergySwitch, SugarSwitch  and GlutenSwitch  filters to help you make healthier food choices tailored to your health needs.

Q. How does the ‘list’ function work in the app? 

A. To create a new list:

  • go to the Lists page 
  • enter the name of a new list in the text box that says ‘Create a new list’ 
  • tap on ‘Done’ 

To add a product: 

  • swipe to the right or left on the product details to expand the information area 
  • tap on ‘Add to list’ to go to the Lists page
  • add the product to an existing list by tapping on the list 

To remove an item from a list:

  • tap the ‘edit’ button in navigation bar on the Lists screen 
  • tap on the red circle that appears to the left of the product you wish to remove
  • tap on the red ‘Delete’ button that appears on the right 

To remove a list:

  • go to the Lists page 
  • tap the ‘edit’ button in navigation bar on the Lists screen
  • tap on the red circle that appears to the left of the list you wish to remove
  • tap on the red ‘Delete’ button that appears on the right.

Q. How do I switch between filters? 

A. To move between filters, tap the ‘funnel’ icon. This will bring up the filter selection screen where you can select which filter (FoodSwitch Classic, GlutenSwitch, SaltSwitch, FatSwitch, EnergySwitch or SugarSwitch) you would like to be in to scan your food products.

About the GlutenSwitch filter 


Q. What is the GlutenSwitch filter?  

A. The GlutenSwitch filter is great for people looking for gluten-free products, such as people living with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance. It identifies if a packaged food product contains gluten or not, and lists gluten-free alternatives in order of how healthy they are.

Q. What do the colours in GlutenSwitch mean? 

A. If you are using the GlutenSwitch filter, the gluten status of the product is indicated in coloured words and by a coloured band, regardless of whether you are viewing results in Traffic Light Label mode or Health Star Rating mode.

  • Contains gluten (red) – this product contains gluten.
  • Likely gluten-free (amber) – this product is not marketed as gluten free but has no gluten-containing ingredients listed on the label.
  • Gluten-free (green – this product is reported as gluten free by the manufacturer and/or is naturally gluten free. Please check the label.
  • Unknown (grey) – this product has not yet been classified as gluten free or not and its gluten status is unknown.

Q. How is gluten status identified for each product? 

A.

  • Gluten-free (green) - only products that are explicitly labelled as ‘gluten free’ on the packaging and/or a naturally gluten free. We recommend you check the label to confirm this.
  • Likely gluten-free (amber) – product appears gluten-free by ingredients and the manufacturer has not specified on the packaging that the product may contain gluten, or has been made on a line that may contain gluten, or may contain traces of gluten.
  • Contains gluten (red) – we are legally required to identify a product as containing if:
    •  it contains ingredients that identify it as containing gluten
    •  it appears gluten-free by ingredients but the manufacturer has specified on the packaging that the product may contain gluten, or has been made on a line that may contain gluten, or may contain traces of gluten
    • it contains glucose syrup from wheat and has not been declared gluten free on the packaging.

We understand products containing glucose syrup from wheat do not necessarily contain gluten and that the Coeliac Society considers them gluten free. However, we are required to report it as containing gluten unless the manufacturer specifically declares on the packaging that the product is gluten free, as even trace amounts of gluten are not safe for those with coeliac disease to eat.

Q. How are healthier choices identified for the GlutenSwitch filter? 

A. The GlutenSwitch filter lists gluten-free alternatives to the scanned product, with healthier items at the top of the list.

About SaltSwitch filter 


Q. What is the SaltSwitch filter? 

A. The SaltSwitch filter has been designed to help lower salt intake. It’s great for people with, or being treated for, high blood pressure, as well as people with heart disease and kidney disease.

Q. Why is there a difference between the amount of salt displayed in SaltSwitch and the amount of sodium on the nutrition information panel of the packaging of a product? 

A. FoodSwitch and all its filters display values for salt, while the nutrition information panel on the packaging of a product usually lists sodium. The difference is that salt is made up of sodium and chloride. To get the salt content of a product, you need to multiply the amount of sodium by 2.5. FoodSwitch has already done this calculation for you.

Q. How are healthier choices for SaltSwitch identified?  

A. Each filter first identifies healthier choices by comparing the overall nutritional value of foods based on the Health Star Rating score algorithm, taking into account a range of different factors important to general health including fats, sugars, salt, energy, protein, dietary fibre, fruit vegetables nuts and legumes (FVNL) content, and for some products, calcium. The SaltSwitch filter only lists healthier choices that have a lower amount of salt than the product you scanned.

About the FatSwitch filter 

Q. What is the FatSwitch filter? 

A. The FatSwitch filter helps people choose foods with lower saturated fat, and has been designed for people with, or being treated for, high blood cholesterol. This is because high levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in your blood generally happen when the liver makes too much cholesterol from saturated fat from your food. This can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Q. How are healthier choices identified for the FatSwitch filter? 

A. Each filter first identifies healthier choices by comparing the overall nutritional value of foods based on the Health Star Rating score algorithm, taking into account a range of different factors important to general health including fats, sugars, salt, energy, protein, dietary fibre, fruit vegetables nuts and legumes (FVNL) content, and for some products, calcium. The FatSwitch filter only lists healthier choices that have a lower amount of saturated fat than the product you scanned.

 

About the EnergySwitch filter 

What is the EnergySwitch filter? 

The EnergySwitch filter helps people choose foods with lower energy (kilojoules). While energy can sometimes mean a feeling of vitality, it’s also used it to describe the number of kilojoules or calories in food that can be used by the body as fuel. Depending on your age and weight, and whether you need to reach or maintain a healthy weight, you may need to use around the same or more energy through physical activity and regular exercise as you take in from food and drink. So this filter is great for people looking for help to manage their energy needs.

How are healthier choices identified for the EnergySwitch filter? 

Each filter first identifies healthier choices by comparing the overall nutritional value of foods based on the Health Star Rating score algorithm, taking into account a range of different factors important to general health including fats, sugars, salt, energy, protein, dietary fibre, fruit vegetables nuts and legumes (FVNL) content, and for some products, calcium. The EnergySwitch filter then lists healthier choices with a lower amount of energy (kilojoules) than the product scanned.

About the SugarSwitch filter
 

What is the SugarSwitch filter?

 

The SugarSwitch filter helps people choose healthier foods with less total sugar. Sugar is one of the body’s main energy sources, so we need to eat some sugar as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. But too much sugar can lead to health problems, so it’s important to be aware of the total sugar content of the foods you eat.

How are healthier choices identified for the SugarSwitch filter? 

Each filter first identifies healthier choices by comparing the overall nutritional value of foods based on the Health Star Rating score algorithm, taking into account a range of different factors important to general health including fats, sugars, salt, energy, protein, dietary fibre, fruit vegetables nuts and legumes (FVNL) content, and for some products, calcium. The SugarSwitch filter lists healthier choices that have a lower amount of total sugar than the product you scanned.

About front-of-pack labelling 

Q. Is choosing healthy food really a problem in Australia? 

A. Most Australians are lucky enough to have access to nutritious foods. However, many everyday packaged foods can be high in salt, fat (including saturated fat) and sugar. They can also be high in energy (kilojoules) thanks to increasingly large portion sizes. All of these factors can contribute to health problems such as obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes and high blood cholesterol. In turn, these can lead to an increase in the incidence of heart attacks, strokes and cancers.

Making even small changes to our diets, such as consuming a little less salt and added sugar, and eating less fat (particularly saturated fat) and energy (kilojoules) could prevent many of these health problems.

Currently, nutritional information in Australia is restricted to a nutrition information panel (NIP) on packaging. This can be difficult to find, difficult to read and difficult to interpret. This means it’s often hard for consumers to be informed and make healthier food choices.

Q. What is front-of-pack (FoP) labelling?  

A. In Australia, compulsory food composition labelling only needs to include a nutrition information panel (NIP). Often, this is printed on the back of the product in very small lettering. Studies show that the NIP only influences the food purchases of a small minority of people who are very motivated and very well informed about how to make healthier food choices. Many studies suggest that front-of-pack (FoP) labelling systems can help consumers interpret the information and make healthier food choices.

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Q. Why use ‘traffic light’ labelling? 

A. Research shows some people find traffic light or other colour-coded front-of-pack food labelling easier to understand than other systems. The traffic light labelling system provides nutritional information in an easy- to-understand interpretive way based on 100g of a product. This helps consumers compare products directly.

Q. Why use Health Star Ratings? 

A. In June 2014, the Australian government agreed to the voluntary implementation of an interpretive ‘Health Star Rating’ (HSR) front-of-pack labelling system for packaged foods in Australia. The HSR System is based on an algorithm that awards a star rating, based on the quantity of specific food components within the product, which gives you an idea of how healthy the product is overall – a lower star rating indicates a less healthy choice and a higher star rating indicates a healthier choice.

The HSR system then makes it easier for you to compare similar products within a food category, based on their number of stars. This highlights that while all foods can have a place in your diet, some are better for you than others.

Technical questions 


Q. How do I access the app? 

A. For iPhone/iPad1 users, you can download FoodSwitch from the App Store online or on your device.

For Android2 users, you can download FoodSwitch from Google Play2 online or via your device.

The app is free of charge. An internet connection (3G or Wi-Fi) is required to download the app and to share information by social media and email. Standard usage charges may apply - check with your internet and mobile service providers for more information.

Q. What devices does FoodSwitch work on? 

A. FoodSwitch works on:

  • Apple mobile devices that have a camera with auto-focus. Requires iOS 7.0 or later.
  • Android2 devices running versions 4.3.x and above that have a camera with auto-focus

Please note that if you’re using a smartphone or tablet without a camera capable of auto-focus, FoodSwitch may not be compatible with this device. Without auto-focus, the pictures of the barcode will be blurry and FoodSwitch will be unable to identify the barcode.

Q. What if I don’t have a compatible device? 

Bupa and The George Institute are working on solutions to give more people access to FoodSwitch technology. This includes the FoodSwitch website where you can search the same database that powers the app and get the same functionality through a web browser on your PC or on your smartphone.

Q. Why isn’t the app scanning the barcode? 

A. If you’re having trouble scanning with a compatible device, here are some tips that may help you scan more easily:

  • Shake your phone to force the camera to auto-focus
  • Try using in different light to avoid glare and shadows
  • Check the autofocus capability of the camera. Try tapping on the screen at far and near objects to see if the focus changes
  • Some users have also found it helpful to hold the object further away from the camera and make sure it doesn't fill the whole screen so that the autofocus can find the barcode.

If you’re using a smartphone or tablet without a camera capable of auto-focus, FoodSwitch may not be compatible with this device. Without auto-focus, the pictures of the barcode will be blurry and FoodSwitch will be unable to identify the barcode.

Q. Is FoodSwitch available to anyone or just to Bupa members? 

FoodSwitch is available to everyone and it's free too!

Q. Is the app free? Will future updates also be free? 

A. The app is free of charge and available to everyone. There are no plans to charge for FoodSwitch in the future.

Q. Why can't I access Twitter or Facebook? 

A. Make sure your Wi-Fi or internet connection is working. You need a working Twitter or Facebook account before you can log on and post a message.

Q. Can I use the app outside Australia? 

A. Currently, FoodSwitch can only be used in Australia, the UK and in New Zealand.

The FoodSwitch team is currently exploring opportunities to launch the app in other countries.

Q. Are there any other apps from Bupa or The George Institute? 

A. Bupa offers a variety of apps to promote a healthier, happier life. Simply search for them in the Apple iTunes1 store, in Google Play2, or visit bupa.com.au/apps.

Q. Where can I find more nutrition information? 

A. You can contact The George Institute on foodswitch@georgeinstitute.org.au or get more Bupa information on healthy living including diet and nutrition, as well as health conditions and treatments, by visiting bupa.com.au/healthinfo. 

Q. Who do I contact if I have a question that hasn't been answered here?

A. You can give feedback or ask a question by email at mobilefeedback@foodswitch.com.au.

 

1  iTunes iPhone and iPad are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries, App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc.

2 Android and Google Play are trademarks of Google Inc.

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