cart Shopping Cart cart(0)


Email me when new posts are made to this blog

Let's be label conscious: Science and maths lessons from product labels!

Written by Jacqui on March 29th, 2018.      0 comments

Happy Easter everyone! While I'm looking forward to the long weekend and eating plenty of chocolate, I have also been learning about other cultures and their food restrictions around this holiday season. This means reading lots of labels to find out what ingredients food items are made from. It got me thinking: what lessons can we learn from labels? Can this turn into a student activity on science and maths literacy?

Maltesers label 600x450
Learning while snacking!

I picked up a bag of sweet treats and turned it over; there is so much information there! By law, food products labels must show a list of ingredients from which is the product is made, as well as its country of origin. If you make claims about your product like "high in protein", there should be a nutritional information panel with percentages that that can back it up.

Sugar, cocoa, vanilla....these all sound like they belong in a chocolatey snack. But what is "RAISING AGENTS (501, 500)"? Food technologist Yuko Saito reckons a lot of people think these mysterious codes are a "dodgy industry trick" to hide harmful ingredients from the consumer. They are in fact "E numbers" or Food Standard Codes, for common additives. Some are for adding colour or flavour, others to prolong the shelf life of products. "But if you know how to read them and what they are, it's not that scary!"

Food codes 400x477
Codes and chemical names for well-known substances!

A quick google search for "E numbers" led me to an official list of codes for food additives from Food Standards Australia New Zealand. From there, I discovered that "500" is sodium bicarbonate, which is the chemical name for bicarb soda! Other familiar chemical names caught my eye: Ascorbic acid which is another name for good old Vitamin C. Sodium acetate is the product of the fizzy reaction between bicarb soda and vinegar. The flavouring in salt and vinegar chips comes from this particular chemical compound!

So, pick a label and try out these teaching ideas with your kids:
  • Researching ingredients: Don't recognise one of the ingredients? Look it up and see what it is! Many naturally occurring chemicals have long scientific names that may seem foreign at first, but don't let that put you off!
  • Understanding its purpose: Why is there seaweed in my ice cream?! Some food additives have multiple functions; it can be used as a seasoning, thickening agent, or just to add colour. Find out what its job is in your food!

  • Serving sizes and daily intake: My bag of sweets suggests that it contains 10 servings, at 6% of the daily energy intake of an average adult per serving. If I "accidentally" ate the whole bag, how many percent would I have consumed? What would that be for a child? How much exercise would I have to do to work off all of that candy? Turns these values into relatable maths lessons!
  • Percentage content: One brand of peanut butter may cost more than the other, but one contains 99.5% peanuts while the other only has 85%! Use algebra to help you figure out the best deals!

Peanut butter label 600x450

Let us know in the comments what you think of these lesson ideas, or if you have other suggestions!
More science education posts

>100 free science experiments on this website here
Using Hollywood to teach numeracy 200px
Funny videos that highlight
challenges in teaching maths!
keyboard white buttons green button blog
10 most popular teaching
ideas from 2017!
Podcast Fizzics logo green text
Podcast: Scientific literacy &
student-led project-based learning

Happy teaching,


Jacqui from Fizzics
Find out more about the author

NEW Primary science teaching book

Be Amazing; How to teach science, the way primary kids love

Be Amazing; How to teach science, the way primary kids love!

Read more; orange arrow
Want more ideas for teaching science?

Subscribe to the FizzicsEd Podcast!

Listen to FizzicsEd on Apple Podcasts

FizzicsEd podcast available on Stitcher

Join our newsletter for more science teaching thoughts & ideas

Join the Fizzics Newsletter

Got any comments or want to share your own science teaching experiences? We'd love to hear from you below!

Teaching Topics: edchat, food, maths , scicomm, teaching


Be Amazing Book Front Cover; Ben Newsome, teacher & founder of Fizzics Education. Be Amazing -how to teach science the way primary kids love
Be Amazing!
How to teach science, the way primary kids love

Read more about Be Amazing

Want more science? Subscribe to the FizzicsEd podcast!

Listen to FizzicsEd on Apple Podcasts logo

FizzicsEd podcast available on Stitcher

Australian Small Business Champion for Educational Servicestop 100 coolest company CILC Pinnacle AwardAustralian Science Teachers Association PwC 21CM-Initiative

Love Science?

Signup to our fortnightly email! Learn more

Contact us

1300 856 828

Unit 10/55 Fourth Ave
Blacktown, NSW 2148, Australia
facebook-icon Apple Podcast Icon  twitter-icon
linkedin-icon youtube-icon   pinterest-icon