Labeling of foods to be marketed in the United States
Who regulates the food labeling in the US?
The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) is responsible for enforcing the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). Food labels must also comply with the following laws:
- Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA)
- Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA)
- Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), among others.
Through these laws, the FDA ensures that foods imported into the USA are safe for consumption, clearly labeled, and are of a quality equal to that of domestic products. It should be noted that the rules set by the FD&C Act apply both to food products prepared in the USA and those that are imported.
According to the FD&C Act, the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) has authority over the labeling of meat and poultry products, eggs, and egg products, given that these items are exempt from complying with FDA standards, including FDA labeling standards. It should be noted, however, that fish and shellfish, rabbit and game meat is regulated by the FDA.
Labeling of drinks with an alcohol content in excess of 7% is regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
What are the FDA food labeling requirements?
Mandatory Labeling – General and Nutritional
There are two types of mandatory labeling, general and nutritional, which may require one label on the front or two labels, a principal label and an information label.
The general label must include:
Name of the product, at least in English.
Net content, using US customary measurement units. This must appear on the bottom third of the principal label, using adequate font and spacing to ensure their proper visualization.
Name and address of the manufacturer/packer/distributor, including name, street, municipality, province, and postal code, together with the product’s country of origin if the data are not those of the manufacturer.
Country of origin in English, in a visible, permanent manner (Ex: Product of Spain).
Ingredients: Must include all ingredients in the food in descending order of predominance by weight, including colorants, preservatives, spices, etc., in a font measuring not less than 1/16 inch, contrasting with the label’s background.
Allergens: Must be identified on the list of ingredients or adjacent to that list, stating “Contains” followed by the name of the allergen.
The label’s format is variable, depending upon the packaging’s size and form. However, the information must be provided in a specific sequence and form, and meet certain standards regarding the font, lettering size, and sufficient contrast with the label’s background.
The nutritional label must include the following:
The nutritional information must be included on the information label, which must be entitled: “Nutrition Facts.” That label must list complete dietary content.
The label must indicate the number of portions included in a container.
Nutrient amounts must be listed together with the Daily Reference Value set by the U.S. health services, with special mention of trans fatty acids, cholesterol, carbohydrates, and proteins.
“Calorie” content information must be in bold type, in a font size of not less than 16 points, although there are some exceptions. Also, foods with excess cholesterol and/or sodium must display warnings regarding the levels of these compounds in the product. On the other hand, claims that the product is “light,” “free of,” “low in,” or “fresh” are voluntary. Voluntary labeling regarding nutritional values or food product health claims are highly regulated by U.S. legislation. Messages that could cause confusion for consumers are not allowed.
The footnote, preceded by an asterisk, must include the following: “The Daily % Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”
Vitamin D, potassium, and added sugars must also be listed, as well as Daily Value % of calcium and iron, although there are exemptions for some companies, depending upon their total billing or number of employees.
What are the USDA food labeling requirements?
The US Food and Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) conducts the inspection of wrappings, cargo packaging, and labeling of meat, poultry, and egg products. That inspection affects bags, boxes, printed wrappers, and artificial coverings.
Container labels, which are inspected at ports of entry, must contain: product name, foreign establishment number, country of origin, and shipping mark, next to sufficient space to stamp the inspection seal. Special handling conditions, if any, must also be specified.
Information on container labels for meat, poultry, and egg products must be approved in advance by the FSIS and include instructions for use and cooking of raw meat and poultry products. For products where nutritional or health descriptions are included, the Labeling and Consumer Protection Staff (LCPS) will conduct a more exhaustive control.
Two avenues for label approval:
Proposed label submitted to and approved by the FSIS (sketch).
Use of generic FSIS labels when certain conditions are met. For more information, visit the following link.
In addition, Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) requires sellers of meat, fish, shellfish, fruits, vegetables, and certain dried fruit products to indicate the origin of the product at the point of sale.
Certain foods can be marked with a reference quality if so desired. Here is a link that will allow you to know whether you meet those standards.
Do not hesitate to contact our Food Safety team for more information.