BY: Stacey Pisani
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About 100 years ago, when nutrition labeling first began in a modest form, the purpose was to provide basic ingredient information about the product to protect the consumer. Fast forward to today and the goal of nutrition labels has grown beyond just protection. Now, those labels are intended to protect and to help guide consumers in their food choices. Labels are designed to provide facts for nutrients that impact common health concerns, such as weight control, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA)
The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) was signed into law in 1990. The Act requires most foods to contain nutrition labeling. In addition, it requires all nutrient content claims (i.e., high fiber, low fat, etc.) and health claims be consistent with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. Compliance with the nutrition labeling regulations is based on the date the product was labeled, as opposed to the date the product is offered for entry into interstate commerce.
NLEA requires information in the following four areas:
- Nutrition Facts Panel
- Ingredient List
- Allergen Statements
- Nutrition Content Claims
Uniform Compliance Dates
It is not uncommon for FDA to issue regulations that sometimes require changes in food labeling. To minimize the economic impacts of responding separately to each change, in 1996 the FDA introduced the concept of uniform compliance dates. The uniform compliance date establishes a final compliance deadline for all new food labeling requirements that are established within a specific time period. Most recently, the FDA established January 1, 2022, as the uniform compliance date for food labeling regulations that are published on or after January 1, 2019, and on or before December 31, 2020.
Note that the FDA sets compliance dates other than the uniform compliance date, when necessary, such as the final rules for Nutrition Facts labels for packaged foods, as described below.
Nutrition Facts Labels
All foods sold in packages are required to have a food label. On May 27, 2016, the FDA published final rules on the new Nutrition Facts panel for packaged foods to reflect updated scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases (e.g., obesity and heart disease). As mentioned above, this label is intended to help guide consumers in making more informed food choices.
These labels come with their own deadlines that are separate from the uniform compliance dates that FDA has established:
- January 1, 2020 for manufacturers with > $10 million in annual sales
- January 1, 2021 for manufacturers with < $10 million in annual food sales
- July 1, 2021 for manufacturers of single-ingredient sugars, such as honey, maple syrup and certain cranberry products
Nutrition labeling can be complex and confusing, particularly for first-time food manufacturers. There are very specific requirements that must be addressed to remain compliant not only with FDA requirements, but also with many vendors who require verification of labeling compliance as a condition of doing business (e.g., Amazon, Wal-Mart, Costco).
The following label components must be developed and then continually reviewed to identify which labels need further modification and to ensure ongoing compliance:
- Nutrition Facts Panel is included on all packaging in a place where it can easily
be seen by consumers. The panel includes the following:
- Serving size and servings per container, per FDA guidelines
- Calories per serving
- Nutrient values of the following:
- Total fat (saturated and trans fats)
- Total carbohydrates (dietary fibers and sugars)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Ingredient List must include all ingredients and sub-ingredients present in the product in the order of predominance by weight in the product.
- Allergen Statements present a high-risk area, as they alert the consumer to the
presence of one of more of the top eight allergens:
- Crustacean shellfish
- Tree nuts
- Nutrition Content Claims include statements such as low fat, high fiber, low sodium, and can help a company positively market food products. However, these claims must be checked, as each has specific requirements established by the FDA.
In addition, any required instructions for making/preparing the product should be reviewed to ensure they are accurate and properly convey key steps in the process.
At the most basic level, non-compliance can result in products being pulled from store shelves. However, there are other implications to also consider:
- Improper labeling may impact a company’s ability to supply product to larger retailers with specific requirements.
- It can destroy the integrity of a company who makes false product claims or provides inaccurate nutritional information.
- It can result in legal action if inaccuracies present high risks (e.g., allergen statements, nutritional claims).
To ensure compliance, the food manufacturer must assume responsibility for the following—or work with an experienced food labeling consultant who can:
- Keep track of the most current regulatory requirements, as well as uniform compliance dates (and any other established compliance dates).
- Develop product labeling to ensure labels include the required information.
- Regularly review product labeling to identify any modifications to maintain compliance, particularly due to regulatory changes.
- Preserve the integrity of the company by ensuring consumers are provided with accurate information regarding all products.
Kestrel has worked with food manufacturers/producers in most food categories including baking, candy/confection, meats/proteins, specialty foods, grains flavors, and many others to help meet FDA and large product retailer food labeling requirements. Join Kestrel at the PROCESS EXPO, as we discuss this topic and others during our special food safety training courses this October in Chicago.