9 Crucial FDA Basics for Food Labels

Most food product labeling must follow some basic rules. These crucial basics are designed for both consumer safety and manufacturer accountability. It matters where the information is displayed, how it’s displayed and its size or prominence on the packaging. Here’s what’s required.

1. Principal Display Panel

Although it’s fun to get caught up in the creative and visual aspect of a product’s labeling, like color schemes, graphics and dissolvable labels, it’s more important to include the required information on the labels. The front label is what customers will likely see first. In rectangular shaped products the display needs to cover 100 percent of the product. In other shaped products the front facing label should cover 30 to 40 percent.

2. Information Panel

This panel is on the principal display and is less prominent. Its purpose is to give more information about the product. This could be the variety, flavor or type of product. For instance, a bag of honey mustard pretzels would display “honey mustard” in its information panel.

3. Common Name

Another requirement for front labeling is the inclusion of the common name of the product. Revisiting the honey mustard pretzel example, the common name would be pretzels. Adding the common name ensures that the consumer is aware of what product they are getting according to the Standards of Identity.

4. Nutrition Facts

The nutrition label is one of the most important parts of a food label. It lists the macro and micronutrients, minerals and vitamins. There is a uniform format that all nutrition facts labels must follow.

5. Ingredients List

All ingredients should be listed on the packaging in descending order. This means the higher up on the ingredient list something is, the more of it is in the product. Sub-ingredients can be listed in parentheses. If space allows, the ingredients should be listed directly under the nutrition label.

6. Net Quantity or Weight

Every food item should have the weight of the product without packaging clearly listed on the front labeling. Depending on the product, the net quantity can be listed by volume, weight, quantity, measure or any combination of these.

7. Location of Manufacturer

All labeling should have the name and address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor. The name can be the corporation name or the name the business is doing business as. Consumers must have a way to contact the manufacturer if need be. The address must contain a street address, city, state and zip code.

8. Placement

Where the information is printed on the label is a crucial detail that can’t be ignored. For instance, the net quantity must be displayed in the bottom 30 percent of the front facing labeling. And the ingredients list must immediately follow the word “ingredients.” Not adhering to the placement guidelines can have some serious and costly consequences.

9. Exemptions

It’s important to note that there are some exemptions to these labeling rules. Fruits and vegetables do not require nutrition labeling. It is okay to use shortened names for ingredients (i.e. condensed milk can be listed as “milk”). There are other exceptions to the rules so don’t hesitate to contact the FDA about any labeling concerns.

The labels and packaging found on our food items is a big part of informed consumerism, safety and accountability. It helps to set expectations and is therefore highly regulated. Before you begin designing food labels and packaging, these are the things you need to be aware of.